One of the main things I enjoy about walking pilgrim trails is that often the trails lead me through all manner of remote countryside and many small towns and villages that would not normally be on a tourist’s agenda.
Piacenza, in northern Italy, is one of those gems which reward a curious visitor as well as an exhausted hiker, and truly hum with the energy of local life.
I strolled into Piacenza on day 13 of my Via Francigena adventure which began at the Great Saint Bernard Pass on the border between Switzerland and Italy. I was definitely ready for another rest day – hot, tired and very dirty and sweaty. I found I was incredibly underdressed for stylish Piacenza.
Piacenza is a city of around 102 000 people and is located 68km south-east of Milan in the Emilia Romagna region. Believe it or not, the town was founded in 218BC! Those sorts of numbers really boggle my little mind!
I had booked a room in an apartment complex right in the heart of the city. Yes, you pay a little more for the location, but I love being in the hub of things and everything with everything at your fingertips. And Piacenza is an extremely walkable city with all the main sights within a 15-minute radius. Up to this point I had already walked 338km so I wasn’t prepared to walk any unnecessary steps if I could avoid it!
Piacenza is a city oozing with history and you can make the most of it, and its multitude of churches (including an imposing Duomo), or simply sit in one of the many piazzas and watch the world go by. First thing, I recommend you swing into the Tourist Office just on the edge of Piazza dei Cavalli to pick up a town map. The city centre seems to be a rabbit warren of small streets that run every which way connecting to yet another piazza, and it is so easy to befuddle your sense of direction.
Piazza dei Cavalli is a real treat with glorious bronze sculptures of Alessandro and Ranuccio Farnese. The sculptures are Baroque masterpieces complete with cupids and endless flourishes and curlicues. The Farneses were a prominent family in the region and both held the role of Duke of Piacenza in the 16th and 17th centuries. Alessandro was a talented military strategist and commander, while Ranuccio seemed to be best known for systematically eliminating his rivals in a rather blood thirsty manner! Not to be trifled with.
The Palazzo Gotico, Piacenza’s Town Hall, provides a stunning backdrop to the horse sculptures. The Town Hall is a beautiful example of mediaeval architecture and when it was built it was considered so significant, it drew the focus away from the piazza surrounding the Duomo, and Piazza dei Cavalli became the new centre for the city.
I was happy to stroll slowly through the narrow streets absorbing the buzz of Italian life, but I also really wanted to see the Teatro Municipale. I had picked up a brochure of the theatre at the Tourist Office and the lady there assured me that it was open to the public for tours and viewing. Map in hand, I negotiated numerous twisting streets and across small piazzas to arrive at a very closed-looking theatre.
The Teatro Municipale looks very plain on the outside, but apparently inside it is a riot of gilt and velvet. I loved that its promotional material promoted performances that covered everything from Verdi operas to ‘Kiss Me Kate’. Now that’s diversity.
I walked along the outside of the building, pushing numerous doors until I found one that gave way and let me in. I continued to do that all the way through the theatre but all I found was pitch black darkness and two little boys playing computer games. Oh well, another Italian treasure that will have to wait for a return visit.
It was Market Day in Piacenza and that created an extra hum as I walked along Via Roma. Via Roma is the main shopping strip linking the Duomo piazza and Piazza dei Cavalli. I was sorely tempted by all the drop dead gorgeous shoes and handbags, and really could have gone crazy with the credit card if only I didn’t have another 27 days of walking to go. The thought of all that extra bulk and weight in my backpack poured a substantial dose of cold water on any shopping aspirations.
So for me, it was coffee, stroll, coffee, wander, pastry, amble, coffee etc. There are more than seven major churches and cathedrals in the city centre just begging to be explored, but by that stage of my walking adventure I had already hit church-overload and it was easy to admire the structures from the outside and stroll on.
If you love Italian architecture and love to explore on foot away from the madding tourist crowds, then make sure you include the little gem of Piacenza on your Italian itinerary.
What Italian gems have you discovered gems?
What: I stayed at Duomo Guesthouse, Via san Giuliano 6, Piacenza. €65per night, including good WIFI. It is right in the heart of everything and a short walk to most sights.
Where: Piacenza is located in the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy.
When: 21 August. Clear, hot and dry.
Why: A rest day was required and the experienced folks on the Via Francigena Facebook forum said it was a good option.
How: I strolled in exhausted and walked out refreshed with a spring in my step.
Who: Me, myself and I.
Related Posts: to start from the very beginning, have a look at my post about Day 1 of 40 days on my way to Rome.
Related Blogs: To get under the skin of Piacenza, have a look at this blog which covers the history, politics and economy of the region.
Read About it: If you have a thing for Italian Baroque art and sculpture, check out Book Depository. They have a great selection of books on this topic from a variety of authors.
#hiddengems, #piacenza, # baroque