57 Best Sights in Emilia–Romagna, Italy

Basilica di San Vitale

Fodor's choice

The octagonal church of San Vitale was built in AD 547, after the Byzantines conquered the city, and its interior shows a strong Byzantine influence. The area behind the altar contains the most famous works, depicting Emperor Justinian and his retinue on one wall, and his wife, Empress Theodora, with her retinue, on the opposite one. Notice how the mosaics seamlessly wrap around the columns and curved arches on the upper sides of the altar area. School groups can sometimes swamp the site from March through mid-June.

Camera di San Paolo

Fodor's choice

This was the reception room for the erudite abbess Giovanna da Piacenza, who hired Correggio in 1519 to provide its decoration: mythological scenes are depicted in glorious frescoes of the Triumphs of the Goddess Diana, the Three Graces, and the Three Fates.

Castello Estense

Fodor's choice

The former seat of Este power, this massive castle dominates the center of town, a suitable symbol for the ruling family: cold and menacing on the outside, lavishly decorated within. The public rooms are grand, but deep in the bowels of the castle are dungeons where enemies of the state were held in wretched conditions. The prisons of Don Giulio, Ugo, and Parisina have some fascinating features, like 15th-century graffiti. Lovers Ugo and Parisina (stepmother and stepson) were beheaded in 1425 because Ugo's father, Niccolò III, didn't like the fact that his son was cavorting with his stepmother.

The castle was established as a fortress in 1385, but work on its luxurious ducal quarters continued into the 16th century. Representative of Este grandeur are the Sala dei Giochi, painted with athletic scenes, and the Sala dell'Aurora, decorated to show the times of the day. The terraces of the castle and the hanging garden have fine views of the town and countryside. You can traverse the castle's drawbridge and wander through many of its arcaded passages whenever the castle gates are open.

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Galleria Estense

Fodor's choice

Modena's principal museum, housed in the Palazzo dei Musei and located just a short walk from the Duomo, has an impressive collection assembled in the mid-17th century by Francesco d'Este (1610–58), Duke of Modena. The Galleria Estense is named in his honor and contains masterpieces by Bernini, Correggio, El Greco, Tintoretto, Velázquez, Veronese, and Salvator Rosa among others. The Biblioteca Estense here is a huge collection of illuminated manuscripts, of which the best known is the beautifully illustrated Bible of Borso d'Este (1455–61). 

MAMbo and Museo Morandi

Fodor's choice

The museum—the name stands for Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna, or Bologna's Museum of Modern Art—houses a permanent collection of modern art. All of this is set within the sleek minimalist structure built in 1915 as the Forno del Pane, a large bakery. Seek out the powerful Arte e Ideologia section for Guttuso's Funerali di Togliatti (1972), a charged symbol of pride and pain for many Bolognesi and Italiani. The work of Bologna's celebrated abstract painter Giorgio Morandi (1890–64), known for his muted still life paintings of domestic objects and landscapes, can be viewed at the Museo Morandi here. The fab bookshop and MAMbo Cafè complete the complex.

Mausoleo di Galla Placidia

Fodor's choice

The little tomb and the great church stand side by side, but the tomb predates the Basilica di San Vitale by at least 100 years: these two adjacent sights are decorated with the best-known, most elaborate mosaics in Ravenna. Galla Placidia was the sister of the Roman emperor Honorius, who moved the imperial capital to Ravenna in AD 402. This mid-5th-century mausoleum is her memorial.

The simple redbrick exterior only serves to enhance by contrast the richness of the interior mosaics, in deep midnight blue and glittering gold. The tiny central dome is decorated with symbols of Christ, the evangelists, and striking gold stars. Eight of the Apostles are represented in groups of two on the four inner walls of the dome; the other four appear singly on the walls of the two transepts. There are three sarcophagi in the tomb, none of which are believed to actually contain the remains of Galla Placidia. Visit early or late in the day to avoid the school groups that can sometimes swamp the Mausoleo from March through mid-June.

Via San Vitale, 17, Ravenna, 48121, Italy
0544-541688
Sights Details
Rate Includes: €11 combination ticket, includes 4–5 diocesan monuments (€2 supplement for mausoleum)

Mercato Storico Albinelli

Fodor's choice

Locals and visitors flock to this fruit, vegetable, meat, and fish market with good reason. Ingredients are of the finest and of the freshest, and visually the place is a glorious sight to behold. A restaurant inside (outside seating when the weather agrees) serves much of what comes from the market. It's been around in this current incarnation since 1931, and it's pretty easy to see why.

Museo Fellini

Fodor's choice

The life and magical cinematic oeuvre of Rimini's favorite 20th-century son, the celebrated film director Federico Fellini, is explored in depth at this wonderfully atmospheric and suitably dreamlike museum, opened in 2021. Spread over three sites—Castel Sismondo, Palazzo del Fulgor, and Piazza Malatesta—and through multimedia, sculpture, iconic film props, costumes, playful installations, and archive material, the exhibits chart the maestro's formative and Italian cinema's golden years. Fellini's artistic friends and collaborators are center-stage, too: screens project clips of Giulietta Masina in La Strada (1956) and Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita (1960), the evocative music of Nino Rota scores enliven every corner, and there's a Fellini-esque sculpture of a reposing Anita Ekberg. Palazzo del Fulgor, and the cinema immortalized in Fellini's semi-autobiographical love letter to Rimini, Amarcord (1973), has a changing program of Fellini's filmography.

Palazzo Schifanoia

Fodor's choice

The oldest, most characteristic area of Ferrara is south of the Duomo, stretching between the Corso Giovecca and the city's ramparts. Here various members of the Este family built pleasure palaces, the best known of which is the Palazzo Schifanoia (schifanoia means "carefree" or, literally, "fleeing boredom"). Begun in the late 14th century, the palace was remodeled between 1464 and 1469. Inside is Museo Schifanoia, with its lavish interior—particularly the Salone dei Mesi, which contains an extravagant series of frescoes showing the months of the year and their mythological attributes.

Pilotta Museums

Fodor's choice

With one ticket, you can visit the Pilotta museums. The Galleria Nazionale contains masterpieces by Correggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Bronzino. The Baroque Teatro Farnese, built in 1617–18, is made entirely of wood—though largely destroyed in a 1944 Allied bombing raid, it's been flawlessly restored. In the Archeological Museum see Etruscan, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts; the Palatina Library houses more than 500 religious manuscripts; and the Bodoniano museum covers printmaking.

Santo Stefano

University area Fodor's choice

This splendid and unusual basilica contains between four and seven connected churches (authorities differ). A 4th-century temple dedicated to Isis originally occupied this site, but much of what you see was erected between the 10th and 12th centuries. Just outside the church, which probably dates from the 5th century (with later alterations), is the Cortile di Pilato (Pilate's Courtyard), named for the basin in the center. Despite the fact that the basin was probably crafted around the 8th century, legend has it that Pontius Pilate washed his hands in it after condemning Christ. 

Università di Bologna

University area Fodor's choice

Take a stroll through the streets of the university area: a jumble of buildings, some dating as far back as the 15th century and most to the 17th and 18th. The neighborhood, as befits a college town, is full of bookshops, coffee bars, and inexpensive restaurants. Political slogans and sentiments are scrawled on walls all around the university and tend to be ferociously leftist, sometimes juvenile, and often entertaining. Among the 15 university museums, the most interesting is the Museo di Palazzo Poggi, which displays scientific instruments plus paleontological and botanical artifacts.

Arco d'Augusto

Rimini's oldest monument is the Arco d'Augusto, now stranded in the middle of a square just inside the city ramparts. It was erected in 27 BC, making it among the oldest surviving ancient Roman arches.

Basilica di San Petronio

Piazza Maggiore

Construction on this vast cathedral began in 1390; and the work still isn't finished more than 600 years later. Above the center of the door is a Madonna and Child flanked by Saints Ambrose and Petronius, the city's patrons. Michelangelo, Giulio Romano, and Andrea Palladio (among others), submitted designs for the facade, which were all eventually rejected. The Bolognesi had planned an even bigger church but had to tone down construction when the university seat was established next door in 1561. The most important art in the church is in the fourth chapel on the left: these frescoes by Giovanni di Modena date to 1410–15.

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Battistero di San Giovanni Battista

Baptisms still happen in this baptistery designed by Benedetto Antelami between 1196 and 1216. It has a simple Pink Verona-marble Romanesque exterior and an uplifting Gothic interior. The doors are richly decorated with figures, animals, and flowers, and inside, the building has stucco figures (probably carved by Antelami) showing the months and seasons, and a vibrantly decorated cupola. Early-14th-century frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Christ grace the walls.

Battistero Neoniano

Next door to Ravenna's 18th-century cathedral, this baptistery has one of the town's most important mosaics. It dates from the beginning of the 5th century AD, with work continuing through the century. In keeping with the building's role, the great mosaic in the dome shows the baptism of Christ, and beneath are the Apostles. The lowest register of mosaics contains Christian symbols, the Throne of God, and the Cross. Note the naked figure kneeling next to Christ—he is the personification of the River Jordan.

Piazza Duomo, Ravenna, 48121, Italy
0544-541688
Sights Details
Rate Includes: €11 combination ticket, includes 4–5 diocesan monuments, Reservations essential

Casa Natale di Giuseppe Verdi

An engaging audio-guide itinerary for each of the eight modestly furnished rooms of Verdi's birthplace evokes the atmosphere of his family life here, shared with his seamstress mother and osteria (tavern)-running father. Despite Verdi's worldwide success and fame he never forgot his origins. In 1863 he wrote: "Sono stato, sono e sarò sempre un paesano delle Roncole: "I was, am and always will be a Roncole peasant."

Casa Romei

Built by the wealthy banker Giovanni Romei (1402–83), this vast structure with a graceful courtyard ranks among Ferrara's loveliest Renaissance palaces. Mid-15th-century frescoes adorn rooms on the ground floor; the piano nobile contains detached frescoes from local churches as well as lesser-known Renaissance sculptures. The Sala delle Sibille has a very large 15th-century fireplace and beautiful coffered wood ceilings.

Classis Ravenna – Museo della Città e del Territorio

In Classe, a short distance outside Ravenna, this museum dazzlingly illustrates the history of Ravenna and its environs from the pre-Roman era to the Lombard conquest in AD 751. The museum occupies a refurbished sugar refinery, and with the help of multimedia presentations and panels in Italian and English, it chronicles the Roman, Ostrogoth, and Byzantine periods. Displays include bronze statuettes, stone sculptures, glassware, and mosaic fragments. A separate room summarizes the building's more recent history. It's an easy walk from Sant'Apollinare in Classe. To get here from Ravenna, take Bus No. 4 from the station or the local train to Classe, or use the cycle path from the city center.

Domus dei Tappeti di Pietra

This archaeological site with lovely mosaics was uncovered in 1993 during digging for an underground parking garage near the 18th-century church of Santa Eufemia. Ten feet below ground level lie the remains of a Byzantine palace dating from the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Its beautiful and well-preserved network of floor mosaics displays elaborately designed patterns, creating the effect of luxurious carpets.

Duomo

Begun by the architect Lanfredo in 1099 and consecrated in 1184, the 12th-century Romanesque cathedral has medieval sculptures depicting scenes from Genesis on the facade, but walk around to the Piazza Grande side as well to see the building's marvelous arcading. It's a rare example of a cathedral having more than one principal view. The interior, completely clad in brick, imparts a sober and beautiful feel. An elaborate gallery has scenes of the Passion of Christ carved by Anselmo da Campione and his assistants circa 1160–80. The tomb of San Geminiano is in the crypt. The white-marble bell tower is known as La Torre Ghirlandina (the Little Garland Tower) because of its distinctive weather vane.

Duomo

The magnificent 12th-century cathedral has two vigilant stone lions standing guard beside the main door; inside is some notable art in styles from medieval to Mannerist. The arch of the entrance is decorated with a delicate frieze of figures representing the months of the year, a motif repeated inside the baptistery. Some of the church's original artwork still survives, notably the simple yet evocative Descent from the Cross, a carving in the right transept by Benedetto Antelami (active 1178–1230), whose masterwork is this cathedral's baptistery. It's an odd juxtaposition to turn from his austere work to the exuberant fresco in the dome, the Assumption of the Virgin by Antonio Allegri, better known to us as Correggio (1494–1534). The fresco was not well received when it was unveiled in 1530. "A mess of frogs' legs," the bishop of Parma is said to have called it. Today Correggio is acclaimed as one of the leading masters of Mannerist painting. The fresco is best viewed when the sun is strong, as this building is not particularly well lit.

Duomo

The magnificent Gothic cathedral, a few steps from the Castello Estense, has a three-tier facade of slender arches and beautiful sculptures over the central door. Work began in 1135 and took more than 100 years to complete. The interior was completely remodeled in the 17th century. At the time of writing, the Duomo is undergoing major restoration after the 2012 earthquake: the interior is only partially open with a multimedia display outlining the works.

Duomo

Attached like a sinister balcony to the bell tower of Piacenza's 12th-century Duomo is a gabbia (iron cage), where miscreants were incarcerated naked and subjected to the scorn of the crowd in the marketplace below. Inside the cathedral, less evocative but equally impressive medieval stonework decorates the pillars and the crypt, and there are extravagant frescoes in the dome of the cupola begun by Morazzone (1573–1626). Guercino (1591–1666) completed them upon Morazzone's death. If you're feeling strong, you can climb the spiral staircase to the cupola for a closer view. The Duomo can be reached by following Via XX Settembre from Piazza dei Cavalli.

Fontana del Nettuno

Piazza Maggiore

Sculptor Giambologna's elaborate 1563–66 Baroque fountain and monument to Neptune occupying Piazza Nettuno has been aptly nicknamed "Il Gigante" (The Giant). Its exuberantly sensual mermaids and undraped god of the sea drew fire when it was constructed—but not enough, apparently, to dissuade the populace from using the fountain as a public washing stall for centuries.

Le Due Torri

East of Piazza Maggiore

Two landmark medieval towers, mentioned by Dante in The Inferno, stand side by side in the compact Piazza di Porta Ravegnana. Once, every family of importance had a tower as a symbol of prestige and power (and as a potential fortress). Now only 24 remain out of nearly 100 that once presided over the city. Torre Garisenda (late 11th century), which tilts 10 feet off perpendicular, was shortened to 157 feet in the 1300s and is now closed to visitors. Torre degli Asinelli (1119) is 318 feet tall and leans 7½ feet. If you're up to a serious physical challenge—and not claustrophobic—you may want to climb its 498 narrow, wooden steps to get the view over Bologna.

MAR-Museo Nazionale di Ravenna

Next to the Church of San Vitale and housed in a former Benedictine monastery, the museum contains artifacts from ancient Rome, Byzantine fabrics and carvings, and pieces of early Christian art. The collection is well displayed and artfully lighted. In the first cloister are marvelous Roman tomb slabs from excavations nearby; upstairs, you can see a reconstructed 18th-century pharmacy.

Musei di Palazzo Farnese

The eclectic city-owned museum of Piacenzan art and antiquities is housed in the vast Palazzo Farnese, a monumental palace commissioned by the ruling family that, although construction began in 1558, was never completed as planned. The highlight of the museum's collection is the tiny 2nd-century-BC Etruscan Fegato di Piacenza, a bronze tablet shaped like a fegato (liver), marked with the symbols of the gods of good and ill fortune. The collection also contains Botticelli's beautiful Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist.

Museo del Parmigiano Reggiano

The trademark crumbly cheese is the focus of this museum, which is part of the collective known as Musei del Cibo whose goal is to showcase the region's most famous foods. There's a video that demonstrates the process of making Parmigiano-Reggiano and exhibits that explore the history of the cheese. Tastings are also offered, and cheese is available to purchase.

Via Volta 5, 43019, Italy
340-1939057-mobile
Sights Details
Rate Includes: €5; €12 Musei del Cibo card for all the food museums, Closed weekdays (open by appointment), and Dec. 9–Feb. 28.

Museo del Prosciutto di Parma

Part of the collective known as Musei del Cibo, which works to showcase the region's most famous foods, this museum offers an in-depth look at Italy's most famous cured pork product. It offers tastings, a bit of history on prosciutto, and a tour through the process of making it. A gift shop ensures that you can take some of this marvelous product home.

Via Bocchialini 7, Parma, 43013, Italy
340-1939057-mobile
Sights Details
Rate Includes: €5; €12 Musei del Cibo card for all the food museums, Closed weekdays (open by appointment only) and Dec. 9–Feb. 28.