Parma Cathedral Window

The west window, Parma Cathedral

I am very fond of places that are, essentially, universities with a city attached, and the city of Parma, in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna is famously home to the ancient University of Parma, as well as, of course, prosciutto (ham), and parmesan cheese.

It is a fine city to visit, as it is slightly off the tourist’s beaten track. Undeservedly so, as it has some very fine buildings—but long may it stay under the radar!

Parma may have been founded by the Etruscans, as variants of the word (meaning a circular shield) appear in Etruscan inscriptions, and the word was borrowed by the Romans into Latin.

The Roman colony of Parma was founded in 183 B.C. at a crossing of the Via Aemilia and 2,000 families were settled there, but in 44 B.C. the city was destroyed, then rebuilt under the Emperor Augustus.

The city was sacked by Attila, and later destroyed by the Ostrogoth Totila during the Gothic War (535–554), at a time when it was part of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna, and named Chrysopolis (‘the golden city’). By 569, it was part of the Lombard Kingdom of Italy.

During the Middle Ages, the city was an important halt on the Via Francigena, the main road connecting Rome to Northern Europe (as far north as Canterbury). From Parma, the pilgrim road ascended into the Apennines before descending the Passo della Cisa into Tuscany, and turning south to Rome.

To my mind, the two finest buildings in Parma are the baptistery and the duomo (cathedral).

The (restored) baptistery was built—beginning in 1196—in red Verona marble, and contains a magnificent series of thirteenth century frescos, which I will talk about another day.

The eleventh century duomo is a splendid building both inside and out. The west entrance has a projecting porch supported by two typically odd-looking medieval lions, and the arch contains reliefs of the months of the year added in 1281.

The interior is particularly airy and pretty, and dominated by the Assumption, above the altar, painted by Corregio, who se up shop in Parma in 1520.

The image above, however, is of the west window of the cathedral which caught my eye because of the colors on the day and the shadowy surrounding figures.

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