On my only past visit to Padua some years ago, I focused on at the time its only World Heritage property, the botanical garden. In 2021, Padua acquired another World Heritage designation, an eight-part site exhibiting 14th-century frescoes that revolutionized the art of mural painting. The town is less than half an hour away from Venice on a speedy train (or less than 50 minutes away on a slower regional variety). So I set aside a good part of one day of the recent Venetian stay to engage in my favorite travel pursuit.
This serial site is definitely one of the most impressive of its kind, headlined by Scrovegni Chapel.
These frescoes have been painted by Giotto, probably the most famous of the various artists whose work is immortalized in this WH inscription. The most eye-catching part has to be the Last Judgement…
…while the rest are the scenes from the life of Jesus.
The exterior view of the chapel is pleasing enough but hardly hints at the magnificent artwork found inside.
Palazzo della Ragione is one secular building in the series, overseeing one of the central town squares.
If you clicked through to that botanic garden post, you saw a similar picture. We walked by the palazzo on that visit without checking its interior. Its first floor is a covered marketplace, while the upper level is the museum part. You ascend a staircase to this terrace…
… and then step into the humongous hall that is covered with several rows of frescoes, depicting people, zodiac signs, representations of months of the year, and so on. There is also a massive wooden horse and a Foucault pendulum as bonus attractions.
Cathedral Baptistery was undergoing partial renovations, but once I presented my ticket at the Duomo Museum desk, a lady escorted me through the construction barriers to see the place. In the smaller setting, the brilliant fresco cycle of the life of Jesus by Giusto de Menabuoi is in a sense even more wow-inducing than in the bigger Scrovegni.
My next stop was the Chapel of the Carraresi Palace. The Cararesi family was a leading sponsor of the art in 14th-century Padua. The frescoes in their erstwhile private chapel are less well preserved than in other locations, although they date from the same period. They were painted by Guariento di Arpo, depicting various scenes from the Old Testament.
The Oratory of St. George is similar to the Scrovegni. The frescoes here suffered significant damage in the Napoleonic wars, although mostly restored since then. The subjects vary, including scenes from the lives of Saint George, Saint Catherine, and Saint Lucy, in addition to Christ.
The final stop in the series was the Basilica of Saint Anthony, a gorgeous grand church with lots of fine features (frescoes included).
A different angle of this same façade appeared in that botanic garden post as well. I did not step inside the church back then, but it is very much worth stepping into for any admirer of religious architecture.
All components of this WH site are included on a single Urbs Picta ticket. Scrovegni Chapel is the only one that requires advance planning. You have to book a specific 15-minute time slot to visit. A true connoisseur would probably find 15 minutes too little, but for most people, it will be a sufficient interval; the last stage of waiting for entry includes watching a movie that is a bit high on pathos but nonethelss offers additional context to what you will see inside.
Saint Anthony as a continuously-active church does not require any ticket to enter. Conversely, I got a feeling that the Baptistery was only accessible with Urbs Picta ticket (which may or may not hold true once those renovations are finished).
It took me about three and a half hours to see six locations, starting from the moment I arrived at the Musei degli Eremitani, the entrance point for Scrovegni. I lingered a bit at the museum and then walked at a slow pace between sites, and I skipped two other locations. The Oratory of Saint Michael, which is located all by itself a bit out of the way relative to other parts of the inscription, was cut from the itinerary at the planning stage. However, I did originally plan to stop by Chiesa degli Eremitani, close to the aforementioned museum, on my way back to the train station, but somewhat inexplicably decided at the last moment to save time in favor of my later plans for the day.
Overall, Padua is a lively university town, not without occasional charms, but definitely a notch below other well-known destinations in Italy in terms of visual gratification. Its two WH sites are standout highlights that could easily be both visited in the space of a single day.