What to see in Parma? Here is an itinerary that will guide you to discover places and works related to the medieval period. The marks that the Middle Ages left on the city of Parma are relevant and still legible, both architecturally and decoratively. The route starts from the historic center and arrives in the characteristic Oltretorrente district.

The itinerary begins in Piazza del Duomo, which is overlooked by three remarkable medieval architectures. The first, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, certainly needs no introduction: it is the most important place of worship in Parma. Consecrated in 1106, it has a splendid facade with a gabled roof while inside it holds a large number of valuable works of art. The second is the Baptistery of St. John the Baptist, erected starting in 1196 (and finished in the following century) to a design by Benedetto Antelami. It is one of the most significant monuments of the transition from Romanesque to early Gothic. The third is the Bishop’s Palace, which, although it has been remodeled several times over time, retains the appearance of a medieval building. Its interior houses the Diocesan Museum (with entrance from Vicolo del Vescovado), dedicated to the history of the spread of Christianity in the city.

Behind the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, taking Borgo Pipa, one arrives at Piazzale Salvo D’Acquisto, from which one enters Piazzale San Francesco, where stands the splendid Church of San Francesco del Prato. Because of its great historical and cultural value as well as its bold architectural lines, it is a unique monument in the world. A jewel of Gothic art, the building was erected according to the Franciscan canons dictated by St. Bonaventure probably starting in 1240. The main facade has refined niches and elongated single lancet windows, and is enriched by a polychrome rose window, the work of master Albert of Verona. But it is inside that the church shows itself in all the majesty of its imposing Gothic arches.

Returning toward Piazzale della Pilotta through Borgo del Parmigianino, we reach the Stuard Picture Gallery, housed in a wing of the former Benedictine monastery of San Paolo. The first room opens onto the fascinating Sacello di San Paolo, which, built in the 9th century, represents the oldest structure of the entire monastic complex and the medieval settlement located to the north of the city. The building in which it is inserted features an upper floor characterized by strong early medieval architectural elements.

The next stop on the itinerary is the Church of Santa Croce, located in the square of the same name in the Oltretorrente district. Of Romanesque origins, it stands along the ancient Via Francigena, which in the Middle Ages represented the main route of religious pilgrimage to the holy cities of Christianity Rome and Jerusalem. The church, founded in the early 12th century and consecrated in 1222, has undergone profound transformations over time. Traces of its origins can be found in the capitals of the pillars of the three naves (carved in medieval times). Carved by masters already active in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta’s building site, they offer biblical scenes, Christian symbols and images typical of medieval bestiary.

Finally, walking down Via D’azeglio to return toward Piazza Garibaldi, we pass by the Ospedale Vecchio, which concludes the itinerary. Located in the Oltretorrente district, it was the city hospital from the 15th century until 1926. Its foundation dates back to 1201 but the building we see today was built from the second half of the 15th century. It currently houses the State Archives and the Municipal Library in addition to stores, craft workshops, housing and sports clubs.

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