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Ferrara | UNESCO World Heritage

A Unique World Heritage Site!

Did you know that Ferrara is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

It is a unique place in the world: it has been included in the World Heritage List protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
A double recognition: for the historic centre of Ferrara, in 1995. But also, in 1999, for the surrounding territory, the area of the historic Po Delta with its characteristic 'delights'. And so: UNESCO recognition is for 'Ferrara, City of the Renaissance and its Po Delta'.

The UNESCO heritage title therefore goes to the extraordinary mix that has been built up over the centuries in the Ferrara area: a combination of cities of art, farmlands, villas and castles, natural oases and beaches.
It is the result of the imprint of the Dukes of Este, lords of Ferrara in its heyday, between the 15th and 16th centuries. 

Castello Estense Ferrara

Castello estense Ferrara

As the motivation for the UNESCO award states, Ferrara is an 'admirable example of a city designed in the Renaissance, which preserves its historic centre intact and expresses urban planning canons that had a profound influence on the development of town planning in the following centuries'. 

In fact, thanks to the Ferrarese architect Biagio Rossetti, Ferrara represented the first attempt to build an ideal city, according to a planning scheme that had never before been attempted with such breadth thanks to the so-called 'Addizione Herculea', which had its third phase in 1492: an expansion, ordered by Ercole I d'Este, to double the surface area of the city.

This was the first example in Europe of a development based on urban planning regulations, later taken as an example by all the cities of the world: the testing ground for the first important urban planning projects in modern history. 

Ferrara with its Addizione Herculea represents the first large-scale realisation of new Renaissance urban planning ideals inspired by beauty, the balance between man's work and the surrounding natural landscape and an ideal expression of the good government that ruled it. 
Almost a Renaissance interpretation of the Polis of ancient Greece. But also an emblem, with its order, of the perfection of divine design: the city seen as a great place of 'delights' and delight itself.

The Po Delta, where nature and culture merge

But Ferrara is also unique in the way it has shaped its surroundings: between reclamation villas and agricultural estates that make the Ferrara Po Delta 'an exceptional planned cultural landscape that remarkably preserves its original form' (criterion V of UNESCO recognition), and ducal residences in the countryside that 'illustrate in an exceptional way the influence of Renaissance culture on the natural landscape' (criterion III of UNESCO recognition).

The Po Delta territory represents, again at its highest level, the Renaissance ideal of harmony between man and nature. 

A goal that the Dukes of Este pursued by ordering the reclamation of the vast marshy areas beyond the city limits to make them fertile and therefore cultivable. An action that, added to the incessant reclamation works that followed over the centuries, gave shape and order to the landscape. 

An order of which the system of castalderie and the Delizie were the centre and emblem, through which the Este could on the one hand maintain widespread control over the territory of the Duchy, and on the other check the proper functioning of the water network.

Delizie estensi Ferrara

The Addizione Erculea, Europe's first urban plan

The work was commissioned to the architect Biagio Rossetti by the Duke of Ferrara Ercole I d'Este in 1484, following the siege of Ferrara by the Republic of Venice. The idea was to extend the city area and reinforce the defensive system of the walls.

But the intent was not only military, or functional to demographic growth. The Addizione made Ferrara a court of European rank, a great capital city characterised by wide orthogonal streets and magnificent stately palaces.

Palazzo dei Diamanti Ferrara

Palazzo dei Diamanti Ferrara

The ideal centre of Addizione is Palazzo dei Diamanti (1493), one of the most famous Renaissance buildings in the world, designed by architect Biagio Rossetti for Sigismondo d'Este, brother of Duke Ercole I d'Este.

A true masterpiece, it owes its name to the pointed shape of the more than 8,500 diamond-shaped marble blocks that make it up.

Today it is home to the National Picture Gallery of Ferrara, rich in works of exceptional value, and hosts important exhibitions organised by Ferrara Arte and the Ferrara Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries.
Here is the Palazzo Diamanti website: discover its exhibitions.

Expansion stopped in 1598: in the absence of an heir to Alfonso, the Duchy of Ferrara was devolved to the Papal States and the Este family moved to Modena.
The planned expansion was limited to the area north of the Castle, but was accompanied by the construction of towers, walls and bastions: a modern defensive system, integrated into the urban context and surrounding area.

The historical centre: discover the symbolic monuments

Piazza Trento e Trieste Ferrara

Centro storico Ferrara

The historic centre is a jewel almost entirely surrounded by walls and tree-lined areas for more than nine kilometres.
In its heyday, between the 15th and 16th centuries, Ferrara was a highly aristocratic city, coexisting with the humbler classes concentrated in the medieval part. A city of large square blocks, wide streets that distinguish it from the narrow alleys and vertical development of the older part.

And then amazing palaces, often surrounded by parks and gardens: from the Castello Estense, the symbol of the city, to Palazzo Schifanoia, one of the emblems of the Este seigniory and the only 'Delizia' within the city perimeter, so called because here they could 'schifar' or 'dodge' boredom and for this reason rich in sumptuously decorated rooms, such as the Salone dei Mesi with its 15th-century frescoes.

Palazzo Schifanoia Ferrara

The 'Delights': a journey through the country villas of the Ferrara court

The imprint of the Dukes of Este in the Po Delta took shape first and foremost in the construction of canals, roads, villages and farms.

A central role was then given to the 52 residences of the Dukes and their travelling court, the so-called 'Delizie'.

These were villas immersed in nature, surrounded by 'broli' and lush gardens, intended for recreation (the 'delizie') and conceived as a mirror of the Este Dukedom's ability to shape the territory.

Delizie Estensi Ferrara

At the same time, the Delizie were - especially when the entire Este court moved there by taking advantage of the waterways near which they were built - also decentralised seats of the city's government: in the eyes of visitors they were meant to symbolise the greatness and power of Ferrara, becoming almost a plastic representation of the Este family's good government.

Besides standing out for their architectural and artistic qualities, the Delizie therefore had economic, political and strategic objectives. 

Only a few are extant. Today, the urban Delizia of Schifanoia, and the extra-urban ones of Belriguardo, with the Verginese, Benvignante, Mesola and La Mensa not far away, can almost all be visited. Privately owned Delizie today include Fossadalbero, Zenzalino and Diamantina.

To see the complete list of the 10 Delizie and more information on each of the Villas CLICK HERE.