7 Reasons to Visit Parma: Art, History, Gastronomy and Beyond

Parma postcard

I'm sure you already know Parma. You met it in the unique taste of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese or in the sweetness of culatello and Parma ham.

But food, and our new Parma food tour that celebrates it, isn't the only masterpiece there.

​Here are some reasons why you should put Parma on your travel bucket list.

1. Watch an Opera where the Opera was born

Visit Parma - Regio Theatre

Regio Theatre in Parma

Chubby men, dressed up in costumes, singing to each other instead of talking. It can look weird, I know.
But if it takes place in a theatre and the music is by Giuseppe Verdi, it becomes Aida, Nabucco or Rigoletto and the tickets get sold out in 20 minutes.

It happens every year at Teatro Regio, an XVIII-century theatre with a breathtaking painted curtain.

If you visit Parma in October don't miss Festival Verdi: days of concerts, music and celebrations in different theatres around the area.

Why all this love for Giuseppe Verdi?

​The grumpy composer was born and lived here in the countryside. It appears that he never wanted to leave Parma without a culatello in the suitcase, put next to the sheet music.

Teatro Regio
Strada Giuseppe Garibaldi 16/A, 43121 Parma
Tel. +39 0521 203999

​Teatro Regio can be visited all year with guided tours, also the backstage.

2. See the Renaissance dome fresco called “a broth of frog legs”

Parma - Duomo

Parma's Duomo

When in 1522 the painter Correggio received the commission for the big Cathedral’s dome, he felt truly honoured.
It was the greatest undertaking he could ever go into, and he tried hard to do his best.
He created a crowd of angels climbing on the clouds, seen from beneath, all intertwined and dizzying.

But Parma citizens knew much more about food than art techniques. They couldn’t help to see just a tremendous, golden, swirling 'broth of frog legs'.

​Correggio never received another commission for a fresco after that, but the dome is still amazing.

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
Piazza Duomo, 7, 43121, Parma
Tel: +39 0521 208699

3. Count the animals on the Baptistery

Parma - baptistery

The enter of Parma's Baptistery

Since I was a kid, I always loved animals.
At first, like plastic tyrannosaurus to play with, and then, you know, in the shape of salame.
So I feel kind of stepping back in time when I turn around the Baptistery and look at the 75 different sculpted animals of zooforo series.

Like the whole building, they were designed by Benedetto Antelami, one of the first that dared to call himself an artist. Before him, only talented anonymous bricklayers.

A monkey, a deer, a camel, a war elephant, a duck, a bull, a peacock, a hawk, a wolf and an eagle, but also two harpies, a centaur, a griffin and a mermaid.

​You could spend all day looking at them or check my list of best restaurants in Parma to keep discussing them with a glass of lambrusco.

Baptistery of San Giovanni Battista
Piazza Duomo, 43121, Parma
Tel: +39 0521 208699

4. Visit the magnificent and unfinished Pilotta Palace

Parma - Pilotta museum

The main hall of Pilotta Museum

Unfinished doesn't always mean unpleasant. We know much about it in Bologna, where the biggest church, in the biggest square, still lays uncompleted.

Something similar happened in Parma with Palazzo della Pilotta.

It's a huge building, a town in the town, that changed its shape lots of times during the centuries. It takes its name from the Spanish game of pelota and hosts three museums, a high school, a library and a theatre.
As well as an unexpected dreamy drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, called La Scapigliata.

But the biggest surprise waits for you on the first floor.

There you find Teatro Farnese: a massive arms deposit turned into an 87 meters long baroque theatre all covered in wood.
Lucky were the ones who saw a play inside this astonishing structure. In fact, Teatro Farnese was used only 9 times in almost 300 years.

Palazzo della Pilotta
Piazza della Pilotta, 3, 43121 Parma
Tel +39 0521 233309

5. Visit the museum that Steve Jobs would have adored

Parma - Museo Bodoniano

Old typeface at Museo Bodoniano

After a class in calligraphy during college, Steve Jobs upgraded his computers with different typographies, to make the technology a little bit closer to human creativity.

That’s one of the reasons for Macintosh's big success. And it’s also why I think he would have loved to visit Museo Bodoniano.

The museum is all about the work of Giambattista Bodoni and it's one of the best museums to visit near Bologna.
Bodoni was an elegant typographer who made Parma the capital of printing in the late XVIII century.

Just another old dusty bookmaker?
​Not at all. Bodoni's font is still used in logos of Vogue, Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Mamma Mia! and even Nirvana.

Museo Bodoniano - Biblioteca Palatina
Strada alla Pilotta, 3, 43100 Parma
Tel +39 0521 220411

6. Take a relaxed walk in Oltretorrente, the new Trastevere

Parma parco ducale oltretorrente orig

Parco Ducale in Oltretorrente

Looking for the coolest neighbourhood?
Go on the other side of the river.
It applies to Paris’ “rive gauche”, Florence’s “Oltrarno” and Rome’s “Trastevere”. And Parma is no exception.

​It's called Oltretorrente, literally beyond the torrent, and there’s no room for fancy restaurants. Just bookshops, farmers' markets, osterias, great food and the atmosphere of a small village.

My favourite place to go?
Parco Ducale to rest, or even have a picnic, under the shadow of a secular tree.

[photos: Stefano Corrias, Adrian Scottow, Atsje Bosma-Prins​]

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