Parma, Italian Capital of Culture x 2
The city that gave its name to Parma ham and Parmesan cheese was proud to be chosen Italian Capital of Culture for 2020. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic swept through northern Italy, derailing Parma’s ambitious plans. Thanks to the Relaunch Decree, however, they’re back on track. This decree extends Parma’s tenure as an Italian Capital of Culture all the way through 2021. This means visitors have twice as long to discover all that Parma has to offer!
In an admirable show of support, other Italian cities graciously agreed to postpone their applications for the title. This gesture shows that Italian culture is not only a vehicle for recovery, but an engine of solidarity and community.
Culture Beats Time
A vibrant video helped convince the jury to unanimously select Parma as Italian Capital of Culture 2020-21. In just four minutes, it captures the amazing energy of this appealing university town of 195,000.
“La cultura batte il tempo” (“culture beats time”) is the slogan chosen to highlight Parma’s blend of past artistic and historic glories with its present-day cultural innovations. The idea of Time also speaks to the particular historical period we are currently living through.
Green themes and technology make up a multifaceted program with events ranging from art and music to workshops, nature walks, and food & wine festivals. Many don’t charge an entrance fee and there are still plenty of free things to do after Parma 2020-21 is over. Let’s take a look at seven!
Filling an entire side of Piazza del Duomo is the cathedral. The Romanesque basilica will celebrate its 950th birthday in 2024. Its octagonal dome is quite unusual for a medieval church, but it’s what’s inside that will knock your socks off!
Correggio’s audacious fresco of the “Assumption of the Virgin” (1526-30) was way ahead of its time. Even Baroque artists a hundred years later were still copying his dramatic foreshortening technique! There’s no fee to enter the cathedral, but make sure you have a €2 coin for the machine that lights up this spectacular work of art.
Monastery of St. John the Evangelist
Only a few steps from the Duomo is the monastic complex of San Giovanni. Not only is it a church, but it’s also home to a chapter-house, refectory, library, three Renaissance cloisters, and a charming old apothecary shop.
Inside the church you can admire another of Correggio’s elaborate domes. “The Vision of St. John at Patmos” (1520-1522) is an uncommon subject in Christian iconography. Less crowded and chaotic than the later “Assumption,” the central figure of Christ floats serenely towards the viewer in contrast to the acrobatic version in the Duomo fresco.
Opera on Stage Museum
Behind the simple red brick facade of Palazzo Cusani is this compact museum where four centuries of opera in Parma are contained in just four rooms. Two of them focus on the development of musical theatre and two are dedicated to famed 19th century composer Giuseppe Verdi. Die-hard Verdi fans might also want to visit the nearby village of Busseto where he was born.
House of Sound
Moving from classical music to contemporary brings you to the House of Sound. This museum of sound reproduction systems is housed in a former church. Objects on display range from vintage radios to mp3 players to the most sophisticated last-generation sound technologies.
Everything focuses on the custom sound diffusion system hanging from the church’s central vault. Electronic music written especially for the House of Sound echoes through the space, to the delight of audiophiles.
Four generations of the Ferrari family of Parma have carved, painted, strung and dressed puppets by hand. This free museum in the center of town displays those, along with marionettes from elsewhere in Italy. Each character, stage set, and prop you see is designed individually. On weekends the Puppet’s Castle gives free guided tours and puppet shows.
If you’re traveling with children who need to run around in the fresh air, Cittadella Park is the place to head. The star-shaped walls of this Renaissance fortress enclose almost 30 acres of grass and trees.
Facilities include a kid’s playground with a giant trampoline and a merry-go-round, an area for dogs, bike tracks and an outdoor café. And if you’ve over-indulged on Parma’s yummy food and wine, you might want to join the serious joggers up on the wide space that tops the walls!
Parmesan Cheese Producer
No trip to Parma is complete without the King of Cheese itself, Parmigiano Reggiano. Watching milk transformed into wheels that will become the famed cheese has never been more interesting. Plus, Parmesan is 100% lactose free, so even those who are lactose intolerant can enjoy it! Guided tours take about two hours and are free of charge.
Visitors should arrive by 8am in order to observe the entire cheese-making process. Make your reservations through one of the four offices in the approved production zone for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Be sure to email your request at least 20-25 days in advance so you don’t miss out!
With its extended tenure as an Italian Capital of Culture, there’s plenty of time to enjoy Parma and all it has to offer. What are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below!