After coming off the bridge you soon come to these signs pointing to the hiking, strolling and cycling route along the right bank of the Po River.
There is no sign pointing to Busseto, but since the direction was right I took it, and it turned out to be an excellent and virtually car-free cycling route.
Second photo: Cars are only allowed on this route for a short distance, to reach a popular restaurant, but after this point the road is reserved for hikers, cyclists and tractors.
Third photo: Here's a sign marking the "percurso ciclotouristico" (cycling tourists' route) "Via Po", showing that it is open to hikers and strollers (note that they have two different symbols for these) and of course for cyclists, but off limits to cars. This route goes along a dike which is not directly on the river bank, but a ways inland, sort of a second line of defense against flooding.
Fourth photo: Looking back at Cremona from the cycling route along the dike.
Fifth photo: There is a smooth asphalt surface along the dike for ten kilometers or more. The surface turns to gravel shortly after you pass the village of Soarza, but continue on until you reach a place called Ongina, which is where the composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) used to raise horses. Turn right there, and ride south along a stream, also called the Ongina, to reach Villa Verdi and later the town of Busseto.
Cremona is located on the left bank of the Po River, which is the longest river in Italy. It starts in the Alps and flows in a generally West-to-East direction across all of northern Italy, before emptying into the Adriatic Sea near Venice.
Since I live in Germany I suppose I should mention that in German the word Po means butt, so if the Germans start sniggering when they come to this river you will know why. A popular form of gymnastics in Germany for young or not-so-young women is called "BBP" meaning "Beine Bauch Po" (Legs Belly Butt) as it is intended to get those parts of the body firmed up.
Update: Thanks to VT member toonsarah for pointing out that in England this kind of gymnastics is called LBT = Legs, Bums & Tums.
And thanks to tiabunna for informing me that many years ago, when chamberpots were in use, the colloquial term for them in Australia was a 'po'.
Second photo: People strolling along the dike on the left bank of the Po River.
Third photo: To cycle from Cremona to Busseto you first have to cross the Po River on this long bridge, which fortunately has a separate lane for pedestrians and cyclists. (It makes funny noises when you ride across it, but as far as I know it's perfectly safe.)
Fourth photo: Cyclists coming off the bridge.
More of a park than a square, the Piazza Roma is the location of this statue of the Italian patriot, philosopher and politician Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872).
Mazzini's goal was to end foreign rule in Italy, and to achieve Italian independence and unity under a democratic government. When independence and unity were finally achieved in 1861, Mazzini was disappointed because the united Italy took the form of a kingdom, not a democratic republic. He died in Pisa in 1872.
This palace from the second half of the sixteenth century now houses the public library, the Civic Museum and Art Gallery, the Archeological Collection and the Stradivari Museum.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to visit any of these museums during my two short visits to Cremona, but here are the opening hours:
• Weekdays 9:00 - 18:00
• Sundays and holidays 10:00 - 18:00
• Closed on Mondays
Cremona's main theater is named after the opera composer Amilcare Ponchielli (1834 - 1886).
Ponchielli was born near Cremona at a place which is now called Paderno Ponchielli in his honor. After his studies at the Milan Conservatory he worked for a while as an organist in Cremona.
He wrote about a dozen operas, but the one that made him world famous was La Gioconda, which was introduced at La Scala in Milan on April 8, 1876. This opera was a huge success at its premiere and it quickly became a popular opera throughout Europe.
Today La Gioconda is the only one of Ponchielli's operas which is still performed at all regularly. I have never seen it on the stage, but I attended a concert performance of it recently at the Old Opera in Frankfurt am Main.
Cremona is famous for its long tradition of violin making. It was started in the 16th century by a man named Andrea Amati, who is considered the inventor of the violin. Amati's sons and grandson continued the tradition, and the grandson Nicolò Amati was (probably) the teacher of the greatest of them all, Antonio Stradivari, who in his long life made vast numbers of violins, violas and cellos.
Stradivari is said to have built over 1,100 instruments, of which 650 still exist today. No one knows exactly why his violins sound so wonderful. The quality of the wood? The shape of the instrument? The thickness of the wooden plates in the belly and the back of the instrument? The varnish of the wood?
One theory is that the wood he and his contemporaries used was particularly dense because his lifetime coincided with the "Little Ice Age", when temperatures throughout Europe were unusually low. This caused the trees to grow slower and produce unusually dense wood.
Whatever the reasons, his Stradivarius violins are still considered to be among the finest ever made. In 2006 one of them was sold in an auction for over three and a half million dollars.
Second photo: The art of violin making has been passed on from one generation to the next for over four hundred years, and even now there are numerous violin makers in Cremona. The signs pointing to their workshops include the English translation, "Violin Maker," in case prospective buyers don't know what "liutaio" means.
Third photo: Here are some locally-made violins (but not very expensive ones!) on display in a window at the Tourist Information office.
Opera was an invention of the Renaissance, starting around the year 1600.
Perhaps the world's first full-scale opera, or one of the first, was L'Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi, composed in 1607. I have seen L'Orfeo several times in Frankfurt am Main and once, in a very different production, in Darmstadt.
Monteverdi was born in Cremona in 1576 and lived here for the first fifteen years of his life, until 1591. He probably received his first musical training at the Cremona Cathedral from the composer Marc'Antonio Ingegneri (1547-1592).
At age fifteen Monteverdi moved to Mantua, where he was employed first as a singer and viola player, later as the orchestra conductor, at the court of Duke Vincenzo I of Gonzaga. In his forties Monteverdi moved to Venice, where he spent the rest of his life as the musical conductor and resident composer at the Basilica of San Marco.
In addition to madrigals and other religious music, Monteverdi composed some eighteen operas, but the only ones that have survived are L'Orfeo from the year 1607, Combattimenti (1624), Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses, 1641) and L'incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea, 1642). I have seen beautiful productions of all of these in Frankfurt am Main in recent years (and Poppea also in Stuttgart).
Second photo: When I was in Cremona they were advertising a Monteverdi Festival, to be held in May 2008.
Third photo: Here's a photo from one of my Innsbruck tips, showing a portrait of Claudio Monteverdi along with some historical musical instruments at the Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum.
The Piazza del Comune is at the highest point of the town. The 11th century cathedral is here, along with other historic buildings called the Baptistery, the Loggia dei Militi and the Municipal Chambers.
When I arrived on a Saturday afternoon they were just cleaning up after a market that had been held there during the morning. There was newspaper stand on the square, where I spent EUR 7.90 for what turned out to be a very useful and informative guidebook to Cremona. (Published by Giramondo Libri s.a.s, Via Palestro, 44, 26100 Cremona.)
There is also a Tourist Information office on the square, which re-opened at three o'clock. There I was given maps of the city and province of Cremona, and the rather vague but still very useful tip that it was possible to cycle along the Po River to Busseto, rather than taking the main roads.
Second photo: The Bell Tower is right next to the Cathedral. It is 110.96 meters tall, according to my guidebook, and it was "presumably built in the second half of the XIII century, taking several decades for its completion."
Third photo: Guidebook and maps
Piazza S. Agata, overlooked by the church of S. Agata, of ancient foundation (1077), but completely renovated in its layout in the 16th century with a fine neoclassical façade (by L. Voghera, 1845), represents in an urbanistic sense, together with the Cittanova palazzo, the second town centre, arising in the medioeval era and hence outside the perimeter of the Roman city
Sant'Agata church was founded in 1077 and renewed in various ways, keeps the Roman bell tower; inside we can see the valuable picture of St. Agata (XIII century) and the frescos by G. Campi (1537).
From the second half of XVII century the most famous of the violin-makers, Antonio Stradivari, began to work in Cremona. Rich in his predecessors’ experience, he developed the research in the art of making stringed instruments in order to obtain instruments which could meet with the requirements of the music of his time.
The greatest masterpieces, the history of the art of making stringed instruments ever knew, were thus born.
Stradivari, making his violins, used the most refined techniques. He lived till 1737 and made more than one thousand works. Among the great of the Cremonensis art of making stringed instruments, Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù had an important place.
As indicated in the inscription on the wall slab on its front face, the "Loggia dei Militi" was built in 1292. (The Militia Loggia - View).
Above the inscription, banners of the Municipality represented by four knights holding the banners, symbolize the historic four gates to the city, Pertusio, Ariberti, Natale, S. Lorenzo.
The history of the palazzo is closely connected to the evolution of the "Società dei Militi". While the image of the historical city was characterized by the pre-eminence of the Guelphs, the ancient "Società dei Militi", though transformed and undermined by the "Società del Popolo" in the supremacy of the Commune, maintained its prerogatives as a military and social body.
The richest and most prominent of the town's inhabitants and those of the surrounding countryside belonged to it, very often owners of feudal estates.
The palazzo with its portico built in 1292 was intended for their meetings, for keeping their banners, the lists and special statutes.
The "Loggia dei Militi" assumes the layout of the early Lombardy broletto, characterized by two single halls one over the other: the portico at ground level and the chamber above with a windowed roof, both floors being of a rectangular plan.
The first historical record of a building housing the political municipal power goes back to the end of the 12th century (1193 and 1194), when documentary references speak of the palace of the consuls. However, the readable remains of the medioeval elements of the Municipal palace go back to the date of building of 1206 and the subsequent enlarging of 1245, documented by a commemorative slab found in the courtyard (The Town Hall Palace - Facede viewed from the portal of the Cathedral).
Its present condition, however, enables us to recognise some characteristics that refer to the middle of the 13th century and at least to retrace, in its origin, the adoption of the module and the rectilinear layout of a simple plan and square form, of Cistercian derivation.
The medioeval structure of the palace remained substantially unaltered up to the 15th century, when operations of normal maintenance are documented together with the more important restructuring in the second half of the century.
The chronological datings of 754 and 1284, referred to by the local historical sources for the start of building being recognised as unfounded, there are more correctly distinguished four phases in the development of the tower's construction: the first one, going back to the third decade of the 13th century, up to the third string-course cornice; a second phase in 1250-1267, up to the great cornice below the quadruple lancet window; a third, around 1284, as a coupling for the fourth phase, represented by the marble spire finished by 1309.
The baptistery, started in 1167, takes up the typical octagonal plan, a symbolic reference to the number eight, the eighth day of the resurrection and hence, by extension, of baptism: a connection between theology and architectural suggested in a solemn poem by S. Ambrogio and then linked to the Ambrosian rite.
Externally, those parts of the edifice built after 1167 can be read in the sides which present the wall-building technique in brickwork: smooth walls on whose surfaces there open up small windows with one or two lights defined by buttresses with acute arrisses, in three cases stressed by two slender semi-circular pilasters culminating in small sharply turning cubical capitals, and ending in a frieze of hanging bows.
The working site for the present cathedral was opened at the beginning of the 12th century, i.e. at the time of the regrowth of the town and of great political, cultural and religious upheavals leading to the formation of new social equilibria. Started in 1107, as the foundation stone with the prophets Enoch and Elijah preserved in the canons' vestry testifies, the church was in an advanced state of completion when the earthquake of January 3, 1117 interrupted and largely destroyed the building: it presented supports in an alternating system and, according to the theories, six-segmented vaults or trussed coverings without transverse arches. It was not until 1129 that construction of the building could be restarted, and although it was probably completed in the years 1160-1170, it was subjected to additions and modifications up to the last years of the century: in any event, the solemn consecration of the altar dedicated to the cathedral's patron saints, S. Archelao and S. Imerio, by the Bishop of Cremona Sicardo took place in 1196.