Written by Marcelo Pinto June 10th 2012
Science and poetry, craftsmanship and industry, sophistication and authenticity. Parma is an admirable synthesis of these apparent opposites, as revealed in its history, and is still true today.
Parma was the capital of the Duchy, and at one time was ruled by royalty – Marie Louise – the second wife of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. It is a city of affluence and sophistication, famous nowadays for its culinary specialties. It is the only place in the world where the strict rules of an age-old tradition have become the driving force of economic development. The Ducal Palace, offered as headquarters to the European Food Safety Authority, is an emblem of this complex personality. Built in the 16th century by the second Duke of Parma, Ottavio Farnese, it stands in a splendid park, surrounded by exotic tree species. The very name of Parma fascinated Stendhal and Proust.
High on the list of desirable places to live, Parma has been admirably shaped by the hand of history. There is the square containing the Romanesque cathedral, Duomo, with frescoes by Correggio, and the pale-coloured Baptistery, designed by Benedetto Antelami, that are silent witnesses to a great architectural heritage, preserved in the very heart of the city. Piazzale della Pace, redesigned by Mario Botta to show off the massive proportions of Palazzo della Pilotta, houses a theatre built by the Farnese family, and entirely of wood, unique in that it could be filled with water for staging naval battles, to the delight of the court. The grandiose building now hosts the Galleria Nazionale, and features paintings by Correggio, Parmigianino, and Leonardo. The Teatro Regio – Royal Theatre – elegant in its neoclassical simplicity, is a temple dedicated to the music in the city of Verdi and Toscanini. Facing it stands the imposing Church of the Steccata, with precious works by Parmi
gianino. A short stroll away is Piazza Garibaldi, the real centre of the city, an elegant showcase of buildings reflecting different historical periods.
The love of good food, reflected in products famous all over the world, is more a matter of art than an industry. Discover our unique local products, with their bewitching flavours. Parma ham, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Culatello di Zibello, and other exquisite foods – tomatoes, Parma’s Red Gold; mushrooms from the Valtaro; black truffles from Fragno; and sparkling aromatic wines. The genius of this city has been in inventing ways of transforming these fruits of the earth. It has conquered an international market by maintaining the authentic flavours of farm-made preserves and hand-rolled pasta, even when producing them in large quantities – a decision based on policy rather than marketing. And it has proved to be a winning formula, because it is deep-rooted, drawing on the history and the traditions of this fertile land.
Parma has succeeded in combining taste and technology, developing a culture of food and its production. Of course, everyone has heard of Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Throughout the world, hams marked with the five-pointed crown symbol are a benchmark of quality. For cheese to lay claim to the Parmigiano appellation, the milk must have come from cows bred in the region, and been processed using a method dating back to Etruscan times. Then, it is left to mature for at least a year.
It was here that the humble macaroni first became an international business. 1870 saw the founding in Parma of the firm Barilla, the first in Italy to produce pasta on an industrial scale. Here in Food Valley, the statistics say it all – a turnover of €10 billion, 25,000 employees, and exports worth €3 billion.
Culture is synonymous with the University of Parma, founded in the 10th century, and one of the oldest in Italy. The new campus offers a wide range of specialisations, including food science.
But Parma’s story is not only about food and technology. Parma also has important clothing and leatherworking industries, reflecting an ancient tradition of craftsmanship, dependent on skilled labour and top-quality raw materials.
Just outside the city walls stands the Reggia di Colorno, once known as the “little Versailles” on account of its gardens. Only one word adequately describes it – a marvel. It now houses the ALMA, the International School of Italian Cuisine, interpreting Italy’s gastronomic tradition to the wider world.
Castles in the Countryside
This is a fertile, generous land, bisected by the ancient Roman highway of the Via Emilia, and peppered with castles erected to defend the estates and vaunt the fortunes of its feudal lords. Torrechiara was built by Pier Maria Rossi in honour of his lover. The couple would meet in the sumptuous golden chamber, whose terrace dominates the whole of Food Valley. The fortress of Fontanellato, built by the counts of Sanvitale, boasts some magnificent frescoes by Parmigianino. The Meli Lupi Castle at Soragna is another splendid aristocratic residence, with magnificent gilded interiors.
This is the province which, in the 19th century, produced the operatic genius of Giuseppe Verdi. It was also the home of Arturo Toscanini, whose house is now a museum, and of humorist Giovannino Guareschi – creator of Don Camillo – whose books have delighted millions all over the world.
It also boasts the invigorating waters of Salsomaggiore, one of Italy’s oldest spa resorts, already popular with the Romans 2,000 years ago.
The quality produce, research, investment, hospitality, and general sense of well-being associated with Parma, are also explained by its favourable geographical location. Parma is right at the heart of the Po Valley, just an hour’s drive from the international airports of Milan and Bologna. From its own airport, named not surprisingly after Giuseppe Verdi, there are daily connections with Rome Fiumicino and several European capitals. Parma is within easy reach of some of the most beautiful parts of Italy. An hour’s drive up over the Cisa Pass, and you are at the seaside – Lerici, Cinque Terre, Portofino. In the opposite direction, passing through a string of splendid medieval towns, you arrive at the world’s most beautiful city – Venice. Strategically placed between middle Europe and the Mediterranean, Parma has been able to blend the two different culinary cultures throughout its history, refining it through scientific research, a heritage now widely recognized and shared with the rest of Europe.
Science and charm, industry and tradition, business and culinary excellence. Parma already has all these things. Rich in history and timeless wisdom, this is a city waiting to be explored.
The text has been extracted from the Parma chamber of commerce video