Daytrip to Real Italy

Trip Start May 20, 2009
Trip End Jun 04, 2009

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Flag of Italy  , Veneto,
Thursday, May 28, 2009

Back in the hotel in Venice watching FC Barcelona wrap up the title in the European Champions League final over Manchester United.  Kind of the Super Bowl for European soccer.  Today was a refreshing day in many respects.  We slept in very late, then took a daytrip back to the mainland and the city of Padua, or Padova, as known in Italy.  It's a historic college town of 200,000 with a well preserved medieval town center.  It's located about 30 minutes train ride west of Venice.  The highlight was visiting the Scrovegni Chapel which is like a mini-Sistine Chapel with colorful frescos covering the walls and ceilings.  These frescos date back to 1305 by Giotto, considered the first artist to bring emotion and 3-D depth to medieval art, and help launch art towards the Renaissance.  The frescos contain pretty much all the major scenes from the life of Jesus, and also a huge heaven and hell scene.  The frescos were recently restored a few years ago, and the colors and details are brilliant.  Bright blues and earthy reds.  Check it out on the internet if you get a chance. 

The other big attraction in Padova is the University, the second oldest university in Europe founded in 1222.  (Bologna is oldest).  Famous names from the University include Galileo and Copernicus.  We toured a large room that Galileo essentially took over from the Law School and to teach his math classes.  Imagine math kicking out law today!  We also viewed the first anatomy theater in the world where medieval medical students would pack into the vertical balconies to view human autopsies.  The Catholic church banned autopsies due to conflicts between the body and soul, but medical faculty and students would sneak in stolen corpses from cemeteries and bring them upriver to a side channel that passed underneath the anatomy theater.  The corpse could then be raised into the theater from the stream below escaping any detection.  Two students would stand guard outside the anatomy theater and would signal those inside if Church authorities were coming.  The corpse could then be dumped into the stream below and replaced with an animal carcas instead.  Many important medical discoveries were made by the Padova medical faculty.  The University was an early center of learning in Europe as students from all over Europe came to study.  The motto and practice of the University was open mindedness and tolerance of new ideas.  This is what attracted many bright minds around Europe who were considered outcasts in their societies.  I could still feel this attitude of tolerance in Padova as the atmosphere was definitely college town with lots of arts, music, cheap eats, attractive Italian co-eds, and no weird looks at the only Asian faces in town! 

The final big attraction of Padova is the Basilica of Saint Anthony (San Antonio).  St. Anthony is revered in the Catholic world as a saint of the people who worked tirelessly for the poor and also is viewed as a miracle worker.  The basilica is gigantic with huge domes that apparently were the inspiration for the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.  The basilica is a major pilgrammage site for Catholics around the world as they thank St. Anthony for any miracles like surviving a car crash or a sick child being healed.  The area around St. Anthony's tomb is covered with photos of those who experienced miracles as well as messages of thanks.  There are also holy relics of St. Anthony like his tongue, jawbone, robe.  To many of us non-Catholics, ewwwwww. But holy relics were items of power in the old days and made your city important if you cathedral had them. 

It was very refreshing to escape the relentless crowds of Venice for a day and see an Italian city without major tourism.  Also helped that showers came to cool the temperatures down to the 70's.  We returned to find an almost empty Venice. The rain showers apparently chased most people out of town.  Supposed to be sunny and high 70's again, so it will be ideal for our last day of sightseeing in Venice. 
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