Giotto frescoes and medieval saints in Padua, Italy

Padova guide

A city of scholars and saints, arcaded piazze and Giotto frescoes, Padova (Padua) is my choice for the best day trip into the Veneto region, just half an hour west of Venice on the Veneto plains (a fact that leads many savvy travelers to stay in Padova during peak tourist season and day trip into crowded, expensive Venice).

In this ancient university town you will find the church dedicated the St. Anthony, patron saint of all lost things (from car keys to causes), plus the restored fresco cycle in the Scrovegni Chapel by Giotto.

Giotto was the father of modern art and the genius who kick-started the Renaissance back in the 14th century. Hordes visit his frescoes in Assisi each year, but only a trickle make it to this jewel of a chapel near Venice, almost every inch of which is covered with the master's vibrant painting.

Because Padova is on the main train line to Bologna, Florence, and Rome, it makes a great stop en route to or from Venice. You can see all the major sights in a good four to five hours of hustling—or spend a more leisurely time and stay the night.

The Scrovegni Chapel

Padova's biggest sight by far is on the very north edge of town on Piazza Eremitani off Corso Garibaldi.

The Cappella degli Scrovegni (Scrovegni Chapel, or Arena Chapel) (tel. +39-049-201-0020, was entirely frescoed from 1303 to 1306 by Giotto, a genius artist whose use of emotion, foreshortening, modeled figures, saturated colors, and narrative space revolutionized the concept of art and kicked off the modern era in painting.

The chapel as a whole is breathtaking, depicting scenes from the life of Mary and Jesus in 38 panels.

Although many people's attention is drawn to the Last Judgmentcovering the entrance wall, my favorite panels are three emotion-packed scenes.

In the Meeting of Joachim and Ann at the Gate, the soon-to-be parents of Mary greet each other touchingly after a long separation.

In the Arrest of Christ, a yellow-cloaked Judas locks eyes with Jesus as he betrays his Christ with a kiss (the signal Judas used to identify Jesus for the waiting soldiers), and the two men form a chillingly quiet, still center to the martial commotion that swirls around them.

The woe-filled Lamentation of Christ speaks for itself.

The chapel is open daily from 9am to 7pm, with timed entries where 20 minutes. Some summers (starting around April), it stays open to 10pm.

It is well-worth the new, ridiculously inflated admission. However, since visits are now timed and limited (15 people every 20 minutes) it is required to book your tickets 24-hours ahead of time at

The Musei Civici di Eremitani

Attached to the Scrovegni Chapel is the Musei Civici di Eremitani, houses an archaeological collection on the ground floor and a Giotto Crucifix and minor works by major Venetian painters (Giorgione, Jacopo Bellini, Veronese, Tintoretto) from the 14th century on upstairs.

The museum complex is open Tues-Sun 9am–7pm. (Adm). Info: Piazza Eremitani 8, tel. +39-049-820-4551,

The Basilica of St. Anthony

Padova's other great sight is the eastern-looking Basilica di Sant'Antonio—often just called the Basilica del Santo.

The Basilica of Saint Anthony is all domes and mini-minarets from the outside, with Donatello bronzes on the high altar inside. In the north transept is the venerated tomb of St. Anthony, in the south transept is a 14th-century fresco of the Crucifixion.

The church is open daily 6:20am to 7pm (to 7:45pm in summer). Info: Piazza del Santo 11, tel. +39-049-822-5652,

On the piazza in front of the church sits a bronze man on horseback called Gattamelata, by Donatello, who revived the lost art of the equestrian statue in the 15th century.

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