Five Places To See In Pavia, Northern Italy

Vicolo dei Longobardi, Pavia, Italy

I have visited Pavia on various occasions, mainly because some of my friends are from this town which is located about forty minutes from Milan, in Lombardy (Northern Italy). Gaia, one of my best friends, comes from the province of Pavia, while a couple of our friends were born and raised there. However, I first visited Pavia seven years ago because I used to spend some winter afternoons with my above-mentioned friends, especially during the weeks approaching Christmas. My friend Alice’s sister also had her bachelorette party at Demetrio, one of the most famous restaurants and lounge bars in town.

What probably characterizes Pavia the most is its historic center, which contains much of its artistic heritage, including places like Castello Visconteo (a large castle built by Galeazzo Visconti II in 1360-1365 that is now home to the City Museums), Broletto (a palace built between the 12th and 13th centuries that used to be the city hall and now hosts temporary art exhibitions), Teatro Fraschini (the opera house) and dozens of churches like San Michele Maggiore (a Lombard- Romanesque architecture church), Santa Maria del Carmine (a great example of Gothic brickwork architecture) and San Francesco d’Assisi (a Romanesque church with a restored Gothic façade). The most famous church is probably the Duomo di Pavia (Cathedral of Pavia), which is the third one for size in Italy and whose construction began in the 15th century during the Renaissance, on the site of two pre-existing Romanesque cathedrals.

There is also the Monastery of San Felice, which was built in 760 and now houses various departments of the University of Pavia. The University is one of the oldest worldwide and its buildings and facilities are located in different parts of the city; this makes Pavia a “city campus” that includes ancient, prestigious colleges like Ghislieri and Borromeo, which have historical heritage.

It is best to visit Pavia in mid-season because the weather is very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter, a time when a dense fog also usually descends upon the city and its surroundings and makes the weather even harsher. There are also some out-of-town places that can be visited, where many artisanal activities are based, especially the ones related to agriculture. The Certosa di Pavia (Carthusian Monastery) is definitely worth a visit; it is a historic monumental complex that includes a monastery and shrine, located about ten kilometers from Pavia. There are also some urban parks and natural areas nearby if you want to spend some time in nature, like Parco del Ticino and Bosco Grande.

Below I have rounded up five locations worth seeing when visiting Pavia:

Duomo - Pavia, Italy.
Cathedral of Pavia and Regisole Statue

1) Duomo di Pavia (Cathedral of Pavia) : it is the most impressive church in Pavia and an important Renaissance building. It was named after St. Stephen and St. Mary of the Assumption and in some ways its structure is reminiscent of the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.

The beginning of work on the Cathedral dates back to the 15th century, although the construction went on for a long time until the 20th century and it is still unfinished where the marble coverings are concerned.

It stands on the site of the two pre-existing and united ancient Romanesque cathedrals of St. Stephen and St. Mary, the remains of which are hosted at the crypt level. The previous cathedral buildings were gradually demolished to make way for the new cathedral, and construction work began under the direction of Bramante. Building the cathedral continued slowly through the centuries with several construction phases and delays due to lack of funds. There were also serious structural problems so it was not completed until the 1930s. The Cathedral of Pavia has a very long building history, as it was developed over a span of more than four centuries and distinguished architects from different eras contributed to its design and construction.

It is impressive to see it in person because of its grandeur!

Piazza della Vittoria - Pavia, Italy.
Piazza della Vittoria and Broletto Palace

2) Piazza della Vittoria and Broletto Palace: Piazza della Vittoria is one of Pavia’s main squares and it was laid out at the request of Galeazzo II Visconti as a celebration of the power and greatness of the Visconti household. During the Middle Ages much of its area was occupied by houses, where the noble lineage of Beccaria used to live. The square remained for a long time the designated place for major public events such as military parades and festivals; it also hosted the market until the 1960s, when it was decided to relocate it to an underground space. Overlooking Piazza della Vittoria on the northern side is the Broletto, an ancient palace that has housed the town’s civic government offices for centuries and it was also the building that hosted the town hall of Pavia until 1875. The Broletto Palace is now being used to host temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary art.

Piazza della Vittoria is one of the town’s key places, as it is located at the intersection with Corso Cavour and Corso Strada Nuova and it is overlooked by some of the city’s most important historical buildings. Plenty of people visit the square on a weekly basis, especially on weekends, to have coffee at one of the cafés or go shopping in the neighboring streets.

Pavia and its Bridge.
Ponte Coperto (Covered Bridge)

3) Ponte Coperto (Covered Bridge): it is a bridge over the Ticino River in Pavia, connecting the historic city center and the rest of the city on the left bank of the Ticino with the picturesque neighborhood of Borgo Ticino, which is located on the right bank. It is a stone and brick arch bridge that is based on a previous bridge built there in 1354 that was heavily damaged during World War II and partially collapsed at the end of the 1940s. The old bridge was also a replacement for a Roman construction that was probably built during the Augustan age and connected the two shores of the Ticino River in what was then the ancient town of Ticinum. The bridge is also known as Ponte del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge); according to a legend, in 999, some pilgrims wanted to attend the Midnight Mass in town for Christmas Eve but the fog was very thick so they could not cross the river. A man in red clothes arrived immediately and promised them that he would suddenly build a bridge in exchange of the first soul that was to cross the bridge. The man dressed in red was the devil and he was recognized by the Archangel Michael, who had arrived from a nearby church. The Archangel pretended to accept the deal but when the bridge was completed, the first one to cross it was a goat. The devil got very angry and this led to a powerful storm, but the bridge remained intact so the devil ran away and the inhabitants had a small church built in the center of the bridge. I think it is a very interesting and meaningful legend, which also shows how good ultimately triumphs over evil.

The area surrounding the bridge is one of the best for taking picturesque photos in Pavia, especially around sunset on a clear day (otherwise on some winter days the fog is usually so thick that you can’t even see the bridge from the banks!).

Cupola Arnaboldi - Pavia, Italy.
Arnaboldi Dome

4) Galleria degli Arnaboldi (Arnaboldi Dome): Galleria degli Arnaboldi is a gallery that connects Strada Nuova to Piazza del Lino. The building that forms the Arnaboldi Dome was completed in the spring of 1882; the new construction was meant to be used for agricultural trading and banking dealings on the site of several tenements without historical value. It occupies the vast area between Strada Nuova, Via Varese and Piazza del Lino, where once stood the Palazzo del Popolo, the remains of which were demolished during the construction of the gallery. The octagonal space is covered with a transparent glass dome (called Cupola degli Arnaboldi) and the space hosts forty ground rooms for commercial use and some apartments on the upper floors. The style of Bramante, typical of the Renaissance period, was adopted for both the external façades facing the street and the internal elevations on the octagon; since its inauguration, the Gallery has housed the market hall, stores and apartments. In the 1960s some of the space was purchased by the Pavia Chamber of Commerce and this led to the placement of some offices within it. Galleria degli Arnaboldi is one of the most symbolic landmarks of Pavia, and I loved spending some time taking pictures of the Arnaboldi Dome, especially on sunny days because of the amazing blue sky visible through the glass dome.

Borgo Ticino - Pavia, Italy.
Borgo Ticino, Pavia

5) Borgo Ticino: it is the picturesque neighborhood of Pavia, the southern expansion beyond the city’s river, with a typical look of fishing villages, characterized by the colorful façades of the houses overlooking the right bank of the Ticino River. Immediately after the bridge is a bronze monument depicting a laundress (“lavandaia” in Italian), a term used to refer to the women who washed the laundry of wealthy citizens in the river until the 1950s. The statue was built in 1981 and it is located on the Via Milazzo, the main road of the borgo. Another road called Via dei Mille leads to the center of the area where the Romanesque-style church of Santa Maria in Bethlehem is located; the church was erected in 1130 on the site of a pre-existing Carolingian-era church, the remains of which were discovered in the 1953 restorations. One of the most valuable statues preserved in Pavia, Our Lady of the Star, is situated inside the church. Borgo Ticino is essentially a quiet neighborhood located about a fifteen-minute walk from the center of Pavia, a place where you can still breathe an air of yesteryear, immersed in a peaceful atmosphere.

Additional notes:

Some of the historical info in this article was extracted from the website , which is a local travel guide that provides tips on what to see and where to eat in Pavia and its neighboring towns.

All pictures are my own.

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