Cosa Vedere a Piacenza- Palazzo Gotico- Piazza Cavalli- Statua equestre Alessandro Farnese

A Brief Guide to Discovering the Beauties of the Small Emilian Art City

Are art, history, and good cuisine your favorite things? Then, join us in discovering what to see in Piacenza and plan a trip!

Piacenza, often remembered from geography quizzes listing Emilia Romagna’s capitals, is a treasure trove of extraordinary artistic beauty, emphasizing its historical importance in the Italian landscape. The city’s ancient history dates back to Ligurians, Etruscans, and Celts, and it gained prominence in 218 B.C. as a Roman outpost, with Cremona, against Hannibal’s advance.

Remaining a crucial commercial hub on the Via Emilia, Piacenza retained its significance even after the fall of the Roman Empire. It further flourished in the Middle Ages, becoming a key stop on the Via Francigena. In the 14th century, Piacenza saw various dominations, including the Visconti, the Papal State, and the Farnese, forming the Duchy of Piacenza and Parma.

In 1848, Piacenza made history as the first Italian city to vote in favor of annexation to the Kingdom of Savoy, later becoming part of Italy—earning the nickname “Primogenita d’Italia.”

Now, let’s delve into what to see in Piacenza.

What to See in Piacenza: Palazzo Farnese and the Civic Museums

Palazzo Farnese-Civic Museums-
Palazzo Farnese (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The essential starting point for exploring Piacenza is Palazzo Farnese. Initially conceived as a fortress to defend against Spanish attacks, it evolved into a grand palace under Duke Ottavio Farnese. Designed by Vignola, the palace, although incomplete, stands as a cultural hub, housing the Civic Museums of Piacenza and hosting various events and exhibitions.

A recommended ticket, priced at 17 euros, grants access to all Civic Museums, including Palazzo Farnese, the Ricci Oddi Modern Art Gallery, Alberoni Gallery, the Civic Museum of Natural History, and Kronos – the Cathedral Museum (ground floor only). This ticket, valid for a year, can be purchased at any of the five museums.

The Carriage Museum and the Archaeological Museum

Located in the underground floor, the Carriage Museum boasts a prestigious collection of carriages dating from the 1700s to the early 1900s.

Carriage Museum - Palazzo Farnese - Carriage
One of the carriages exhibited

Meanwhile, the Archaeological Museum, undergoing reorganization, showcases artifacts dating back to the Paleolithic era, including noteworthy items from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.

The highlight is the Etruscan Liver from the 2nd century B.C., revealing a celestial order used for divination in Etruscan prophecy.

Etruscan Liver - Archaeological Museum - Palazzo Farnese
Etruscan Liver

The Risorgimento Museum

Ascending to the mezzanine floor of Palazzo Farnese, the Risorgimento Museum, curated by the Piacenza section of the Italian Institute for the History of the Risorgimento, focuses on the period from 1848 to 1861. It features documents related to the plebiscite in which Piacenza joined the Kingdom of Sardinia, earning the city the title “Primogenita.”

The Weapons Collection, Sculpture Collection, and Farnese’s Glories

Ascending further leads to the raised floor hosting the Duke’s representation rooms and apartment. As one arrives, the rich decorations and frescoes embellishing walls and ceilings become apparent, designed to astonish the Duke’s guests. Two intriguing collections are now displayed here, offering a journey through the history of Piacenza from the Middle Ages to the modern era.

The first is the Weapons Collection, primarily gathering weapons from the 16th century and splendid armor crafted by the Milanese armorer Pompeo della Cesa. Acquired in the 19th century by Count Antonio Parma from noble families in Parma, Mantua, and Piacenza, these weapons showcase the region’s history.

Collection of Weapons - Palazzo Farnese - Swords - Armor
Weapon Collection (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The second is the Sculpture Collection, featuring works from the lively Piacenzian figurative school of the 12th and 13th centuries. Notable Romanesque sculptures refer mainly to the craftsmanship of Wiligelmo and Niccolò, masters active in Piacenza’s Cathedral during those centuries. Particularly striking is the Benvegnù Slab, depicting castle dwellers welcoming pilgrims on the Via Francigena, reflecting the hospitable nature of the Piacenzians even then.

The Duke’s Apartment

In the Duke’s apartment, one can admire the splendid Glories of Alessandro Farnese and Pope Pius III Farnese. These large canvases, commissioned by Duke Ranuccio II, depict pivotal moments related to the two most illustrious male figures of the Farnese dynasty. Alessandro, the Spanish army’s general in the War of the Flanders, symbolizes the Duke’s loyalty to the Spanish Empire. Pius III, on the other hand, was the Pope who granted the Duchy of Piacenza and Parma to his son Pierluigi, laying the foundation for Farnese power.

The Art Gallery and the Glories of Elisabetta Farnese

The second floor, perhaps the most astonishing, houses the Civic Art Gallery, a collection spanning the 14th to 19th centuries. Among these paintings, the standout is Botticelli’s Tondo, immediately recognizable for the Tuscan artist’s elegance in depicting the Virgin and Child.

What to see in Piacenza - Tondo Botticelli - Palazzo Farnese - Civic Art Gallery
The Tondo Botticelli (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Adjacent rooms showcase the canvases of Elisabetta Farnese’s Glories, painted by Ilario Spolverini, celebrating her marriage to King Philip V of Spain, making her the Queen of Spain.

What to see in Piacenza: Piazza Cavalli

A central point in Piacenza is Piazza Cavalli, historically the city’s heart. Named after the equestrian statues of Alessandro Farnese and his son Ranuccio, it features the Gothic Palace, recognizable by its beautiful stone portico and red marble contrasting with the intense red brick of the upper floor. Notable are the large windows with pointed arches, decorative geometric patterns framing both trefoils and quadrifoils. Across, the Neo-Classical Governor’s Palace and the Church of San Francesco stand, witnessing historical events and architectural beauty.

Governor’s Palace and San Francesco Church

Facing Piazza Cavalli is the Governor’s Palace, a restrained Neo-Classical building that housed the duchy’s governors until its annexation to the Kingdom of Sardinia. The facade showcases a clock, a sundial, and a perpetual calendar.

Governor's Palace - Piazza Cavalli - Ranuccio Farnese Equestrian Statue
Governor’s Palace (Credi to Matteo Marongiu)

At the corner with via XX Settembre stands the Church of San Francesco, significant for Piacentines as the site where, in 1848, they declared their desire to join the future Kingdom of Italy. Architecturally, it’s a Lombard Gothic gem, adorned with works by prominent painters like Malosso, Carlo Francesco Nuvolone, and Camillo Procaccini.

What to see in Piacenza: the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and Giustina

An unmissable destination in Piacenza is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and Giustina, a prominent example of Italian Romanesque architecture. Its pink marble facade, adorned with finely decorated portals, captivates. The interior, in a Latin cross plan, features three aisles supported by massive pillars. The cathedral boasts splendid frescoes from the 14th to 16th centuries by Camillo Procaccini and Ludovico Carracci.

Guercino’s Dome

Noteworthy are the precious frescoes adorning the dome, initiated by Morazzone but completed by Guercino. Eight segments display beautiful figures of prophets, scenes from Jesus’ childhood, and sibyls. The view from below is already breathtaking, but guided tours offer access to the central nave’s attic and the tambour’s loggia, enhancing the experience.

What to see in Piacenza-duomo-Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and Giustina-Guercino's Dome
Guercino’s Dome (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

If time allows, exploring the crypt is recommended, a fascinating space housing relics of Saint Giustina, adorned with 108 Romanesque columns with diverse decorative capitals.

What to see in Piacenza: The Basilica of Sant’Antonino

Another captivating site is the Basilica of Sant’Antonino, the city’s patron saint. Originally built in 375, its current form dates mainly to the 11th-century reconstruction and subsequent interventions. Inside, the saint’s relics are preserved, and the presbytery displays Camillo Gavasetti’s frescoes.

What to see in Piacenza - Church of Sant'Antonino - Octagonal bell tower
Church of Sant’Antonino (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The Basilica is also a symbolic place in the history of the city also due to an episode that took place inside it. In fact, here the delegates of the Lombard League and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa met to sign the preliminaries of the Peace of Constance.

What to see in Piacenza: the Ricci Oddi Gallery

South of the Basilica of Sant’Antonino lies a must-visit for art enthusiasts: the Ricci-Oddi Gallery. This impressive structure, inaugurated in 1931 by Giuseppe Ricci Oddi, houses a remarkable collection of 19th and 20th-century artworks. Collected by the renowned Piacentine collector in the early 20th century, these works include masterpieces by Italian and European artists such as Hayez, Pellizza da Volpedo, Fattori, Boccioni, Klimt, and local artists Stefano Bruzzi and Francesco Ghittoni.

What to see in Piacenza - Ricci Oddi Gallery - Internal courtyard
Ricci Oddi Gallery (Credit to Yuri Zanelli CC-BY-SA)

What to see in Piacenza: the Basilica of Santa Maria di Campagna and the churches of San Sisto and San Savino

Basilica of Santa Maria di Campagna

The Basilica of Santa Maria di Campagna, built from 1522 with a central plan and a harmonious external structure, houses one of Northern Italy’s most important pictorial cycles: the Pordenone Dome. The breathtaking portrayal of God the Father descending from heaven, surrounded by prophets and sibyls, is a visual feast.

What to see in Piacenza - Basilica of Santa Maria di Campagna - Pordenone Dome
Pordenone Dome

In addition to the dome, the Chapel of Santa Caterina, also frescoed by Pordenone, is worth exploring. Legend has it that Saint Paul’s face is the self-portrait of Pordenone, and the Virgin’s face is that of his wife. The architect Tramello, who built the church, is the man with the beret.

San Sisto Church

Founded in 874 by Queen Angilberga, the current appearance of San Sisto is due to a 16th-century reconstruction. Raphael’s “Madonna Sistina,” now replaced by a copy, once adorned the church.

Tranquility surrounding the church, coupled with its Renaissance artistry, creates a serene atmosphere. The cloister preceding the entrance is adorned with 21 arches, framing the three-order facade featuring a statue of San Sisto. The interior, in a Latin cross shape, is a celebration of Renaissance art, decorated with frescoes and housing works by Antonio Campi, Camillo Procaccini, and Giuseppe Nuvolone.

What to see in Piacenza - Church of San Sisto - interior - paintings - columns
Interior of the Church of San Sisto (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

San Savino Church

While San Savino lacks grand historical events, its medieval origin becomes evident when exploring its interior. The crypt reveals mosaics from the 11th century depicting months and zodiac signs against a background resembling sea waves.

What to see in Piacenza - Crypt - Floor Mosaic - Months - Zodiac
Floor mosaic of the crypt

Another mosaic in the presbytery depicts combat scenes, a chess game, and a representation of Christ.

What to Eat in Piacenza

Given the generous lunch breaks at these attractions, savor Piacenza’s culinary delights. Begin with a platter of typical salami, coppa, and pancetta, accompanied by Provolone Valpadana and Grana Padano. For main courses, indulge in anolini di Piacenza, pasta filled with stracotto, and experience the local use of horse meat, especially in the renowned stracotto alla piacentina. Pair these delicacies with Gutturnio, a Barbera and Bonarda blend, and conclude your meal with Bargnolino, a typical plum-based digestif.

Final Recommendations

If planning to stay in Piacenza, explore the best accommodations here for a delightful visit!

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Article Name
What to see in Piacenza
"Explore art, history, and exquisite cuisine in Piacenza! Discover what to see in Piacenza and plan your perfect getaway."
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La Scimmia Viaggiatrice