The city of Ferrara is situated on the northern bank of the river Po, allowing control and access to the river. It was founded in the 7th c. as a frontier settlement by the Byzantines and consisted of a castle and perhaps of one or two churches (Rosenberg 1997, 1). From the 12th to the 14th c. the city changed dramatically with the creation of a system of fortification walls and ditches, the erection of the two principal churches, San Francesco and San Domenico and the founding of a new centre of the town, transforming the city from a byzantine fortress to a medieval and early renaissance city.  The main ecclesiastic centre of the city developed around the cathedral of San Giorgio and the piazza which was already in existence from the 13th c. (Rosenberg 1997, 17). The area comprised of the Cathedral and the Episcopal palace, whereas opposite the cathedral stood the Palazzo Comunale and San Romano. That area was also a location of intense commercial activity because there were many shops located there including those of shoemakers, cloth merchants and money-changers and there was also a weekly market every Saturday organised in that Piazza (Rosenberg 1997, 35). I think this is the market place which the bishop of Kyzikos crossed without his mantel in order to go to the Emperor and complain (paragraph 49).

Plan of the medieval centre of Ferrara (image from Rosenberg 1997, 17)


However it was at the end of the 14th c. when the ruling position of the Este had been firmly established that their power started being manifested also through architecture with the founding of new and elaborate buildings and major changes to the layout of the city (Rosenberg 1997, 25). Thus the end of the 14th c. was a period of extensive building activity which began with the foundation of a new fortress north of the Este Palace, designed by Bartolino Piloti da Novara. This castle was known as Castello di San Michele or Castelvecchio (Rosenberg 1997, 21-22). One of the reasons that this castle was built, apart from its strategic location protecting the city at the main entrance to the city from the north, was that during a popular tax revolt, the Este family realised the minimum protection that their palace could offer them and the need for a strong fortified refuge point at close proximity to their residence (Rosenberg 1997, 21-22). Also at the end of the 14th c. three new residences were built by Alberto V, the Palazzo Paradiso as the residence of Alberto’s wife, the Palazzo Schifanoia and the Villa Belfiore. These palaces made a clear and bold statement regarding the power, control and wealth of the Este. In addition these palaces were also used as guesthouses for important guests and members of the international nobility. Especially the Belfiore which was located to the north of the city, was used as a rural resting place and retreat for important guests and would later become part of the aristocratic culture and rituals associated with the Este (Rosenberg 1997, 22). In the beginning of the 15th c., Nicolo III, focused more on the strengthening and expanding of the city’s fortifications and focused less on other building activities inside the city. However inside the walls he took an interest in the construction of a new castle on the northern bank of the Po and in laying the foundation for the cathedral bell tower (Rosenberg 1997, 47). At the same period the northeastern side of the city was transformed into an aristocratic residential area, which housed some of the most illustrious families of the city (Rosenberg 1997, 48).









The Translation is © Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, IAA, University of Birmingham 2008


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Last updated 19 June 2008