Interrail day seven – Ferrara

4 May

Another staying-put day, as Ferrara is one of my key destinations. It contains the Biblioteca Ariostea, a very old library named after Ludovico Ariosto, who wrote Orlando Furioso and is Ferrara’s most famous son. Less famously, the library features in my novel, Daughters of Fire.

Today is mostly going to be about history, archeology and architecture, so feel free to skip it if those are not your things.

Biblioteca Ariostea

I started my day (after breakfast at the old and beautiful Hotel de Prati) by visiting the  Ariostea, since that is what I came here to see. It is a lovely fourteenth century building set around a courtyard, as things tended to be in those days. It started off as a palace of the house of Este (of whom more later) and later became part of the University of Ferrara. It contains some lovely art and some very old books. It also contains lots of students – far more than sightseers. This is a student town and, like St Andrews (my alma mater), has been for hundreds of years.

The library also contains Ariosto’s somewhat ostentatious tomb.

And an angelic bookworm.

Ferrara is a fairly uniform-looking town, all made out of the same terracotta and brick, and its state of preservation belies its great age. It has classic Mediterranean / Byzantine elements of galleried pavements and arches over side streets.

Ferrara has also been the first place where my language skills have been really tested. A few times here I have asked if someone speaks English to receive the reply “little bit” or simply “no”. However, with a bit of goodwill, hand gestures and my very limited Italian, it has been ok so far.

After the library, the rest of the day was mine to ‘do’ Ferrara. I wanted to see the Museo Archeologico, which was supposed to have some excellent Etruscan artefacts. Indeed it did – twenty rooms of them! That’s 3.3 rooms for every euro I spent on the ticket.

Museo Archeologico

I found out at the museum that Ferrara considers itself the descendent of a Etruscan city called Spina. In my opinion, what the Etruscans did best was representations of animals and inclusion of women. So that is what you are about to see lots of pictures of.


I had a wee wander along the medieval city walls before lunch, enjoying the sunshine in my t-shirt and sandals. The local women, of course, were in jackets and coats. You can’t be too careful – go out without a jacket in 24 degrees and you might catch your death!

Those trees smelt amazing, which was a nice change because, while Ferrara is beautiful, it doesn’t always smell all that good. Medieval drains, I suppose. I saw a few cyclists as I walked, but nothing to uphold Ferrara’s claim that it is one of the places with most cyclists in the world. I can only assume they have not heard of the Low Countries.

My final place to visit was Castello Estense – Este Castle. I told you the House of Este was coming up again. They more or less built Ferrara over the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and their castle dominates the heart of the town. They patronised artists like Titian and Michaelangelo, and tried to keep Ferrara independent from other Italian city states, mostly by marrying royalty and paying off the Pope (and in one case, by marrying the Pope’s daughter, a demure young thing called Lucrezia Borgia).

But the reason I wanted to visit the castle was that one my heroes grew up here: Olimpia Fulvia Morata, who was educated alongside Renée of France’s daughter. It was funny seeing Renée (or Renata) described as a heretical embarrassment to her family who had to be sent away, rather than a stalwart supporter of the Reformation who was persecuted by her own family. Perspective, I suppose.

Castello Estense

There’s lots of information in the castle (too much to take in) and lots of art, both medieval and modern, including an exhibition by a Ferrara artist called Mantovani that seemed to go on forever, as I was politely ushered into hall after hall of his paintings. It’s a bit like when you go to Glamis Castle and you’re interested in the Macbeth connection, but all they want to tell you about is the Queen Mother 🥱

Anyway, it’s getting late and I’m on the road again tomorrow, so I’ll just dump all the pics on you on a one-er: views, modern art and medieval art. At least you can skip it if you like – you don’t have to go through all of it to get to the end of the post!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: