Perfect geometry

Written by  Roberto Pazzi
A cycle ride by night along the real and metaphysical walls of Ferrara
The walls built by the Este and restored some fifteen years ago are still the stuff of dreams. After dinner one evening I decided to cycle alongside these walls under the new lighting installed by the city authority.

I set out on my nocturnal ride close to the newly restored Porta Paola, heading off in the direction of San Giorgio. Starting here revealed how evocative these architectural forms with their perfect geometry can be.

The magic of our city walls is different from that of other famous Italian cities. Ferrara's walls are not too old, like the tall, sloping pre-gunpowder walls of Cittadella and Monteriggioni, nor more modern in spirit like those at Lucca, wide enough to be topped by stately avenues. These are perfect renaissance walls, as beautiful as they were functional, with that rare harmony so typical of Ferrara which is also reproduced within the walls in the forms of the Palazzo dei Diamanti and the Castello Estense.

From its walls Ferrara has the air of a box of delights, all its bustle enclosed within the shell of its defences. This is where our life has been played out, beyond Rossetti's walls which have never been besieged, never suffered enemy fire, since Duke Ercole I ordered them to be built in 1492, just as Europe was discovering America. And when we come out to view the walls by night, we are able to see ourselves from the outside, as others see us, when we walk about the city wrapped up in our own affairs.

In the peaceful defensive roar of its walls, Ferrara expresses the jealous defence of its identity, the identity which is ours even if we are unaware of it.
And as our bicycle reaches the more linear levelled area of Porta Mare, it is good to savour the uselessness of beauty set against the utility of the ugly sight provided by the modern industrial zone, just visible in the distance beyond the outline of the houses, the bell-tower of San Benedetto and the skyscraper.

Continuing our leisurely evening ride, we move on from Porta Mare towards the Jewish and Christian cemeteries, where greenery triumphs and brings Christian and Jewish dead alike into a single garden.

At the point where the Northern and Eastern sides of the wall intersect, where the great stone crest of the Este family once stood, we are confronted by the sight of a somewhat hazardous corner, providing the sharpest drop of the entire nine kilometre route.

From here onwards, riding in a westerly direction, we can feel the presence of the great secret soul of the city, the Po. For it is there, to the north, invisible in the darkness, barely perceptible in the dark luxuriant mass of green and the embankment which rises to hide it.

On this side traffic noise from the ring road, which was only to be temporary according to the urban planning map, breaks the enchantment of the silence. And already we are distracted by the glimpse of proliferating modern buildings and factories, lit up in the night, to the west, after a stop at the casina del boia, to enjoy the view up the Corso Ercole d'Este, the Via degli Angeli, from the Angeli wall.

We have now reached the turning at Porta Catene, where the tumult of modern life overwhelms the city walls, although our ride could continue beyond the maze of wide streets around the railway station. Here the statue of the Pope Paul V recalls the period of history when the seventeenth century fortress was built, breaking through the wall complex.

Certainly the fall of the Este and the unhappy advent of papal rule mark the start of Ferrara's long decline. But it also starts the long journey through Time, which calls on us to take up the frail burden of its past beauties, the showcase of Poetry, Art, Narrative and Architecture contained within its walls, which have earned UNESCO recognition as a World Heritage site.