Monday, November 18, 2013

Where Cameras Fear To Tread

I mentioned in a previous post that sometimes I forget things we've done because there were no cameras allowed, which means I don't have photos to jog my memory for the posts. Well, there were a number of those types of places in Padova. First up is the Cappella della Scrovegni, the exterior of which isn't much to look at. But the inside is covered by frescoes painted by Giotto.

I lifted the picture from Wikipedia for obvious reasons.
This is apparently the #1 thing to see in the city. You have to get your tickets ahead of time, and show up half an hour early for your scheduled time. And once it's your appointment time, you don't actually go directly into the chapel. You sit in a climate-controlled room and watch a video about it. After that, your group is finally allowed through the airlock into the chapel itself.

For 15 minutes.

To me, it wasn't that big of a deal because I'm no religious scholar so I mostly just saw "ooh, paintings," but I can imagine that if you were familiar with all the stories depicted and wanted to examine those, or the technique, or the restoration work in detail, you wouldn't have nearly enough time. There's still a lot of restoration work to be done because unfortunately over the years, the adjoining buildings were knocked down and the chapel had its bare brick walls left open to the elements, which took its toll on the frescoes.

My verdict on the whole thing: it's the thing to see, so you probably should, but go in with your expectations set. You're going to feel herded and you won't get as much time as you might want. On the other hand, the fact that 1. the whole thing arose because some guy felt guilty about his family being moneylenders and 2. Giotto painted essentially every square inch of the walls of the entire building, and did it in a spectacular style, make it pretty interesting.

While on the subject of frescoes, the baptistry in the Duomo di Padova (Padua Cathedral) was also decorated in the "more is more" style. These were done by Giusto de' Menabuoi in the 14th century. He's not a household name, but the paintings are pretty incredible. And at the baptistry, you pay your €5 and can stare at it for as long as you want, without any airlocks or associated hassles.

The rest of the Duomo is more recent. As is frequently the case, there were older churches on the site but one burned down and one was destroyed in an earthquake. The one that is currently in place was finished in 1754 and is curiously ordinary-looking outside, and very modern inside.

Effigy? Wax figure? Mummy? Cryogenically
preserved body? I have no idea.
We also visited the Palazzo Bo, which contains an operating theater which used to be used by the University of Padua. As a side note, the University of Padua is one of the oldest in continuous operation, and in Italy is second only to Bologna. That's nothing to sneeze at, since Bologna is the oldest one in the world. Some pretty famous names have found their way there, incuding Copernicus and Galileo, who was the chair of the mathematics department around 1600. (Also Casanova studied there, although I don't know that he's terribly famous academically speaking.)

Anyhow, back to the operating theater. This thing is awesome.

You can't go into it anymore, you can only look at it from below the spot where the body would have been laid. However, it's still amazing to see. This is the oldest operating theater in Europe, and it's hard to tell from the photo, but the space between railings was standing room only and it's a surprisingly tiny room. Students were crammed in there (capacity was 250 people) and apparently fainting was a problem, although since you were so well wedged in, you couldn't really fall anywhere. Very practical.

For the final no-cameras destination, Morgan and I visited St. Anthony's Basilica.

You can take pictures of the outside.
This was my first visit to a basilica associated with a real saint, by which I mean one I'd actually heard of. The inside is pretty ornate, although not wall-to-wall frescoes or anything.

Although you can't take pictures, there are no rules against drawing.
The two main attractions of the basilica are the Tomb of St. Anthony and the treasury that contains his relics. The treasury was all glass and gold, with containers which include St. Anthony's larynx and his tongue. I didn't really know what to think about that - bones don't seem that weird to me, but a jar with a tongue in it strikes me as maybe a little strange. (I just discovered that some of the relics have been on tour in the UK, which is also odd to me.)

The tomb is in another part of the church. On the day I was there, it was quite busy. A line of people shuffles past the tomb, and touch it and pray to St. Anthony.

I walked around it, but I didn't touch it as it just didn't seem right. It's not my religion; I am merely an observer. I felt even more strongly about that as I looked around - St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things and people, and everywhere were photographs of children who are presumably missing.

I can't really think of anything to follow that up with, so I'll just leave it at that. Next time, a day trip to Venice.

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