Exploring Parma, a city renowned for its artistic and cultural heritage, is a journey through history and beauty. If you have only one day to spend in this magnificent city, here’s a carefully curated guide to the most significant places and monuments that showcase the splendor of Parma.
Begin your day with a visit to the Teatro Regio di Parma. Originally named Nuovo Teatro Ducale, it was established under the reign of Duchess Maria Luigia d’Asburgo-Lorena, Napoleon’s wife. Commenced in 1821 and designed by court architect Nicola Bettoli, the theater was inaugurated in 1829 with Vincenzo Bellini’s opera “Zaira.” Its neoclassical facade, featuring Ionic columns and a grand thermal window, is a prelude to the stunning interiors, including the Sala del Foyer and the Sala del Ridotto, once graced by Maria Luigia’s throne.
In the 2024 season, the Teatro Regio di Parma is set to host a range of captivating events, starting with the ‘Regio in Tour’ from December 1 to 3, 2023, an exceptional showcase of Parma’s artistic talents. This is followed by a stellar performance of ‘Il Barbiere di Siviglia’ scheduled from January 12 to 20, 2024. The season continues with the romantic opera ‘L’Elisir d’Amore’ from March 15 to 24, 2024, and culminates with the dramatic ‘Tosca’ from May 17 to 25, 2024. Additionally, the theater celebrates its historical journey with ‘Regio195’ on May 16, 2024, marking a special anniversary. For the younger audience, ‘Prove Under30’ runs from January 7 to May 12, 2024, and ‘Prove Aperte’ from January 10 to May 14, 2024, offering open rehearsals and interactive sessions. The season is enriched further with ‘Prima Che Si Alzi Il Sipario’ from January 7 to May 11, 2024, giving audiences a behind-the-scenes look at the operatic world.
Next, explore the Biblioteca Palatina, a testament to the city’s rich literary history. Established on August 1, 1761, by Duke Filippo di Borbone, it reflects an enlightened cultural vision. The library has evolved through various titles, from Reale Biblioteca Parmense to its current prestigious status, symbolizing a blend of public utility and cultural ambition.
The Biblioteca Palatina, located within the monumental Complesso della Pilotta in Parma, is a historical and cultural treasure.It was created by Duke Filippo di Borbone of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla, who appointed Paolo Maria Paciaudi, a theologian from Turin, as the “Antiquary and Librarian.” This initiative marked a significant cultural endeavor, aiming to rejuvenate the waning cultural landscape of the region, especially since the existing Farnesian Library along with the Archive and artistic treasures were transferred to Naples by Carlo, Filippo’s brother, in 1736.
Under Paciaudi’s stewardship, the library rapidly expanded its collection, acquiring thousands of books through his erudite bibliographic knowledge and extensive network of over a thousand correspondents across Italy and Europe. The books were organized into six main categories: Theology, Nomology, Philosophy, History, Philology, and Liberal and Mechanical Arts. The cataloging system introduced by Paciaudi was innovative for its time, employing movable cards that included comprehensive bibliographic notes.
Paciaudi also paid special attention to manuscripts, often adding scholarly prefaces to them. The bindings of these books were particularly lavish, reflecting Paciaudi’s bibliophilic taste. Louis Antoine Laferté, a master binder from France, was brought to Parma to cater to the binding needs of the library and the printing house run by Paciaudi’s friend, Giambattista Bodoni.
The Biblioteca Palatina also endured various political changes and expansions over the centuries. In the 19th century, under the directorship of Angelo Pezzana, the library’s fortunes were closely tied to the political history of Parma, transitioning from French rule to becoming part of the Duchy under Maria Luigia d’Asburgo. She favored the library, enhancing its collections and supporting the expansion and beautification of its spaces.
The library’s collection includes manuscripts, rare books, and significant graphic material. It also houses the Biblioteca del Museo Archeologico and the Biblioteca della Galleria Nazionale di Parma. The Sala di lettura “Maria Luigia” is reserved for the consultation and study of these precious collections. The library, maintaining its historical and cultural significance, continues to serve researchers, scholars, and the public, preserving and making accessible its vast and diverse collections.
Located within the Palazzo della Pilotta, the Teatro Farnese is an architectural marvel. Despite being almost entirely destroyed in 1944 and later reconstructed, it retains the grandeur of the Farnese Dukes’ courtly life. The wooden entrance door, crowned by a ducal coronet, leads to one of the most extraordinary theatrical architectures of the 17th century.
Il Complesso Monumentale della Pilotta
Don’t miss the imposing Palazzo della Pilotta, a symbol of the Farnese ducal power. This complex, featuring multiple buildings constructed over different periods, was originally intended to house court services. It has expanded since the 16th century, showcasing grandeur disproportionate to the ancient city’s scale.
The Complesso Monumentale della Pilotta in Parma hosts an eclectic mix of events throughout the year, starting with the Notte Europea dei Musei on May 13, 2023, an extraordinary opening to celebrate the European Night of Museums. This is followed by “Maschere Italiane a Parma” on the same day, highlighting Italy’s rich tradition in mask-making. The Paganini Guitar Festival offers a preview concert with the Duo Martini-Dominguez on May 12, 2023, showcasing classical guitar music. Celebrating success, the event “Il Successo Della Pilotta” on May 10, 2023, highlights the achievements and milestones of the Complesso. The Farnese Festival, an international festival of ancient music, presents two distinct events on June 17 and June 19, 2023, each bringing a unique flavor of historical music performance. The National Gallery opens three new areas on June 19, 2023, expanding its exhibition space. To address the damages caused by a recent flood, the ticket prices for museums are increased by 1 Euro from June 15, 2023. The summer schedule for the Biblioteca Palatina and the Music Section starts on August 1, 2023, with adjusted timings. A special holiday opening of the Complesso Monumentale della Pilotta is planned for August 15, 2023. The “Domenica di Carta” event on October 8, 2023, offers a unique paper-themed experience. November 2023 is marked by significant events like the “Modifica delle Modalità di Accesso alla Biblioteca Palatina” on November 1, exploring new access methods to the library, followed by “Parma. Il Lungo Viaggio della Nuova Pilotta” on November 10, celebrating Parma’s journey and heritage. The birth of the Museo Bodoniano, dedicated to the famed printer Giambattista Bodoni, is commemorated on November 16, 2023. Finally, the Pilotta brings a piece of Leonardo da Vinci’s work to China on December 10, 2023, showcasing international collaboration in art and culture.
Battistero di Parma
The Battistero di Parma, adjacent to the city’s cathedral in Piazza Duomo, is a pivotal structure bridging Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. Commissioned to Benedetto Antelami in 1196, its construction faced challenges due to political conflicts, finally reaching completion in the 13th century.
Duomo di Parma
The heart of Parma’s religious life, the Duomo di Parma or the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, consecrated in 1106, is a masterpiece of art and history. It houses Benedetto Antelami’s bas-reliefs, Romanesque art, and the magnificent frescoes by Antonio Allegri, known as Correggio. This cathedral, built after a fire destroyed the earlier basilica, is a blend of Romanesque sculpture and Renaissance painting splendor.
End your day at Piazza Garibaldi, the city’s vibrant central square. Evolved through various phases, it features significant communal buildings like the Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Comunale, and Palazzo del Governatore. Today, with its outdoor tables, pedestrian streets, and elegant shops, it is the true living room of Parma, bustling with life and intersecting the city’s main thoroughfares.
Parma, a city of unparalleled beauty and heritage, offers a journey through time, art, and culture, even if just for a day.