Our Parma town tour started at 16:00 with guide Elisabetta. She was a cutie--full of enthusiasm and wore to-die-for lime green leather shoes. I did lust after them and asked where I could buy a pair. She laughed and said in Milan. Oh, well, next trip.
The walking tour was two hours. In the 1700s, French Bourbon ruler Philip hired French architect Ennemond Petitot. He introduced the French neo-classical style to this area. Its clean lines are apparent and much less decorative than the baroque style we saw earlier in our trip. We also saw a lot of covered "sidewalks" as we did in Torino. That was good as it was sprinkling.
Parma's history is also linked to Napoleon's Austrian wife, Marie-Louise, who governed the area from 1816-1847. She loved the indigenous violets. Today violets are used in perfumes, local baking as decoration, or even to eat in candied form. French influence goes beyond architecture and cooking, as a number of Parmasanians (?) still trill their R's quite heavily.
We saw the outside of the Opera House (built 1829) and peeked into the windows.The Verdi Festival was in full swing so visiting hours were limited. Music was wafting out of the building and many people sat on the steps enjoying Verdi's works from there.
Being an all-around theatre person for over 30 years (directed once, acted once, but mostly stage managed and did other backstage crew things), a big thrill for me was to see the Teatro Farnese. It is considered to be the world's largest privately built theatre and constructed in the Italian baroque style. It is also considered to have the first ever permanent proscenium arch (audience "viewing frame").
The entrance is constructed totally of wood, but shaped and painted to look like marble. You can't tell the difference until you get up close to see the wood grain of the facade. Inside it is richly decked out with wood columns, arches, and stadium seating.
We got to walk up on stage. It was huge and breathtaking to imagine being in a performance with 4,500 people in the audience looking on. At times the floor was flooded for "sea battle" spectacles. Pretty amazing for the time.
It was inaugurated in 1628 during a wedding celebration between a local Farnese family member and a member of the d'Medici family. Only nine performances with held during its prime. It was almost destroyed by WWII Allied bombing. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1962. Here is a model of the original theatre, what it looked like bombed out, and photo as it is today. (YouTube video: here.)
As we continued, we saw the high fashion shopping area and the outdoor tent market, located along the Parma River. They sold everything from antiques to jewelry to clothes (including fur coats) to local food items.
We also saw the French Market. in the main town square. There were cafes and bistros, a windmill, and lots of shops selling French products--lilac soap, croissants, airy macaroons of every color and flavor, perfumes., etc. A large statue of Garibaldi overlooked it all.
We saw a few more churches and town squares, the military academy, and government offices (which also house historic government documents, antique furniture, oil paintings, and an old organ.)
The end of our tour took us to Parma's Romanesque cathedral built in 1106. What makes a church a cathedral is that it contains a bishop's chair or "throne," serving as the central church of the diocese.
Its inner dome is particularly interesting, decorated by the illusionistic fresco painter Antonio da Correggio. Standing in two different positions in the church, it looks like two different scenes. Google "Assumption of Mary + Parma" and then click "Images" to see some great close-up photos.
Next door to the duomo is the pink and white baptistery built in 1196. It rivals the one we would see later in Florence.
It was a restaurant in the boutique Hotel Daniel. Very elegant. Traditional Parma food is served here. We were met by the owner Daniel himself. The staff was excellent, including our waiter Onofrio.
We were seated in an out of the way table surrounded by rich and interesting art work. We asked about that and he said much of it was local artists who painted for their dinner. I asked, "Like Picasso?" Daniele laughed and replied, "Yes!"
This place was a meat lovers paradise. After all, this is the "land of ham." One appetizer was a wonderful selection of four cured meats. This was served with very airy "pocket" squares of bread.The main course for the carnivores was a plate of maybe five different meat and marrow delicacies, including veal tongue tartar. They were cut and served off a cart at table-side. This dish was called Il Nostro Bollito (Our Boil).
Chef chowed down like he was in heaven and so did some of the others. A few in the group probably needed a more refined palate to totally enjoy the meat-filled fare. A very hot spiced fruit named mustarda was served as a side, made of syrup, preserved fruit, and mustard. It was hot like Japanese wasabi--too hot for some, but others really enjoyed it.
Lambrusco is the wine of this region. I remember drinking it at home in the 70s and it was not so good. But here it was wonderful on the nose and the palate.
There were several choices for dessert. I chose vanilla gelato with wild strawberries. Ummmmh! There was also semifreddo al croccante (crunchy parfait with chocolate sauce) and others. We traded bites, of course!
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Again tummies stuffed to the brim with wine and food. Between that and our walking work-out we plunged into bed for a good night's rest.