Thursday, May 4, 2023

850 Years Old and Still Looking Good: The Battistero di Parma

After three days in Florence I set my sites on Parma, a city in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, about 60 kilometers west of Bologna. With a population of about twice that of Duluth, Parma is the second-largest city in Emilia-Romagna after Bologna. The University of Parma there, which I had hoped to visit but ran out of time, is one of the oldest universities in the world.

I spent months planning my trip to Italy. When I settled on Florence and Parma as my destination cities, some people scratched their heads about the latter. "You're not going to Rome?" I was asked a half dozen times. The idea of visiting Parma came from a John Grisham book called Playing for Pizza.

Parma is famous for its food, especially its Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (also produced in Reggio Emilia), and Prosciutto di Parma (Parma ham). Both of these have been given Protected Designation of Origin status, which didn't mean a lot to me, but probably does to the farmers there and the culinary crowd. Parma also claims several stuffed pasta dishes such as "tortelli d'erbetta" and "anolini in brodo".

I liked the size of the city, and the laid back vibe there. It also has its own share of art, culture and history. There were large posters for a Fellini festival as well as a celebration of Verdi and opera. (The Teatro Regio di Parma is one of the most important opera houses in Italy.)

It has some ancient architecture including a Duomo that dates back more than 900 years. Its younger sibling, the Baptistery of Parma, was commissioned in 1196 and completed in 2016. The Baptistery features Romanesque and Gothic styles. Its octagonal shape and distinctive pink Verona marble seemed to set it apart from anything else I saw during my stay.

You can see the octagonal pink marble Battistero in the center of this scene.

Once inside (you'll make a modest payment across the square for a ticket) there were several especially interesting features, the first being its domed ceiling. Painted interior ceilings are as common as pizza places in Italy. What's distinctive is how far back in time this kind of thing was going on. I try to imagine the scaffolding that supported those early artists. (Warning: Don't be a Medieval artist if you are scared of heights.)

The dome here is decorated with a cycle of frescoes depicting the life of Christ. The frescoes were painted by a group of artists from Parma, including Jacopo Antelami, the son of Benedetto Antelami. The frescoes are considered among the finest examples of early Italian Gothic painting.

Looking up at the domed ceiling.

Check out the workmanship at the crown of these pillars.

 Around the base there were 12 marble statues in sets of three.
These had another surprising feature. It was not surprising to see
them as representative of the 12 apostles. What was surprising was
the blatant syncretism. Each apostle was also associated with 
the signs of the zodiac. In the photo below you can see two fish, 
the sign of Pisces, above the head of the character on the left.

One of the other Zodiac images is Capricorn, the emblem of Janus.
In order for visitors to see the "Two Faces" a mirror has been placed
behind the statue so you can see the this symbol of Janus, the god  of 
beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways and endings.


Though the paintings on the interior were produced as early as the 1200s, they were not frescoes in the true sense, and over time began to deteriorate. The restoration process included syringes and spatulas. The results: "Impressive!"

During a Medieval times, a baptistery (or baptistry) was a separate structure from the cathedral itself. It was used, as the name suggests, for carrying out the rite of 

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