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Situated 30 m. N.N.E. of Bologna, 30 ft. above sea-level on the Po di Volano, a branch channel of the main stream of the Po river, which is 3 1/2 miles north. The town has broad streets and numerous palaces, which date from the 14th century, when it was the seat of the court of the house of Este, and had, it is said, 100,000 inhabitants.
The most prominent building is the square castle of the house of Este, in the centre of the town, a brick building surrounded by a moat, with four towers. It was built after 1385 and partly restored in 1554; the pavilions on the top of the towers date from the latter year. Near it is the hospital of S. Anna, where Torquato Tasso was confined during his attack of insanity (1579–1586).
The Palazzo del Municipio, rebuilt in the 18th century, was the earlier residence of the Este family. Close by it is the cathedral of S. Giorgio , consecrated in 1135, when the Romanesque lower part of the main fašade and the side fašades were completed. It was built by Guglielmo degli Adelardi (d. 1146), who is buried in it. The upper part of the main fašade, with arcades of pointed arches, dates from the 13th century, and the portal has recumbent lions and elaborate sculptures above. The interior was restored in the baroque style in 1712. The campanile, in the Renaissance style, dates from 1451–1493, but the last storey was added at the end of the 16th century.
A little way off is the university, which has faculties of law, architecture, pharmacy, medicine and natural science; the library has valuable MSS., including part of that of the Orlando Furioso and letters by Tasso. The other churches are of less interest than the cathedral, though S. Francesco, S. Benedetto, S. Maria in Vado and S. Cristoforo are all good early Renaissance buildings. The numerous early Renaissance palaces, often with good terra-cotta decorations, form quite a feature of Ferrara; few towns of Italy have so many of them proportionately, though they are mostly comparatively small in size. Among them may be noted those in the N. quarter (especially the four at the intersection of its two main streets), which was added by Ercole (Hercules) I. in 1492–1505, from the plans of Biagio Rossetti, and hence called the Addizione Erculea.
The finest of these is the Palazzo dei Diamanti, so called from the diamond points into which the blocks of stone with which it is faced are cut. It contains the National picture gallery, with a large number of pictures of artists of the school of Ferrara. This did not acquire prominence until the latter half of the 15th century, when its best masters were Cosimo Tura (1432–1495), Francesco Cossa (d. 1480) and Ercole dei Roberti (d. 1496). To this period are due famous frescoes in the Palazzo Schifanoia, which was built by the Este family; those of the lower row depict the life of Borso of Este, in the central row are the signs of the zodiac, and in the upper are allegorical representations of the months. The vestibule was decorated with stucco mouldings by Domenico di Paris of Padua. The building also contains fine choir-books with miniatures, and a collection of coins and Renaissance medals.
The simple house of Ludovico Ariosto, erected by himself after 1526, in which he died in 1532, lies farther west. The best Ferrarese masters of the 16th century of the Ferrara school were Lorenzo Costa (1460–1535), and Dosso Dossi (1479–1542), the most eminent of all, Girolamo da Carpi and Benvenuto Tisi (il Garofalo) 1481–1559.
The origin of Ferrara is uncertain, and probabilities are against the supposition that it occupies the site of the ancient Forum Alieni. It was probably a settlement formed by the inhabitants of the lagoons at the mouth of the Po. It appears first in a document of Aistulf of 754(?) as a city forming part of the exarchate of Ravenna. After 984 we find it a fief of Tedaldo, count of Modena and Canossa, nephew of the emperor Otho I . It afterwards made itself independent, and in 1101 was taken by siege by the countess Matilda. At this time it was mainly dominated by several great families, among them the Adelardi (or Aleardi).
In 1146 Guglielmo, the last of the Adelardi, died, and his property passed, as the dowry of his niece the Marchesella, to Azzo VI d'Este. There was considerable hostility between the newly entered family and the Salinguerra, but after considerable struggles Azzo VII Novello was nominated perpetual podestÓ in 1242; in 1259 he took Ezzelino of Verona prisoner in battle. His grandson, Obizzo II. (1264–1293), succeeded him, and he was made perpetual lord of the city by the population. The house of Este was from henceforth settled in Ferrara. In 1289 he was also chosen as lord of Modena, one year later he was made lord of Reggio.
Niccol˘ III (1393–1441) received several popes with great magnificence, especially Eugene IV, who held a council here in 1438. His son Borso received the title of duke for the imperial fiefs of Modena and Reggio from emperor Frederick III in 1452 (in which year Girolamo Savonarola was born here), and in 1471 was made duke of Ferrara by Pope Paul II. Ercole I (1471–1505) carried on a war with Venice and increased the magnificence of the city.
During the reign of Ercole I, one of the most significant patrons of the arts in late 15th and early 16th century Italy after the Medici, Ferrara grew into a cultural center, especially for music. Composers came to Ferrara from many parts of Europe, especially France and Flanders; Josquin Des Prez worked for Duke Ercole for a time (producing the Missa Hercules dux Ferrariae, which he wrote for him); Jacob Obrecht came to Ferrara twice (and died during an outbreak of plague there in 1505); and Antoine Brumel served as principal musician from 1505. Alfonso I, son of Ercole, was also an important patron; his preference for instrumental music resulted in Ferrara becoming an important center of composition for the lute.
Alfonso married the notorious Lucrezia Borgia, and continued the war with Venice with success. In 1509 he was excommunicated by Pope Julius II, and attacked the pontifical army in 1512 outside Ravenna, which he took.
Gaston de Foix fell in the battle, in which he was supporting Alphonso. With the succeeding popes he was able to make peace. He was the patron of Ariosto from 1518 onwards. His son Ercole II married RenÚe, daughter of Louis XII of France; he too embellished Ferrara during his reign (1534–1559). His son Alfonso II married Lucrezia, daughter of grand-duke Cosimo I of Tuscany, then Barbara, sister of the emperor Maximilian IIand finally Margherita Gonzaga,daughter of the duke of Mantua. He raised the glory of Ferrara to its highest point, and was the patron of Tasso and Guarini, favouring, as the princes of his house had always done, the arts and sciences. He had no legitimate male heir, and in 1597 Ferrara was claimed as a vacant fief by Pope Clement VIII, as was also Comacchio .
During the reign of Alfonso II, Ferrara once again developed an impressive musical establishment, rivaled in Italy only by the adjacent city of Venice, and the traditional musical centers such as Rome, Florence and Milan. Composers such as Luzzasco Luzzaschi, Lodovico Agostini, and later Carlo Gesualdo, represented the avant-garde tendency of the composers there, writing for gifted virtuoso performers, including the famous concerto di donne — the three virtuoso female singers Laura Peverara , Anna Guarini, and Livia d'Arco . Vincenzo Galilei praised the work of Luzzaschi, and Girolamo Frescobaldi studied with him. Visitors came to hear the spectacular productions of the Este musicians, the activities of which mostly ceased in 1598 with the demise of the Este court.
A fortress was constructed by Pope Paul V on the site of the castle called "Castel Tedaldo", at the south-west angle of the town. The town remained a part of the states of the Church, the fortress being occupied by an Austrian garrison from 1832 until 1859, when it became part of the kingdom of Italy.
A considerable area within the walls of Ferrara is unoccupied by buildings, especially on the north, where, the handsome Renaissance church of S. Cristoforo, with the cemetery, stands; but modern times have brought a renewal of industrial actinity. Ferrara is on the main line from Bologna to Padua and Venice, and has branches to Ravenna and Poggio Rusco (for Suzzara).
The town is still surrounded by more than 9 km of ancient walls, mainly built in 15th-16th century .
To visit: the Este Castle , a notable cathedral of the 12th century , the Certosa , some monasteries , a historical theatre , the Church of San Francesco (by Biagio Rossetti ) , the Church of San Domenico , the Church of San Giorgio , the Church of San Paolo , and many other monuments  and museums .
Ferrara hosts some Synagogues and a Jewish Museum, in the heart of the medieval centre, close to the Cathedral and the Castello Estense. This street was part of the ghetto in which the Jews were separated from the rest of the population of Ferrara from c.1627 to 1859.
The Ferrara Buskers Festival is a non competitive parade of the best street musicians in the world. In terms of tradition and dimension it is the most important festival of this kind.
The Archivio Storico Comunale contains a relevant amount of historical documents, starting from 15th century. The Archivio Storico Diocesano is more ancient, mentioned in documents in 955, and contains precious documents collected across the centuries by the clergy. Many libraries also enrich this town, which possesses a cultural heritage of extraordinary importance.
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