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Ferrara scenes

April 10, 2016

A lot of visitors give short shrift to the Castello Estense at Ferrara, though I don’t know quite what they would expect.

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Perhaps, beguiled by its massive bulk, they arrive hoping to find richly decorated interiors. If so, they would be in for a disappointment. The interior of the castle is empty, a succession of cavernous but unfurnished rooms. The Este family who built the castle departed to Modena and nothing remains of their possessions. In that sense, the castle now is empty and forlorn.

But Castello Estense is well worth a visit. The furniture may have long since been sold, but the ceilings remain – a succession of sumptious cavorting gods followed by worthy looking symbols of heraldic and civic life. To spare visitors the risk of neck ache, giant mirrors have been angled at floor level to reflect the scenery.

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The State – who now owns the castle – has recently initiated a major renovation of the castle although, strapped for cash, recent repairs to the ceilings following an earthquake look like little more than hastily applied strips of sticking plaster.

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Most of the walls are bare of decoration although, in a little passageway, the myth of Bacchus is played out along one wall, with enough naked goings on to keep you amused despite the rather faded paint.

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When we visited the castle, there were very few visitors, apart from the inevitable parties of school children, who seemed mainly interested in that inevitable magnet – the dungeons – and the surrounding narrow passageways.

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Outside, across the square is the Duomo or, if you prefer, the Basilica Cattedrale di San Giorgio, with a stylish arcaded west front.

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Presiding over the square is a statue of Alberto D’Este, who was lord of Ferrara and Modena in the fourteenth century.

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Above the west door is a last judgement scene, with the fully clothed virtuous citizens clasping their hands in saintly fashion, while the naked and miserably wicked sorrowfully contemplate their fate.

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Inside the building, the cathedral has an attractive, almost homely, atmosphere.

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When we arrived, the apse was in darkness, but suddenly – perhaps for a group of tourists – it was flooded with light to reveal another reminder of the last judgement, this time with Bastianino’s Christ triumphant surrounded by a swirling crowd of unclothed bodies.

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Suitable sobered, we returned outside to the sunshine of the square.

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