Cremona was home to three of the most important violin-making families: Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati. The recently opened Museo del Violino tells their story, and offers an insight into five centuries of violin-making.
It also examines the method of construction and acoustic characteristics. A recent article suggested that the violion’s evolution might have been a magical accident, rather than design: an inability to accurately recreate the same-sized ‘f’-shaped hole. This would have led to the discovery that the more elongated the hole, the better the sound.
As well as beautiful examples of their instruments, the museum has a concert hall. We were lucky enough to hear a virtuoso violinist, Lena Yokoyama playing a Stradivarius. (Sounded like one of the later ones to me).
Another important son of Cremona was revolutionary composer, singer and gambist, Claudio Monteverdi. He was considered to have marked the transition from Renaissance to Baroque music.
Cremona is still a city of violin-makers. Stefano Conia ‘il giovane‘ continues the tradition of his grandfather in his contemporary violinmaker’s workshop on Corso Garibaldi 85 (Stradivari lived at no.57). His skills with the traditional woods of maple, ebony and spruce, don’t come cheap, with each violin costing around €10,000.
The highest masonry bell-tower in Europe
As well as master violinists, Cremona’s other claim to fame is the Torrazzo, the highest masonry bell-tower in Europe. It’s in good company. It lies beside the Cathedral of Cremona of Lombard Gothic architecture. Nearby is an octagonal Romanesque Baptistry from the 12th century. Both front a beautiful square that dates back to the Middle Ages. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there’s a well-stocked open market that dates back to the 14th century. The market is full of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and cheeses and plenty of interesting local artisanal products.
The Museo Civico ‘Ala Ponzone’ di Cremona contains Carlo Alberto Carutti’s historic collection of antique stringed instruments. You’ll also find Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s L’Ortolano, a still-life of fruits and vegetables. When reflected in a mirror, the painting reveals the face of a full-faced countryman.
The 18th-century Teatro Ponchielli is dedicated to Italian composer, Amilcare Ponchielli. Visitors to Milan’s La Scala will recognise the style, copied here by Luigi Canonica.
As with every area of Italy, Cremona has its own gastronomic delights, including Mostarda (whole fruits in sweet mustard-flavoured syrup). Mostarda is a perfect accompaniment to the delicious local meats – sausages and salamis that use age-old preservation techniques. Cremona also has a wealth of fabulous cheeses. They include Grana Padano, Provolone Valpadana, Salva Cremasco, Taleggio, Quartirolo Lombardo and Gorgonzola. Five of them have PDO (Protected Designation of Origin). Torrone (nougat) is its most famous sweet.
For wonderful home-cooking, head to Agriturismo Lago Oscuro (five miles from Cremona). Here an extended family team serve up excellent hand-cured meats and own-made cheeses (five of them). There are also prepared fruits, vegetables, pickles and oils sourced from the on-site farm.