Blog: A guide to Pavia and its treasures | Bellarome Italian Vacations

A guide to Pavia and its treasures

Pavia is an Italian town in Lombardy located 34 km south of Milan. It’s origins come from Gallic tribes; later, it became a Roman municipium with the name of Ticinum. In the Middle Ages, it was the capital of the Lombard Kingdom and since 1361 it is home to a university.

The ancient origins and a significant historical past have left Pavia with a notable artistic heritage: the main tourist attractions include the Visconteo Castle, the Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel D’Oro, the Certosa, the Duomo, the Basilica of San Michele Maggiore and the Ponte Coperto, only to name a few. Lets’ start our journey through history in this magical city!


Basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro

It is a church out of the city center, but easily reachable on foot, with the typical facade of the Romanesque churches and a particularity inside: the Ark of Sant’Agostino, located in the presbytery around 1360, made of marble. Probably the work of two different artists, it is made up of 50 bas-reliefs and 95 statues, and houses the bones of Sant’Agostino da Ippona.

The crypt and frescoes in the left nave are also very interesting. The Basilica was famous already in the Middle Ages, thanks to the fact that it housed the remains of Sant’Agostino da Ippona, Saint Severinus Boetius, and King Liutprando; for this reason, it was remembered in the 10th canto of Paradise by Dante, by Petrarca in Petrarca’s Letter to Giovanni Boccaccio in Seniles and by Boccaccio himself in the Decameron where it becomes the “architectural backdrop” of Novella IX, Day X.


Certosa di Pavia

Certosa di Pavia is certainly the most famous and important attraction of Pavia, although it is located a bit outside the city. The Certosa is a monumental and historical complex that includes a monastery and a sanctuary. Built at the end of the 14th century at the behest of Giangaleazzo Visconti, lord of Milan, to comply with the vote of his wife Caterina and as a family mausoleum, it is built in various architectural styles, from the late Gothic to the Renaissance.

Originally entrusted to the Carthusian community, then the Cistercian one and, for a short period, also to the Benedictine one, after the unification of the Kingdom of Italy the Certosa was declared a national monument in 1866 and acquired among the properties of the state property of the Italian State, as well as all the artistic and ecclesiastical goods contained therein; since 1968 it has housed a small Cistercian monastic community.

Of particular charm is the facade of the sanctuary, built at different times and by various architects, however the Briosco owes its sumptuous portal, full of elements as required by the Lombard Renaissance architectural tradition. The cloisters are also very interesting.


Visconteo Castle and Civic Museums

The Visconteo Castle is a majestic complex always wanted by Galeazzo Visconti, who began its construction in March 1360. It was supposed to be a palace dedicated to entertainment, but some of its elements actually recall a castle: the towers, the moat, the drawbridge. However, when visitors enter the Castle, they can easily understand that this was really a place to party, in fact the frescoes that completely covered the ceilings of the rooms are still recognizable, but of the original furniture and the well-stocked library (apparently started by Francesco Petrarca) nothing remains. There is a beautiful internal courtyard and also an elegant porch.

The Castle was purchased by the Municipality, restored in the 20s and 30s of the 20th century and, starting from the second post-war period, it became the seat of the Civic Museums and houses the civic Pinacoteca Malaspina. The Civic Museums housed inside the Castle are also of great interest and boast spectacular collections from archaeology to eighteenth-century painting, ideal for understanding the history of the city


Piazza della Vittoria

Adjacent to the intersection of Strada Nuova and Corso Cavour, Piazza della Vittoria is the beautiful heart of the city, animated by day and evening by the walk and the rooms under the arcades. Until the 1960s, it housed a characteristic open-air market, which is now permanent and moved to rooms located underground. On the eastern side of Piazza della Vittoria, the former church of S. Maria in Gualtieri (11th century with 12th frescoes, the oldest testimony of Romanesque painting in the city), is used as a cultural space. Piazza della Vittoria has always been the heart of the city, and it still is today. Now center of commerce, in the past, it was seat of legal proceedings: even executions were held here. The most significant building is that of the Broletto, on the south side of the square, where meetings were held and justice was administered. Here, with outdoor tables, we can admire the square and its buildings and also have a coffee or an aperitif.


Cathedral of Pavia

The Cathedral of Pavia is dedicated to Santo Stefano Martire and Santa Maria Assunta and is the most imposing church in Pavia, other than an important Renaissance building. It rises in the place where, before its construction, there were two paleo Christian churches, dedicated to pagan cults, and later two Romanesque churches. In 1400, the inhabitants of Pavia obtained the construction of a cathedral whose magnificence and sumptuousness feared no rivals!

The octagonal brick dome is 92 meters high and the entire church is imposing. Inside, there is a pulpit carved in wood with the 12 apostles. In the direction of the riverside, the facade of the Church of San Teodoro is hardly visible because it is closed between the cobbled alleys, but its interior is a real jewel.

There are, in fact, splendid very well preserved frescoes, including the cycle of the stories of Sant’Agnese and that of the stories of San Teodoro. However, the highlights are the views of Pavia on the wall and on the counter-façade: if we dwell on these, which are considered to all intents and purposes the first existing plants of Pavia, we will notice a large number of towers that have almost completely disappeared today.


Basilica of San Michele Maggiore

Another architectural masterpiece is the Church of San Michele Maggiore, in Lombard Romanesque style, considered the prototype of many medieval churches in the city. Its structure is complex because it is the result of layered construction phases. The Basilica of San Michele Maggiore was the site of many coronations, the most famous certainly that of Federico Barbarossa in 1155 (we can see the exact point, inside, indicated by five marble circles on the floor). It is of great artistic interest because it is a masterpiece of the medieval Romanesque style. Unfortunately, it has undergone a serious process of degradation over the centuries, because its facade was built with sandstone which is very fragile. The Basilica has two entrances, one on the main facade and one on the left side, with portals richly decorated with statues. Inside, the frescoes are really beautiful.


Ponte Coperto

It is very suggestive in Pavia to take a walk on the riverside. Connecting the two sides of Ticino is the famous Ponte Coperto, a five-arched bridge completely covered with two portals at its ends and a religious chapel in the center. According to the legend, it was the devil who built the bridge. The year is 999, the evening is Christmas, and the story tells of a group of pilgrims eager to attend the midnight mass that is about to be celebrated in the city. The ancient Roman viaduct has been destroyed for some time, and the ferry service is hampered by a dense fog. A fog that, right under the astonished eyes of those waiting people, prodigiously takes the form of a bridge. Then the devil – who presented himself to the bystanders in the features of a gentleman dressed in red – proposes his classic serpentine pact: «This bridge of mist will turn into stone only after a living being, whose soul I will be forever master, will have crossed it ».The timely and miraculous intervention of St. Michael the Archangel – in the guise of an anonymous passer-by – will resolve the issue with a counter-proposal: first the construction of the bridge, then the exchange. The archangel pushed a goat on the bridge, deceiving the devil that set off a storm, but the bridge resisted thanks to the solid stone foundation.

On the other side of the river, there is Borgo Ticino, a district of Pavia with colourful houses overlooking the river. On their walls, there are the levels reached by the river during the floods of the city’s history.

Visit Pavia and other hidden gems in the north of Italy such as our Northern Italy tour with excursions. Or let us design you your ideal holiday package by getting in touch with one of our friendly Italy travel experts.