"'City of a hundred towers'..." Pavia by leics
Pavia Travel Guide: 38 reviews and 163 photos
I was very much taken with Pavia, a town I decided to visit on the spur of the moment and on which repaid me with far more historical interest than I had expected.
It's short, easy train ride from Milan. I shared my train with numerous rather sleepy students setting off for their hard day of studying: the university of Pavia was established in 1361 and has a long and venerable history. And I think it's the presence of that university which helps to make Pavia such a pleasant place to explore. It is not on the main tourist routes yet it has a vibrancy and buzz which one might not otherwise expect from a town which could easily be more of a dormitory for Milanese commuters.
Although there has been a settlement in Pavia since much earlier times...and it was at the height of its powers during the Dark Ages, as the capital of Lombardy, it was the Medieval Era which gave it the name 'city of a hundred towers'.
The towers were first built as watchtowers attached to private homes but, inevitably, personal power and appearances crept in...the bigger your tower the more important you were. I won't underline the obvious hidden meaning of large structures pointing straight up into the sky, but I'm sure you get the drift.
Only a few of these towers remain standing in their entirity (some banded with steel to ensure they stay upright), although you can see the 'stumps' of many more as you wander the streets. The 'trei torre' in the main photo are very near the university: I came across them unexpectedly (although they are signed in some places around the town). Really rather magnificent.
Pavia still keeps much of its Medieval feel, with its narrow streets, alleyways and many ancient buildings. I could have spent much longer than I did just wandering the town because although there were a fair number of people around mid-week (and plenty of students hanging around the university), many of the back streets were deserted and hugely atmospheric in consequence.
I walked and walked and walked. I'd wanted to visit the Duomo (dating from 1488), a wonderful mish-mash of bits and pieces added over the centuries, but it was closed. As far as I could work out the Italian notice, it was closed for some time whilst renovations were in progress. According to my guidebook these should have been completed in 2012 but clearly were not when I visited..maybe they will be by the end of 2012?
It's hardly surprising that extensive renovations of both the Duomo and the Medieval Broletto (Town Hall) are ongoing (the latter was shrouded in scaffolding and plastic sheeting). In 1989 the Duomo bell-tower collapsed with no warning, killing four people. Such ancient buildings need continual restoration and renovation and, over the centuries, this has often been neglected. It must be a mammoth task to put right all that needs putting right.
But my disappointment at the Duomo being closed was soon tempered by a wander through the backstreets and the discovery of San Teodoro, with not only its famous 15th century fresco depiction of Pavia with all its towers intact but also some recently exposed (I think) Roman mosaics underneath the floor.
And onwards to the Ponte Coperto, the covered bridge over the river Ticino. Bombed to oblivion during the Second World War what now stands is a reconstruction, using some of the original stonework...but the remnants of the Medieval bridge remain, as do the bases of the original Roman bridge now stranded midstream.
More walking around the backstreets , seeking tower houses, led me eventually (via the rather wonderful church of San Michele) to the 'trei torre' and the university area. Time for an espresso and a toilet stop, a quick glance at the remains of the ancient Basilica San Eusebio (visits by appointment only) and onward through the town back to the railway station. There I took the Pavia version of 'un Americano, per favore'...an espresso in a larger cup with a jug of hot water for me to add to my taste. I liked that.
I had a lovely wander in a town which is stuffed full of history. If you have a day to spare when visiting Milan then I really do recommend spending it in Pavia. It's not touristy (for those who seek the 'real' Italy), it is full of things to see (for those with an interest in the past) and it is, quite simply, a delightful place to spend a few hours.
- Pros:Towers, history, architecture.
- Cons:None that I came across.
- In a nutshell:'City of a hundred towers'...but not now.
I only stopped here for an espresso boost and, to be honest, in the hopes of finding a toilet I could use. The... more travel advice
San Teodoro is south-west of the Duomo, towards the river, and well worth seeking out. It's in the oldest part of Pavia,... more travel advice
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