Posted by: Debra Kolkka | February 4, 2017

Ferrara, things to see and eat

I read a book about the Borgias, the infamous family that included a Pope, a murderous son and Lucretia of the poison ring stories. The book inspired a visit to Ferrara where Lucretia went to live in 1502.

Ferrara is in Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy. It is 50 kilometres from Bologna and just over 100 kilometres from Venice. It seems to sit in the shadow of both and doesn’t attract as many visitors as it probably should. It has much to offer.

Ferrara’s most famous building is the Este Castle. Duke Ercole 1 converted a defensive fortress into a castle refuge for his family. The Este clan were rivals to the Medici from Florence in power and prestige. The castle was built in 1385 and is surrounded by a moat. It has 4 bastions and towers which were added to in the 16th century.


Lucrezia Borgia is the most famous resident of the castle. I think she is badly treated by history with tales of murders and poison rings. She was the daughter of the corrupt and vicious Pope Alexander VI, otherwise known as Rodrigo Borgia, and one of his mistresses, Vanozza dei Cattanei. She was married off as a teenager to further her father’s career. He had this marriage annulled when it no longer suited him. Her second husband Alfonso of Aragon was killed, probably by her murderous thug brother, Cesare.

Her third marriage at the age of 22 was to Alfonso d’Este of Ferrara. Her new husband to be rushed to the Ponte Poledrano Bentivoglio Castle to meet her…it was the beginning of a love story. At the wedding ceremony the subjects were won over by the bride when she fell from her horse. She quickly regained composure, and getting to her feet, she smilingly mounted one of the mules in the procession. Poor Lucrezia went on to have 8 more children and several miscarriages. She died shortly after the birth of her 10th child at the age of 39.

It seemed quite strange to be walking through her house and wondering what her life was really like. It seems that her marriage was filled with love even though both partners had a roving eye.

There is much to see near the castle. Girolamo Savonarola keeps stern watch over the piazza named for him. He was a Dominican friar from Ferrara who was murdered in Florence in 1498.


Teatro Comunale stands in front of the castle. The theatre was inaugurated in 1798.  I didn’t go inside, but I was impressed by the elliptical courtyard, which in earlier times provided passage for carriages.

Palazzo Comunale was the original Este residence. It was begun in 1245, but has had many transformations. The columns support statues of Marquis Nicole III on horseback and Duke Borso on the throne. The originals were destroyed in the French invasion in 1796. Copies were created in 1927.


The cathedral is dedicated to Virgin Mary and St George, Ferrrara’s patron saint. The facade has Romanesque features from 1135 and Gothic from the middle 13th and 14th centuries.


I liked the carvings on the facade, particularly the animals.

One clearly foretold of the emergence of the bicycle (I have never seen so many in an Italian city) as a popular means of transport…and also provides a good parking spot.


The interior of the cathedral holds several ancient works of art but I found it quite gloomy.

At the back of the cathedral is an interesting interpretation of the maddona and child. It is tucked into a little alcove opposite the bell tower in the next photo.


The side view of the cathedral with the campanile is lovely.


A little out of the centre of the city is the Palazzo Schifanoia. Its main feature is the Hall of Months with beautiful frescoes commissioned by Duke Borso.

The adjoining room called the Hall of Virtues, or Hall of Stuccoes, has rich decoration on the ceilings and higher parts of the walls.

In a different direction is the Palazzo dei Diamanti, Diamond Palace, named for the diamond shaped blocks on the facade. It is now the National Picture Gallery.



Off in another direction is Casa Romei, the best preserved Renaissance building in Ferrara. It was the residence of Giovanni Romei who was related by marriage to the Este family. It later became the home of the nuns of Corpus Domini, which probably saved it from destruction. This beautiful house was my favourite thing in Ferrara. I happily wandered for some time in the beautiful rooms.



Parts of the old Ferrara wall survive and they reminded me a little of Lucca’s magnificent walls. They provide a lovely walking area on the edge of the city.


I found a pretty park near the wall.

There are some delightful back streets to discover.

It was in this area I found a couple of charming restaurants…Trattoria da Noemi.


…and Trattoria il Mandolino.


A speciality of the area is cappellaci di zucca…pumpkin filled pasta…delicious.


Keep and eye out for coppia Ferrarese, a twisted bread first created at a dinner for the Duke of Ferrara in 1536.


I also had a wonderful meal at Hostaria Savonarola.

The selection of local cured meat was excellent.


This is a type of sausage particular to the area. It is made with red wine.


The shopping is good in Ferrara. There are some stylish shops with lots to tempt shoppers.

There is much to see in Ferrara. The interesting sites are a little spread out, so you may need to stay a couple of nights to make the most of what the city has to offer. Make sure you don’t get run over by a bicycle.


  1. Savanarola was not an innocent fictim. He was a demagogue who demanded and directed THE “bonfire of the vanities” which destroyed about 1/4 of the artworks and original books in Florence at the time – in the 1490s. In response to his brutal attacks on the church, the state, and individuals, the was tried, convicted, and executed. He was evil personified. Heaven help anyone who got in his way.

    Traditional ferrenese pottery is interesting. Designs are incised in the wet clay which is then fired, painted, and fired again. In about 1999 wemet the artist who revised the art. He has since died, but you can see examples of the ceramica in various places in town. It is just beautiful.

    The duke of Este, at the same time, was incredibly brave. Hecwent ahainst all of his neighbors and invited Jewish people, who were expelled from Spain in 1492, to live in Ferrara. There was a significant Jewish population there for the next 515 years. Several remain today.

    Ferrara is a beautiful place to gisit. If a cyclist, there is a trail called destra Po that goes from Ferrara to the Adriatic, about 127km. Most of it is a “residents only” blacktop road along the Po River that you can also access by car and use for a long walk. At one point, it veers off across the River to become sinestra Po, that goes near or to Venice. We started in Chioggia and hooked up with destra Po to get to Ferrara…a nice day’s ride.

    Ferrara is a MUST SEE town. Read its history first.

    • Thank you for the information. I have been just once to Ferrara. Clearly it needs more time.

  2. Great history lesson and, as always, wonderful photos! Thanks Debra (and Seattle too, for the additional history!)

    • Each Italian town has fascinating history. We just need centuries to take it all in.

  3. Our first extended stay in Italy was in Ferrara…..a great place to base oneself as so convenient to getting to other wonderful places to visit. BUT it does not have the charm of Lucca.

    • I agree with you. I enjoyed my visit but I don’t love the city as much as I do Lucca and Pistoia.

  4. We spent 6 weeks in Ferrara a few years ago. We really enjoyed our time there. What strongly differentiates it from Lucca is that you can easily have a genuine ” local” experience there, as tourists are much scarcer. The locals are very friendly, people of all ages ride bikes, great food, great location to visit Bologna and towns on the Po. And there is some great shopping. We love cities like Lucca, Ferra, Treviso, Bergamo. But after spending 2 years in Lucca, it is our favourite Italian city. Looking forward to our next 3 months stint there, starting next month.

    • I leave in 10 days for Bagni di Lucca and will be there until early June. We might run into each other.

  5. Interestingly, my cousins suggested Ferrara as a day trip for us – but we thought it was a bit far because we didn’t want to spend that much time traveling. That said … thanks for the journey!

    I can see the resemblance with Lucca … and some architecture in Bologna. Well done, Debra!

    • There are similarities with Lucca and Bologna, but I find it fascinating that each town has a completely different character and they are all interesting in their own way.

  6. As usual Debra, a great exploration of another part of Italy and a history lesson all in one. Many thanks, I really have to get back to this wonderful country.

    • I will be back soon…can’t wait.

  7. So happy to see this post. we have just booked an apartment in Ferrara for the month of September. We spent last July in Lucca and loved it. We thought of returning there but have chosen Ferrara to have a base from which to explore some other areas of Italy.
    So all the comments have been interesting.
    In some places last year we struggled to find good coffee as we know it in Sydney (or Brisbane) so any suggestions in Ferrara for the morning coffee place would be much appreciated or in fact in any of the towns or cities around that area.
    Also, from Lucca we used trains to visit other places which was very convenient as station was very close to where we stayed just inside the walls. Looking at map of Ferrara it seems that station is further out?
    Would appreciate any thought on train travel from Ferrara and any places to visit from there, particularly any smaller charming towns beside the obvious ones.

    • I am a bit surprised about the coffee comment. I find the coffee is excellent just about everywhere, from railway stations to tiny bars. What don’t you like about it? Italians do like to drink their coffee not too hot, but you can ask for it to be made hotter and they will do it. If you like a flat white ask for a cappuccino senza schiuma.
      The railway station is not far out of town. I walked one way and caught a local bus the other way. I think it cost about €1.
      I have visited Verona, Ravenna, Venice, Bologna and Padova, which are nearby. All are easy to reach by train. If you type the names of the towns in the search box posts will appear.

  8. Interesting account. Savonarola was burnt at the stake in 1498 after a trial where he was found guilty of being a heretic. See my post at

    • Post is at

  9. Ferrara is a wonderful, elegant city and a gourmet’s paradise. As for the Borgias … I am afraid that the black legend has followed them and this article explains it very well .
    It would be worth remembering that the same family also produced a great saint, Francis Borgia, a grandson to Pope Alexander
    Worth searching into his biography….

    • I think Lucretia was a benevolent leader, so they weren’t all bad at all. I would go back to Ferrara for the food alone. I love the way each region has its own specialities.

  10. Very interesting article! u told the Lucretia’s story very well, it is really inspired me to go and have a look, it seems Ferrara has beautiful architecture😊 and yeah in those cities in Padana plain they use bikes a lot aha their territory is very flat 😉

    • Ferrara is well worth a visit. I need to see lots more in the area.

  11. Very interesting post Debra. We are trying to decide where to go in Italy for our yearly visit. Ferrara looks promising.

    • Ferrara is interesting. You might also consider Pistoia. It has been named City of Art and Culture this year, so there will be lots going on.

      • Thank you I will look into both.

  12. I very much appreciate the photos and details of a town about which I know very little. And the Borgia family, I haven’t read much on them either. Imagine being on your third marriage by the age of 22!!

    • I felt sorry for Lucrezia when I read the book. It seems she was an intelligent girl who was used as a pawn by her father, but she went on to have an interesting life.

  13. Thanks for your article. We plan to visit Ferrara this year. I’ll revisit your post as the time gets closer.

    • Ferrara has lots to offer…watch out for the bicycles.

  14. Beautiful as always but the food pics are making me want to jump a plane now! Oh I’m learning so much about Italy through you Debra! 🙂

    • Italy has an endless supply of great places to visit.

      • When I go to Italy again I will need months and will have my laptop with all your blog posts ready! Your blog is an incredible treasure in Italy Debra!

  15. This is my “it” town in Italy for the food, wine, art and design. Slightly off the tourist flow but so worth the trip. Love to stay at the Prisciani Art Suites on
    Via Garibaldi.

    • I will keep that place in mind when I go back.

  16. Ferrara has been on my list for some time. Next time I”m in Bologna I hope to make the trip there. Some years back we stayed at a lovely agriturismo in the countryside not far from Ferrara and I’ve always wanted to return. Thank you for all the info.

    • It is an easy trip from Bologna. Ferrara is not a compact as some cities, you will need to walk quite a bit to see everything.

  17. Interesting place, would love to visit… looks so solid… I know is a fortified place, but even so… impressed me.

  18. Thank you, Debra.
    We have been to Bologna and Maranello (my wife is a fan of Formula One, and she adores Ferrari), but probably some time, we will visit Ferrara. Looks like an interesting city.

  19. Your photos always make me want to return to Italy rather than explore other parts of the world! ❤️

  20. […] Padova, Verona and Ferrara are also nearby and great towns to explore. […]

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