A guide to Piacenza and its hidden beauties | Bellarome

A guide to Piacenza and its hidden beauties

Piacenza is an Italian town of 103.942 inhabitants, capital of the homonymous province of Emilia-Romagna.

It is nicknamed the Firstborn, because in 1848 it was the first Italian city to vote with a plebiscite for annexation to the Kingdom of Sardinia.

Called “a land of passage ” by Leonardo Da Vinci, because it is very close to Milan and Parma, its older sister, Piacenza is a welcoming city with ancient but alive  streets, with a human dimension, and with its flavors, known all over the world as excellence. However, it is also a city rich in history, you can see it in its buildings and monuments, in museums and in some art galleries, not without taking a look also at the shops and the ancient and modern craft shops that dot the center.

Pilgrims, popes, princes, adventurers and poets, saints and Templars have passed through here. But it was only with the Farnese family, in 1500, that this ancient Roman colony near the Po river became the rich, powerful and beautiful city that we can still admire today.

Let’s start to discover Piacenza and its hidden beauties and pleasant surprises!

Piacenza’s Cathedral

The cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and Santa Giustina is the main Catholic place of worship in Piacenza, the mother church of the homonymous diocese. It has the dignity of a minor basilica.

It is an important example of Romanesque architecture in Italy, and was built between 1122 and 1233. Between 1122 and 1160 the apse area was built, with the crypt, the transept and the side aisles. The facade and dome, however, were finished later. The construction of the bell tower continued until 1333 and, in 1341, was crowned by a gilded copper sculpture depicting an angel, called Angil dal Dom.

The design of the building would be the work of Niccolò, an Italian sculptor active between 1122 and 1139 and among the main Italian masters in Romanesque times. The interior has a dome frescoed in the seventeenth century by Morazzone and Guercino. Presbytery and choir were frescoed by Camillo Procaccini and Ludovico Carracci towards the end of the sixteenth century: most of their works were moved from their original locations during the course of nineteenth-century restorations.

There is a museum of the Cathedral,”Kronos”, opened since 2015, which exhibits the well-known Code 65, other precious codes, silverware, liturgical vestments and paintings once in the Cathedral and other sculptures and furnishings from asked of the diocese. The museum is integrated into the ascent path to the dome of the Cathedral, frescoed by Morazzone and Guercino, with which it is possible to see the frescoes up close and walk along the medieval walkways inside the walls of the Cathedral made with the so-called “mur épais”.



Palazzo Farnese

Palazzo Farnese in Piacenza is one of the most important monuments in the city. The building, located in Piazza Cittadella, has taken on various functions over the centuries. Built at the behest of the Duchess Margherita of Austria (1522-1586), wife of Ottavio Farnese from whom it took its name, in the mid 1500s and it was the official residence of the family.

The history of Palazzo Farnese in Piacenza is long and troubled.

The initial project was drawn up by Francesco Paciotto from Urbino and the construction site was entrusted to the masters Giovanni Bernardo Dalla Valle, Giovanni Lavezzari and Bernardo Panizzari called il Caramosino. The project was modified in 1589 by the architect Jacopo Barozzi called Il Vignola who varied the elevation. The palace was not finished because the works suffered a long pause in 1568 due to lack of funds and the absence of a competent direction but also due to the disinterest of Margherita of Austria.

Only in 1588 did the building sites reopen on the interest of Alessandro Farnese and his sons Ranuccio I Farnese (1670), and Ranuccio II Farnese (1690) who worked to decorate rooms with precious decorations and furnishings. From 1731, the year of death of the last duke of the Farnese dynasty, a long period of decline began which would end only in 1909 when the first restoration works began.

Today the palace, which is located north of the town, shows in all its magnificence the power of the ducal family, and houses the city Civic Museums and the State Archive.


The Civic Museums of Palazzo Farnese

The Civic Museums of Palazzo Farnese constitute the historical nucleus of the collections of Palazzo Farnese, where many collections from city palaces have come together. The visit of the Civic Museums offers the visitor the chance to retrace, in a unique and heterogeneous itinerary, the historical – artistic evolution of this city and its territory.

The Civic Museums are divided into several sections:

Carriage Museum: one of the most prestigious in Italy for the variety of pieces and their integrity. Among the exhibits, gala sedans, travel sedans, stages, landau, carriages, prams and baby carriages of the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries.

Armory: from the collection (about 400 pieces) some examples of both offensive and defensive weapons are exhibited. Remarkable armor, splendid works by the Milanese gunsmith Pompeo della Cesa and the series of swords from Venetian infantrymen of the seventeenth century.

Frescoes, sculptures, Farnesian glories, glass and ceramics: large collection of sculptures, epigraphs, frescoes, glass and ceramics dated from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century, mostly from religious buildings or private donations.

Museum of the Risorgimento: arranged in four rooms, it collects documents, relics, images and weapons dating largely from the years 1848-49 and 1859-61.

Pinacoteca: it houses, in addition to the valuable collection “Rizzi-Vaccari”, the Tondo by Botticelli depicting the Madonna adoring the Child with San Giovannino.

Archaeological Museum: housed in the adjacent Cittadella Viscontea, it collects finds and testimonies of the Prehistory and Protohistory of the Piacenza area and, in a specially dedicated room, the famous Etruscan Liver, bronze model of sheep’s liver that bears inscriptions of names of deities and is a rare testimony of Etruscan religious practices.


Ricci Oddi Modern Art Gallery

The Ricci Oddi Modern Art Gallery was born from the private collection of the nobleman from Piacenza, Giuseppe Ricci Oddi, who collected a vast nucleus of works between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries between 1897 and 1923.

The Ricci Oddi Modern Art Gallery was inaugurated in 1931, in the spaces of the former Convent of San Siro, converted into a museum by the architect Giulio Ulisse Arata. The gestation of the public use of the Giuseppe Ricci Oddi collection was very long and problematic, precisely because the Municipality wanted to fulfill the wishes of the Piacenza patron who had wanted to allocate a collection of artistic importance from the public utility to his city.

The contemporary art collection for Giuseppe Ricci Oddi (1868-1937) began in 1897 with a taste projected both towards Piacenza expressions and towards the many Italian researches of the second half of the 19th century, without ever approaching too much to the most radical avant-gardes and with an attention directed towards some moderate novelties of the early twentieth century, such as the stylistic nuances of Symbolism and the experiences of the Impressionist and Fauve matrix developed by the most up-to-date Italians.

Following the death of the philanthropist, the Gallery has continued to increase the art of the twentieth century and, following a substantial restoration lasting from 1997 to 2001, the collections are presented to the public in a new set-up that provides several more corresponding spaces. to the new museum needs: an underground room and an entire floor for teaching.

The part that concerns the nineteenth century contains works of great importance, among which we can remember “Portrait of a man” by Francesco Hayez of 1834, two paintings by Giovanni Cornovali called “Piccio”, “The departure of the conscript” by Girolamo Induno. Among the works of the Macchiaioli movement are those of Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega, Telemaco Signorini, Raffaello Sarnesi and Giuseppe Abbati.

The Scapigliatura is represented by works by Tranquillo Cremona, Daniele Ranzoni and Luigi Conconi.


Numerous paintings by the two greatest Piacenza exponents of realism of the second half of the nineteenth century: Stefano Bruzzi and Francesco Ghittoni.

The twentieth century collects some works of great importance, starting from Boccioni’s “Portrait of the Mother”.

The Ricci Oddi collection in 1924 was donated to the city of Piacenza.


Basilica of Sant’Antonino

The Basilica of Sant’Antonino, patron of Piacenza, is an example of Romanesque architecture and is characterized by a large octagonal tower. It has the dignity of a minor basilica.

This basilica is worth a visit because it is a place of fundamental devotion for the city: here the remains of the patron saint of Piacenza are housed and here you can admire the frescoes by Camillo Gavasetti in the presbytery. In the Chapter Museum the “Brandazza”, a baroque crucifix much loved by Piacenza and other valuable works are preserved. In this church, in 1183, the talks for Peace of Constance between Federico Barbarossa and the Italian Municipalities began.

The basilica was wanted by San Vittore, the first bishop of the city, around 350 and was completed in 375; preserves the relics of Antoninus of Piacenza, a Christian martyr killed near Travo, in Val Trebbia, found, according to tradition, by Bishop Savino in an environment of Roman times under the church of Santa Maria in Cortina, only a few tens of meters away from the basilica. It was subjected to various restructuring works following the damage to the barbarian populations dropped in Northern Italy. To the side there is a cloister built in the late fifteenth century. In 869 the king of Lotaringia, Lotario II was buried there.

In 1183, it hosted the delegates of the Lombard League and the emperor Federico Barbarossa who met there to sign the preliminaries for the peace of Constance.

Among the paintings and frescoes which are in the basilica, we cannot fail to mention those by Camillo Gervasetti of 1622 as well as the 5 paintings with “Scenes from the life of Sant’Antonino” by De Longe.


Church of S. Maria in Cortina

The church of S. Maria in Cortina seems to have been founded in the fifth century. d. C. and is linked to the legend of Sant’Antonino, whose relics were moved to the church of S. Vittore, which later became S. Antonino. The lower layers are made up of large blocks of Roman material, including the beautiful “Cecilio marble”, visible in the surrounding wall of the courtyard; this marble, convex in shape and part of a monument, takes its name from a Cecilius, Augustan tribune.


According to tradition, the church would be linked to the invention of the relics of S. Antonino, found in a hypogeum of the fourth century by Bishop Savino, who would have solemnly moved them to the nearby ancient cathedral, which would then have taken the title of S. Antonino.

The current building, which unfortunately lacks exhaustive studies, should be the result of a later construction site, which incorporated the previous structures, as evidenced by the existence of an ancient fresco. Other subsequent renovations were not lacking (an epigraph recalls a reconstruction that took place in 1491). Pending more detailed studies on this modest-sized building, attention should certainly be drawn to the fresco. The work, very interesting from an iconographic point of view (Christ with his arms raised as a sign of protection of the figures of prayers, all facing the viewer) reveals a more cursive drafting compared to the frescoes of S. Antonino. The dating was pertinently postponed between the end of the 11th century and the beginning of the following (Segagni) after a first indication prior to the year 1000.

It is believed to be one of the oldest churches in the city, in fact, it houses a hypogeum which housed the first tomb of the martyr Sant’Antonino (patron of Piacenza), killed by the assassins of the emperor in the early fourth century.

The memory of that place still survives today to the veneration of the Piacentines: from here on November 13 of each year a procession starts which reaches the Basilica of Sant’Antonino and which recalls the legendary discovery of the martyr’s body, after it was shown to Bishop Savino in dream the exact location of the burial.

The church has undergone various changes, including the most important marked by neo-Gothic art. Among the various works, it houses an icon of Mary Child dear to popular devotion.


Alberoni Gallery

Located inside the homonymous college, it is made up of numerous paintings, sacred furnishings and tapestries from the Roman and Piacenza houses of Cardinal Giulio Alberoni (1664-1752).

The Alberoni Gallery deserves a visit first for Antonello da Messina’s Hecce Homo or Cristo alla Colonna (1473) with its intense dramatic charge accentuated by the setting of the room in which it is housed. This painting is the “highlight” of the collection that Cardinal Giulio Alberoni built during his life.

The most precious paintings include also other Flemish authors of the sixteenth century, and are located in the former apartment reserved for Cardinal Alberoni in a wing of the eighteenth-century building.

In the gallery building, there are other valuable paintings from different eras, while in the large hall there are three series of precious tapestries: two large tapestries representing “Scenes from the wedding of Maximilian of Austria” (from the sixteenth century), eight representatives “Stories of Aeneas and Dido “(from the seventeenth century), and eight other representatives” Stories of Alexander the Great “(from the seventeenth century).

There is also a biographical section dedicated to Cardinal Alberoni, where objects, clothes, furnishings of the high prelate give a picture of his life, customs and tastes of the time. The College, which has existed as an Opera Pia for seminary functions since the last century, was established by Cardinal Giulio Alberoni (1664-1752) for the formation of poor clerics and opened in 1751 in the ancient hospital of San Lazzaro.

Among the works of art, from the Alberoni collections already preserved in the Roman palaces and in the Piacenza residence, there are important works by Antonello da Messina (Ecce Homo), Dughet, Cerquozzi, Courtois, Mola, Reni, Giordano, Gaulli, Solimena, Ceruti , Pannini, Ferrari, as well as a collection of Flemish paintings by Bouts, Provost, Mabuse, de Blés.