Parma boasts a thousand-year-old history, with the first human settlements dating back to the Bronze Age. The whole area was inhabited by Celtic populations from the 4th century B.C. to 183 B.C., when Parma became a Roman colony. After the fall of the Empire, the town was bitterly fought over by famous noble families until the Early Modern Age, when it came into the possession of the Farnese family. In 1731, the Bourbons succeeded to the Farnese family and turned Parma into a vibrant cultural centre. After the 1814 Congress of Vienna, the city was handed over to Marie Louise, Napoleon’s wife. Parma joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.
Your visit to Parma can begin nowhere but in the stunning Piazza Duomo, where the Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Bishop’s Palace will take you back to the Middle Ages.
The Cathedral (9th-12th century) is one of the highest expressions of the Romanesque architecture in the Po Valley. The interior houses famous works of art, such as the dome decorated with frescoes by Correggio (Antonio Allegri) (1526-1530) and the Deposition, Antelami‘s first bas-relief where the date (1178) and the name of the sculptor are indicated.
Antelami’s distinctive features are even more noticeable in the octagonal Baptistery, made of pink Verona marble, which marks a transition between the Romanesque and Gothic styles.
A few dozen metres away from the Cathedral, you will find San Giovanni Evangelista, a Renaissance church that houses stunning works of art by Correggio and Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola).
Don’t forget to visit the convent known as Monastero di San Giovanni, with its Renaissance cloisters, and the Antica Spezieria Benedettina, an ancient apothecary.
Other works by Parmigianino can be admired in the wonderful Renaissance church dedicated to the Madonna della Steccata, whereas the Camera di San Paolo houses another work of art by Correggio, i.e. the vault of the private apartments of Abbess Giovanna Piacenza, one of the most outstanding examples of Italian High Renaissance.
Palazzo della Pilotta
This palace, built by the Farnese family, houses the Biblioteca Palatina (Palatina Library), the National Archaeological Museum, the wooden Teatro Farnese, the Museo Bodoniano and the Galleria Nazionale; the national gallery showcases works of art by Correggio, Parmigianino, Beato Angelico, Leonardo, Cima da Conegliano, El Greco, Van Dyck, Carracci, Sebastiano del Piombo, Tiepolo, Canaletto, etc.
This theatre, among the most prestigious in Italy, is evidence of the strong tie between Parma and the world of opera. Besides the Teatro Regio, Parma boasts several avant-garde and traditional theatres with programmes of fine performances – ballet, plays, concerts and operas.
Parco and Palazzo Ducale
The Parco Ducale, a magnificent example of French formal garden filled with sculptures by Jean Baptiste Boudard, houses the namesake Palazzo Ducale. Other not-to-be-missed attractions are the Town Hall and the Palazzo del Governatore – both situated in Piazza Garibaldi – the Museo Lombardi (which showcases some of the objects owned and used by Marie Louise and Napoleon), the Pinacoteca Stuard (an art gallery), the churches dedicated to Sant’Antonio, San Sepolcro, the Annunciata and Santa Maria del Quartiere, the house where Arturo Toscanini was born, the Casa della Musica, the Castello dei Burattini, the Auditorium Paganini and the Abbey of Valserena, just outside the city.
Useful Telephone Numbers
Comune di Parma: +39 0521/40521
Carabinieri (National Gendarmerie): +39 0521/5371
Parma Tourist Office: +39 0521/218889