A major player on the Renaissance political scene, Ferrara was ruled by the dynamic d’Este family. Their court was among the most splendid and cultured in Europe, and it was d’Este money that paid for the palaces and artistic treasures scattered throughout the city and its former territory. Their rule, from 1452 – 1570 was relatively short, but they left a huge mark on the city. As virtual dictators, the Estes financed a huge urban expansion and commissioned buildings, art works, and music.
The family inherited one of Italy’s finest examples of Romanesque architecture, the Cattedrale di San Giorgio, consecrated in 1135. The firebrand Dominican priest and preacher, Girolamo Savanarola, was born here, moving to Florence, where he preached against clerical corruption and was executed in 1498. For centuries, there’s been a Jewish community in Ferrara, one of the most important in Italy, which welcomed Jews expelled from Spain, Portugal and German. It still exists, worshipping in the synagogue, also home to the Jewish Museum, built by the community in 1485.