Padua as a city is actually a bit disappointing, but there are still plenty of reasons to visit, not in the least the richly decorated baptism chapels.
I suppose every city you visit immediately after Venice is going to be a disappointment. Padua is nice, has a lovely historical centre, with lots of lovely squares, and notably, lots of arched galleries along many of its streets. The squares are occupied by market stalls in the morning, and in the afternoon they are being transferred into big terraces, where the student community congregates with a spritz cocktail – dark red Campari, but more often bright orange Aperol. But it is not Venice. The houses are blocky, they lack the sophistication of the Venetian palaces, and even of Venice’s regular housing. And the squares, surrounded by impressive buildings all right, but they lack the atmosphere we found in many of the smaller Venice squares. Perhaps unfair to Padua, but wandering through town was, let’s say, nothing really special (and in retrospect, not only compared to Venice; when we went to Vicenza afterwards, this, too, had much more charm than blocky Padua).
Having said all this, we did find some absolute treasures in Padua, not in the least its most famous one, the Scrovegni chapel. For which you normally have to book several days in advance, as they don’t let more than 25 people in, per 15 minute time slot. Our group was 10, we booked the evening before. And what a fabulous experience it was, those 15 minutes in a chapel, completely frescoed from top to bottom, across the walls and the ceiling, wherever you look. I will post some further pictures seperately, at a later stage.
Similarly impressive, but much more low-key, was the Battistero, the baptistry chapel, on the side of the rather sterile, bright Duomo of Padua. In contrast to the Duomo, the chapel is again fully frescoed on all sides, smaller than the Scrovegni, but also impressive – and in this case there was nobody else here, no booking needed, no obligatory acclimatization before entering the chapel, it was just me, staring at the paintings all around me.
And, to be fair, there is more to Padua. The large Palazzo della Ragione, in the centre of town, the Prato del Valle, the largest square in Italy, with in the middle an elongated island surrounded by sculptures of important people, many topped by pigeons, and the Orto Botanico, the botanical gardens, part historical – walled, and of touchingly primitive subdivision in plots – and part hyper-modern, with five climatized sections from tropical to temporal, housing a whole range of biospheres. October is not the best time to visit a botanical garden in Europe, the flowers were rare, but the complex – and the contrast – was impressive.
Next, a day outside Padua.