This ancient Roman town, founded in the 8th century BC, emerged as an important political force in the 12th century AD. The next century was a time of almost constant warfare between the embryonic Italian city states and the Holy Roman Empire of Frederick Barbarossa, with Padova gradually gaining the upper hand. Simultaneously new religious movements appeared, with St Francis founding his mendicant preaching order in 1209. A Franciscan monk arrived in Padova from Portugal to preach peace; he was to become venerated as St Anthony of Padua. After his death in 1231, the city embarked on the construction of a huge basilica in his honour, still one of Italy’s major pilgrimage centres. Romanesque and Gothic in style, it’s packed with treasures, while the exterior is flanked by a superb equestrian bronze of Gattamelata by Donatello (1453).
A century later, (1303 – 1309) Enrico Scrovegni built a chapel to atone for his father’s usury – Christians could not lend money, which explains the tolerance to Jews in the Middle Ages all over Italy. The walls were frescoed by Giotto with scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin, set against a radiant blue background. Considered one of the turning points of Western art, the perspectival elements, the realistic details and expressions show a wholly innovative naturalism and fluency.