One Day in Parma - A Complete Walking Tour (Maps & Tips)
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This small city in Emilia Romagna has an incredible mix of culture and history. Exploring Parma offers a richly rewarding experience, particularly for food enthusiasts who can savour the delights of parmesan cheese and Parma ham, both topping the list of culinary must-tries. Additionally, those with an appreciation for art and culture will find themselves captivated by the Romanesque cathedral, ancient Roman remnants, Renaissance artworks, and the renowned opera house.
Getting to Parma
Parma By Train: Parma is linked with many regional and high speed trains to Bologna and Milan. The train station is conveniently located near both to the historic centre and the pick up place for the Parmigiano Production and Parma Ham Tour & Tasting.
Parma By Bus: Again well connected, the central bus station is located behind the Museums & the Pilotta Palace.
Parma By Car: Warning! The historical centre of Parma is a Limited Traffic Zone (ZTL) controlled by cameras working every day, included festivities. All around the Limited Traffic Zone there are many covered car parks. I would suggest Viale Riccardo Barilla Parking
Start off with a Parmesan, Parma Ham & Balsamic Vinegar Tour
You have come to the home of Parmigiano-Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, and Prosciutto di Parma, which means you will want to start the day off with an organised tour. I suggest you check availability of the tour below, which takes about 7.5 hours.
If that is fully booked you can try this shorter Parmigiano Production and Parma Ham Tour & Tasting Tour (5 hours).
Historic Walking Tour of Parma
Camera di San Paolo e Cella di Santa Caterina
From the train station walk down Via Giuseppe Verdi, at the end of which continue through the arches. You enter a large square, walk past the Monumento a Giuseppe Verdi and turn left. Walk south along Str. Giuseppe Garibald and turn first left onto Strada Macedonio Melloni. The Camera di San Paolo e Cella di Santa Caterina is on your left, next to the Castle Puppets Museum Giordano Ferrari.
The Chamber of Saint Paul was originally a part of the abbess’ quarters within the Benedictine Convent of Saint Paul. It underwent decorative enhancements starting in 1514 under the guidance of Abbess Giovanna da Piacenza, who presided over a period marked by vibrant cultural activities.
The frescoes painted by Correggio in 1519 are considered true masterpieces of Italian High Renaissance art. The room features an umbrella vault divided into 16 segments by late Gothic ribs. Correggio, influenced by the works of Mantegna, Raphael, and Leonardo in Milan, skillfully created the illusion of a pergola adorned with festoons of fruit suspended by ribbons. At the center of the dome, one can observe the coat of arms of Abbess Giovanna. Each of the 16 segments houses an oval trompe-l’oeil opening, displaying finely executed putti in playful poses, with elements such as dogs, bows and arrows, hunting equipment, and trophies.
Beneath the vault, faux-marble lunettes showcase monochrome mythological figures in a classical style, while the hood over the massive stone fireplace depicts Diana on a chariot, preparing for the hunt.
These frescoes transcend being mere allegories of the goddess of hunting. The cycle is widely recognized as a visual record of the abbess’s spirited struggle against civil and religious authorities who sought to diminish the political influence of convents and stifle their thriving intellectual and social life.
The adjacent room, adorned in 1514 by Alessandro Araldi, was also part of the abbess’ living quarters. It features a composition of grotesque elements with putti, fantastical creatures, and gilded stucco rosettes set against a dark blue background. Tondi (circular paintings) and panels depict scenes from the Old and New Testaments, while on the ceiling, musical angels in trompe-l’oeil style gaze over a balustrade.
Alessandro Araldi also decorated a small chapel located on the opposite side of the monastery garden, known as Saint Catherine’s Cell, with two scenes from the life of the saint.Read more about Chamber of St. Paul and Cell of St. Catherine
Address: Camera di San Paolo e Cella di Santa Caterina, Strada Macedonio Melloni, Parma, Province of Parma, Italy | Hours: Opening hours: Monday, Thursday and Friday from 9.30am to 5.30pm (last entry at 5pm); Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 9.30am to 6.30pm (last entry at 6.00pm); closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Opening during public holidays for Easter and Easter Monday, 25 April, 1 May, 2 June 2023. Open on Tuesday 15 August and 31 October 2023. | Price: €8.00
Diocesan Museum of Parma
Continue along Strada Macedonio Melloni bearing left as it turns into Borgo del Parmigianino. You will see Pinacoteca Stuard on your left, an art museum housed inside a wing of the 10th century Benedictine monastery of St. Paolo. Turn right into Borgo Montassù and right again. At the T-junction turn left to reach the Diocesan Museum.
The Diocesan Museum of Parma officially opened its doors in March 2003, marking the culmination of an extensive restoration effort that also encompassed the Bishop’s Palace. The museum’s exhibition space is situated in the basement of the palace, and it houses a remarkable collection of archaeological discoveries and artworks sourced from the Cathedral, the Baptistery, and various locations within the diocesan territory.
Throughout the restoration process undertaken to create the Bishopric and the Museum, significant historical remains were uncovered. These included the foundations of a medieval building and a segment of the Roman walls dating back to the late 3rd century AD. These archaeological findings added a rich layer of historical context to the museum and its surroundings.Read more about Diocesan Museum, Parma
Address: Museo Diocesano, Parma, Vicolo Vescovado, Parma, Province of Parma, Italy | Hours: Open every day from 10am to 6pm* (* last admission 5.30pm) | Price: € 12,00 Diocesan Museum and the Baptistery | Website
Monastery and church of San Giovanni Evangelista
Walk to the left of the Cathedral along Str. del Consorzio to reach Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista.
The monastery complex comprises three main elements: the Church, the Monastery, and the San Giovanni Old Pharmacy.
The Church, constructed for the Benedictine order between 1498 and 1510, presents a striking architectural contrast. Its elaborate white marble Baroque facade stands in stark contrast to the Renaissance design of the cloisters and convent.
Inside the church, designed in a Latin-cross layout, a frieze along the nave was painted in 1522-23 by Correggio. He also adorned the nave columns with grotesque designs and embellished the entrance to the 5th north chapel. The most famous fresco cycle in the church’s dome, traditionally known as the “Vision of St. John at Patmos,” features an unusual subject in Christian iconography. In this artwork, the evangelist is depicted as an elderly man gazing upward at the sky, while the central figure of Christ moves toward him. The use of light, colors, and the portrayal of clouds upon which the apostles are seated creates an illusion of remarkable depth, freedom, and dynamism. Behind the 17th-century polychrome marble altar is a large canvas of the “Transfiguration” painted by Girolamo Mazzola-Bedoli, who also created the “Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine” in the 4th north chapel in 1536. A wooden choir by Marcantonio Zucchi, featuring intricate inlays of floral motifs, town views, hills, and musical instruments, encircles the apse.
Notably, a putto located under the tower between the north pendentives has been recently attributed to Parmigianino. Parmigianino’s frescoes in the north aisle also depict figures of saints.
Adjacent to the church entrance is the Benedictine monastery, a sprawling complex that includes a chapter-house, a refectory, and elegant Renaissance cloisters. These cloisters include the St. John Cloister (1537), the Chapter Cloister (1500) with a marble portal, and the Large St. Benedict Cloister. Correggio’s frescoes in the chapter-house portray the Christian Sacrifice.
Within the monastery is a 16th-century library featuring frescoed walls and housing a collection of over 20,000 books and rare codices.Read more about Monastery and church of San Giovanni Evangelista
Address: San Giovanni Evangelista, Piazzale San Giovanni, Parma, Province of Parma, Italy
Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
Walk around back to the front of the Cattedrale di Parma and the Baptistery of Parma.
The Cathedral, devoted to the Virgin Mary, stands as an exceptional representation of Romanesque architecture in Italy. It was initially constructed by Bishop Cadalus, who later became the antipope Honorius II due to his heretical beliefs. In 1117, a devastating earthquake laid the cathedral to ruins, but it was subsequently rebuilt and completed during the 12th century. The addition of the towering bell tower, crowned with a gilt copper angel, took place in the following century, while the side chapels were incorporated during the 14th and 15th centuries.
The cathedral’s facade is crafted from sandstone blocks and adorned with a row of loggias as well as two tiers of galleries. The porch at the main entrance is supported by lions, a creation dating back to 1281 by master stone-cutter Giambono da Bissone. The presence of an octagonal dome, situated atop a crossing tower, is somewhat unconventional for a medieval church.
Internally, the Cathedral follows a Latin cross layout. The ceiling and walls are embellished with frescoes executed in the Mannerist style. An impressive 16th-century red Verona marble staircase leads to the transepts. On the right side, a renowned relief known as the “Deposition” by Benedetto Antelami can be found, representing one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture with evident Provencal influences.
The cathedral’s dome presents a striking feature, frescoed by Correggio in 1526 with the “Assumption of the Virgin.” This artwork features concentric circles of clouds and heavenly hosts, which served as an inspiration for much of the subsequent Baroque art due to its pioneering illusionistic style. Correggio’s bold use of foreshortening in this fresco makes the figures within the clouds appear to protrude realistically into the viewer’s space.
The vaults above the choir were adorned by Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli in 1538. He also undertook the frescoing of the “Last Judgment” in the semidome of the apse.Read more about Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral, Parma
Address: Cattedrale di Parma, Piazza Duomo, Parma, Province of Parma, Italy | Hours: Baptistery and Diocesan Museum open every day from 10 am to 6 pm | Price: Free | Website
Constructed between 1196 and 1307, the Baptistery of Parma, crafted from pink Verona marble, stands as a prime example of the architectural and artistic transition from Romanesque to Gothic styles in Italy.
This octagonal baptistery boasts four levels of open loggias adorned with a series of blind arches and majestic pinnacles crowning its structure. It is unquestionably one of the most remarkable illustrations of Italy’s shift from Romanesque to Gothic artistry.
The construction of this baptistery commenced in 1196, carried out by the same Lombard artisans who were concurrently working on the cathedral. Its final completion occurred between 1302 and 1307, under the supervision of Benedetto Antelami, who was responsible for executing the majority of the ornate sculptures, which are characteristic of medieval iconography.
The lower portion of the baptistery is encircled by a zoophorus, adorned with bas-relief sculptures featuring an array of creatures. These include animals, mythical beasts, infernal beings, sea monsters, centaurs, mermaids, unicorns, and Zodiac signs.
The north entrance, known as the Portale della Vergine, is embellished with depictions of the Adoration of the Magi and the Annunciation, the twelve prophets, the Tree of Jacob on the right side, the Tree of Jesse on the left, and the Tree of Life on the interior. The west entrance, or Portale del Giudizio, features a representation of the Redeemer in the lunette above.
The southern entrance, referred to as the Portale della Vita or Door of Life, showcases a scene in its lunette where a man is seen eating honey in a tree, accompanied by two rodents and a dragon at the base. Flanking this scene are depictions of the chariots of the Sun and Moon.
Within the interior, which features a sixteen-sided polygonal design, are the remarkable sculptures created by Benedetto Antelami portraying the Months, the Seasons, and the Signs of the Zodiac. Above the altar, in the semi-dome, a Christ in Glory is encircled by the symbols of the four evangelists and accompanied by two angels.
Address: Baptistery of Parma, Piazza Duomo, Parma, Province of Parma, Italy | Hours: Open every day from 10am to 6pm* (* last admission 5.30pm) | Price: € 12,00 Diocesan museum & Baptistery | Website
Walk along Str. Duomo and turn left into Strada Cavour and its shops. Piazza Garibaldi is at the end.
Piazza Garibaldi, situated on the historic site of the ancient Roman forum, serves as Parma’s bustling cobbled center. The square is divided by the city’s primary east-to-west thoroughfare, Via Mazzini, which continues as Strada della Repubblica.
On the northern side of the square stands the façade of the 17th-century Palazzo del Governatore, which now houses municipal offices. This building features a notable addition in the form of a giant sundial, installed in 1829, adding an intriguing and functional element to the architectural landscape of the square.Read more about Piazza Garibaldi, Parma
Address: Piazza Garibaldi, Parma, Province of Parma, Italy
Basilica of St Mary of Steccata
Leave along Piazza della Steccata to the right of the road you entered the square on, follow the brown sign for Pilotta. The Piazza della Steccata hold a Monumento al Parmigianino an Italian Mannerist painter native to Parma.
Consecrated in 1539, the church boasts an elegant Bramante-style architectural design. It takes the form of a Greek cross, featuring semi-circular apses and square corner chapels. The façade is adorned with pilasters, windows, and mullions, crowned by a marble dome equipped with a loggia and lantern. Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, who arrived in Parma in 1526 on the request of Pope Clement VII to fortify the city’s defences, likely played a role in the construction of this dome.
Inside the church, to the left of the entrance, is the tomb of Count Adam Neipperg, the morganatic spouse of Marie Louise of Austria. This tomb was crafted between 1829 and 1831 by the sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini.
The church’s most elaborate artistic work is the fresco cycle positioned above the presbytery, which was meticulously painted by Parmigianino between 1530 and 1539. This cycle illustrates the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins and is adorned with a profusion of animal and plant motifs against a red background. On the intrados, which features gold decorations on a blue background, are four monochrome figures: Eve and Aaron on the right and Adam and Moses on the left, although Parmigianino left this work unfinished.
The altar, adorned with 18th-century statues, houses the fresco of the Madonna Suckling the Child. This painting, originating from the original oratory, is attributed to an anonymous late 14th-century artist. Behind the presbytery is the Knight’s Choir, and above it, there is a small bronze statue of Christ Risen created by Andrea Spinelli.
A door on the left side leads to the sacristy and the burial chapel constructed in 1823 by Marie Louise. This chapel serves as the final resting place for the dukes of Parma from the Farnese and Bourbon families.
Adjacent to the church is the Costantinian Museum, which houses a treasure trove of art and historical artefacts for visitors to explore.Read more about Basilica Santa Maria della Steccata
Address: Basilica di Santa Maria della Steccata, Strada Giuseppe Garibaldi, Parma, Province of Parma, Italy | Hours: Daily from 7.30 to 12.00 and from 15.00 to 18.30. Functions from Monday to Friday at 8.00, 9.00, 10.00, 16.30 (except July and August); Saturday at 8.00, 9.00, 10.00, 16.30; Sunday at 8.00, 9.30, 11.00, 16.30. | Price: Free | Website
As you come out of Basilica di Santa Maria della Steccata turn right. Teatro Regio is on your left.
The Regio Theatre, commissioned by Maria Luigia and designed by architect Nicola Bettoli, stands as a testament to architectural and cultural grandeur. It was constructed between 1821 and 1829 on the grounds of the former Benedictine convent of St. Alessandro.
The neoclassical facade of the theater is an impressive sight, featuring a portico supported by ten Ionic columns. A double row of windows and ornate decorations by Tommaso Bandini adorn both sides of the tympanum, portraying allegorical representations of Fame and the Lyre.
Upon entering the theater’s neoclassical hall, visitors find themselves in the elliptical stalls. These were adorned in white and gold by Girolamo Magnani in 1853 and are surrounded by four tiers of boxes and a gallery. The theater is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, intricate stage designs, elegant halls, a beautifully decorated ceiling, and a curtain adorned by Borghese in 1824. A grand chandelier, manufactured in Paris and weighing a staggering one ton, illuminates the space. All of these elements combine to make the theater a veritable shrine dedicated to the opera of Verdi and renowned for its discerning and critical audience.
The Regio Theatre officially opened on May 16, 1829, with the premiere of the opera “Zaira,” which was specially composed by Vincenzo Bellini for the occasion. Since then, it has continued to uphold its status as one of the most esteemed opera houses in the world, hosting performances that celebrate the rich heritage of Italian and international opera.Read more about Regio Theatre
Address: Teatro Regio, Strada Giuseppe Garibaldi, Parma, Province of Parma, Italy | Hours: from Tuesday to Saturday 9.30am – 12.30pm / 2.30pm – 5.30pm; Sunday 10am – 4pm. Starting of the tours every 60 minutes. Duration 30 minutes. | Price: € 7,00 | Website
Palazzo della Pilotta
Head across the Piazza della Pace to reach the Palazzo della Pilotta.
The Pilotta, originally conceived as a building to complement the Ducal Palace and serve the needs of the Court, is a vast and complex architectural ensemble that saw the contributions of various architects during different periods.
Construction is believed to have commenced before 1583, starting with the “Corridore,” an east-to-west extension (now occupied by the Petitot Gallery of the Palatine Library). This covered walkway connected the ancient Viscontea Fortress to a cluster of houses occupied by the Farnese family upon their arrival in Parma.
Construction activities were interrupted with the death of Duke Ottavio in 1586 but resumed in the early months of 1602 under Duke Ranuccio I. Ranuccio I was fond of grand and imposing buildings that underscored his power, and the works on the Pilotta were completed in 1611. However, the project left the site unfinished, notably lacking the imposing facade facing the “Ghiaia.”
After the death of Ranuccio I in 1622, Cardinal Ottavio Farnese called upon Girolamo Rainaldi from Rome to assist the architect Battistelli, but little progress was made on the construction.
On the northeast side, new buildings were added adjacent to the Dominican monastery and the existing Gothic church of Saint Peter the Martyr. The Farnese family unsuccessfully attempted to demolish this church, resulting in the construction of the voluminous Palace that enclosed three large courtyards known as Pilotta, Saint Peter the Martyr, Guazzatoio, and Della Rocchetta.
The monumental scissor staircase, covered by an octagonal cupola, leads to the Museum of Antiquities and the first floor, providing access to the Farnese Theater, the National Gallery, and the Palatine Library. It is considered the first example in Italy of an “Imperial” staircase.
Significant interventions, including restoration and internal restructuring, were carried out on Palazzo Pilotta between 1822 and 1824 under the guidance of Nicola Bettoli, with assistance from Paolo Toschi.
On May 13, 1944, a devastating bombing raid severely damaged a large portion of the west and south wings, including the Teatro Farnese. These sections were subsequently rebuilt in the years immediately following the end of World War II.Read more about Museums & the Pilotta palace
Address: Piazza della Pilotta, Parma, Province of Parma, Italy | Hours: Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10.30am to 7pm (last entrance at 6pm). | Price: € 16.00 | Website
Walk through the arches of the Pilotta Palace and cross over the Ponte Verdi. The Parco Ducale is in front of you.
The intricate and lush green landscape of the Ducal Park was initially designed in 1560 and expanded during the 18th century. Adorned with sculptures by J.B. Boudard, it later underwent modifications in the French style.
Within the park’s grounds stand the Ducal Palace and the Palazzetto Eucherio Sanvitale, constructed in Renaissance style in 1520 by Giorgio Da Erba. The small palace boasts frescoes by Parmigianino, featuring a Madonna and child, which have been recently restored. Additionally, there is an oil painting on one of the walls depicting scenes from the Life of the Virgin, in the late Mannerist style, attributed to the clergyman Cosimo Piazza. The wall also features grotesque elements and landscapes from the late 16th century.
Noteworthy within the park are the Arcadia woods, which contain the ruins of the Temple of Arcadia, created by Petitot. In the 18th century, these woods were a gathering place for Parmesan Arcadians.
The Fountain of Parma River, situated in the middle of the park’s lake, was originally located in the Ducal Palace in Colorno. Under the rule of Marie Louise, who opened the Park to the citizens, significant changes were made to its botanical features to align it more with the English style of landscaping.
The park offers a range of amenities, including a playground for children, fountains, sports tracks, a dedicated area for dogs, and a café with outdoor seating where visitors can relax and enjoy the scenic surroundings.
Exit the park the same gate you entered and cross back over the river and turning immediately left. to walk alongside it.Read more about Parco Ducale
Address: Parco Ducale, Largo Luca Ganzi, Parma, Province of Parma, Italy | Hours: November to March every day from 7am to 8pm. From April to October every day from 6am to 12am. | Website
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