Palazzo della Raggione is a building where history, art, law, politics and food “coexist” for more than eight centuries. The first thing that inevitably impresses its visitors is its size and specific roof, having the shape of an inverted boat. Palazzo della Raggione rises between two of Padua’s main squares – Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza della Fruita. Until 1797, the building housed the city council of Padua and also served as a courthouse. Hence her name “della Ragione”, meaning “of reason”. At the same time, the ground floor, with high vaulted ceilings, serves as a food shopping center. There is hardly any other building so impressive, in which the social and physical needs of the inhabitants are met in such a spectacular way.
The Palazzo della Raggione was built in 1218 and enlarged in 1306. In 1306, the architect Giovanni delli Eremitani added the upper hall, boasting Europe’s largest column-free roof. In 1756, a tornado removed the roof. It was the engineer Ferracina (also builder of the San Marco clock) who restored the structure. Covered in metal sheets that have taken on a green hue over time, the roof slopes gently down to a continuous line of architectural ornamentation. They mark the highest point of the walls of the Great Hall, in other words the huge room that takes up the entire first floor of the palace.
The upper floor, called il Salone, is a huge hall, one of the largest medieval halls in the world. The hall is almost rectangular, 81.5 m long, 27 m wide and 24 m high. It has a beautiful wooden ceiling decorated with a striking cycle of frescoes depicting the astrological theories of Pietro d’Abano, professor at the Sorbonne in Paris and later at the University of Padua in the 13th century. The murals represent the influence of the stars on people’s lives. The giant wooden horse on the west side of the hall was built in 1466 and is modeled after the equestrian statue by Donatello that stands in the Piazza del Santo. On the east side of the hall is a modern version of Foucault’s pendulum. Multimedia information points in English are available to visitors.
To enter the Salone, you have to climb the Scala dei Ferri (railway staircase), passing the arch called the Volto della Corda (Rope Arch). Merchants who cheated in the measurement of products were tied by the wrists and lifted up to a height of 3 meters, standing there until they atone for their sin. Near the arch today you can see some units of measurement (for flour, grain, bricks and cloth) carved into the wall. On the ground floor, the so-called Sottosalone, there are various shops where you can find all kinds of Paduan specialties and delicacies.
To the left of the Palazzo della Raggione you can see the former prison building. The two buildings were in the past connected by a staircase. The debtors were tried in the Palazzo della Raggione and then taken to prison. The facade facing the prison is rich in ornaments (emblems, shields, crests).
The inspiration behind the cycle of frescoes belongs to the Italian philosopher, physician and astrologer Pietro d’Abano /Pietro d’Abano/, a good friend of Marco Polo. He was one of the most erudite men of his time. Because of his doctrine, the Inquisition considered him a necromancer and charged him three times with heresy, atheism, and magic. He was released twice. The third time, however, he died in prison (1312) after being tortured.
The frescoes are divided into 12 sections, they begin with the month of March (corresponding to Aries), go around the walls of the Great Hall and end with the month of February (corresponding to Aquarius). Each compartment is divided into three rows of nine panels showing the Apostle opening the month, an allegory, a zodiac sign and its planet, the typical occupations and activities of that time of year, and the constellations.
The ceiling was originally painted in pale blue and gold by Giotto and his students in 1315-17, depicting the sky with planets and over 7,000 stars. Unfortunately, the roof suffered more than once. Part of it was first destroyed by fire in February 1420 and then by a hurricane in August 1756. It was rebuilt in 1759, but no one was able to reproduce Giotto’s masterpiece.
Desciption: the wooden horse in the Main hall /picture source: Shutterstock/;
The giant wooden horse in the Great Hall was donated to Padua on December 11, 1837 by the Capodilista family. It is often mistakenly attributed to Donatello, who in 1453 created the first full-size bronze equestrian statue. You can see it near the Basilica of San Antonio. In fact, the wooden horse in the Palazzo della Ragione was created in 1466 as a prize in a tournament. His head and tail were modeled by Agostino Rinaldi.
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