Of course, were you to ask, the first things that come to mind are the world famous Parmigiano Reggiano, the King of cheese, and the equally majestic Prosciutto crudo di Parma – Parma ham. Both are typical of this area, magnificent works of culinary art, the results of a combination of valuable experience and particular atmospheric conditions (humidity and temperature). If you have never had the opportunity to relish these delicacies, you haven’t tasted Italy yet!
We could go on to mention other gastronomic specialities of the Parma area (there are many more), but we would like to focus on another aspect of our beautiful city – culture. Yes, because at the end of december 2019, Parma was awarded with the title of “Capital of Culture” for the year 2020….. a great honour, if we consider that the previous holder of the title was Matera, one of the most antique cities in the world!
Along the years, our little Emilian city has undergone a great transformation in many ways, but what hasn’t changed, is the charm and appeal of its tree-lined avenues and its historic centre with the ancient shops. The biggest focal point is probably Piazza Garibaldi, in the heart of Parma, sombrely watched over by the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi himself, and the “Palazzo del Governatore”, which stands facing the square. This building, which, once upon a time, did indeed house the office of the Governor, is now a gallery for modern and contemporary art, launched in its new role in 2010, after undergoing a complete restoration. The square is always a-buzz with city folk, who meet up for coffee or aperitifs under the clock tower.
Another less central, but undeniably spectacular square is Piazza del Duomo, tucked away like a precious gem. It is dominated by the beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the most important place of worship of Parma, Mother church of the diocese. By its side, in its unusual octagonal form, rises the Baptistery, not unsimilar to an unfinished tower. On a fine summer evening, the warm pink glow of the Verona marble with which the exterior is decorated, inspires an almost religious admiration from onlookers.
Parma is full of important squares, some not originally meant to be so. Bombing during the war sadly ruined and robbed us of many antique structures, of which only parts were salvaged. Piazza della Pace is one such souvenir of the past; the grounds which were historically occupied by the Palazzo Ducale, have now become a vast green space, renovated in recent years with the addition of a fountain. However the adjacent Palazzo Pilotta, although missing large portions of its ensemble, is still well worth a visit. Amongst the many attractions of cultural interest housed within its walls are the National Gallery of Parma, the National museum of archeology, and a jewel which cannot be missed – the Teatro Farnese, finished in 1618. This structure was intended to be temporary, built with the purpose to celebrate the passing through of the Great Duke of Tuscany on his way to Milan. Entirely built in wood, the interior, which could accomodate 3000 spectators, was covered in plaster and painted in order to simulate marble, the method traditionally used at the time for ephimeral structures. But the Great Duke unfortunately fell ill and never showed up, and the theatre lay abandoned for ten years! It was used thereafter only nine times due to the elevated costs it generated, the last one in 1732. In May 1944 it was practically destroyed by bombing, but between 1956 and 1960, riconstruction began, using materials and designs as similar as possible to the original ones, in an endeavor to bring this prestigious theatre back to life. And that they did, because the Teatro Farnese now functions as the entrance to the National Gallery, and after almost 300 years of inactivity, performances are now being held there. In fact on the 12th of June 2011, the Maestro Claudio Abbado directed his Mozart Orchestra in front of 1500 spectators, when, up until that moment, no more than 200 had ever been allowed to enter at any one time.
And again, on the subject of theatres, it is impossible not to mention the famous Teatro Regio, just down the road (on antique monasterial property) from Piazza della Pace. Although not renowned on an international level as are the Teatro La Scala in Milan, or La Fenice in Venice, the Teatro Regio is considered by opera lovers as one of the most representative theatres of operatic tradition.
It is thanks to the Duchess Maria Luigia, wife of Napoleon, that the original building named Teatro Ducale, considered inadequate for the city’s demands, was subsituted by a more modern version, terminated in 1829. In later years, many significant changes were made, and in 1853, the magnificent central chandelier was installed, currently still in use. It wasn’t until 1860 that the theatre became officially Teatro Regio.
The opera loving public of Parma has been widely recognised as one of the most competent on the subject, but also the most enthusiastic and demanding; every year, they will suffer cold and discomfort, lining up for almost a week in front of the ticket office, in order to buy one of the few subscriptions available. It is said that if a performer is received with acclaim in Parma, he/she can go and proudly perform anywhere. On the other hand, the city’s public will have no pity for the performer who is not up to scratch – a tall order…..
Potential opera singers – be warned!