Estense Castle, Ferrara

The exquisite UNESCO World Heritage site, once home to the d’Este family, is rich with Renaissance art and architecture. And it’s also very easy to walk/cycle around, and there’s plenty more to capture the imagination:

‘In Italy in the 16th century, food was considered as much an art form as music or theatre’. So writes John Dickie, in his excellent work Delizia: The epic history of the Italians and their Food. In fact he dedicates an entire chapter to it, and in particular to a Renaissance banquet in 1529.

The banquet was to celebrate the union of Ercole II d’Este and Renée, daughter of Louis XII of France. Under the auspices of steward Cristoforo di Messisbugo, 104 honoured guests were served up with theatre, singers, jesters, clowns, musicians and hundreds of elaborate dishes. But this was no ordinary wedding feast.

Through strategic alliances, the Estes had married into the most important families in Europe and this eighteen-course, seven-hour marathon was an intensely political statement. Take the twenty-five two-foot-high models of Hercules wrestling with a lion that decorated the tables: made entirely of eye-wateringly expensive sugar, and then gilded, they cleverly conjoined the name of Ercole with strength, unimaginable wealth and prestige at a stroke.

Taste may not have been so much of an issue at this time…

Read more in my four-page feature for culture magazine Bologna (Autumn 2013).

If you’d like an article written, or a review of a particular hotel, restaurant, activity, please contact me.

Latest visit February 2013:

  • National Archaeological Museum
  • Palazzo dei Diamanti
  • The Jewish Quarter
  • Museo delle Cattedrale
  • Estense Castle
  • Basilica Cattedrale St Giorgio