Sometimes the amount of art and history present everywhere in Italy can feel overwhelming; what to see, where to go, why is it even important? All important questions and not always easy to answer. Well, we have you covered in Emilia-Romagna! These four unique art cities are must see for any art (or wine) lover on a trip in Italy's gastronomic capital.
While people often associate the Emilia-Romagna region with great food and fast cars, Eastern Emilia-Romagna is home to several cities noted for their art. This list curates the 4 most unique art cities in Emilia-Romagna and all the best things to see in each town! Although most of these towns are small and close to one another, trying to visit them all in one day is not recommended!
Be sure to take some time to taste the excellent Sangiovese at Umberto Cesari Winery in Castel San Pietro Terme, about a 115-minute drive from Dozza, the first stop on our art itinerary.
Getting there: Ravenna, Faenza, and Brisighella all have railway stations. If you’re driving, be aware that traffic is restricted in the historic centers of all 4 towns so find a parking lot and walk into the center.
Dozza, Town of Murals
One of Italy’s Borghi più belli d’Italia (most beautiful villages), Dozza is a charming medieval hill town with beautiful views of the countryside. Cross the drawbridge to enter the 13th century castle, now a museum. Walk through its rooms decorated with furnishings from when it was transformed into a palace in the 16th century. Especially interesting are the kitchen and the dungeons. There’s also an art exhibition and an enoteca where you can taste wine and learn more about the wines produced in the area.
Dozza is best known for its mural festival, Nuova Biennale del Muro Dipinto or painted wall, usually held every two years in September. Italian and international artists paint diverse murals on the buildings and houses, making Dozza an open-air art museum. Every two years new murals are added and there are now over 100 murals. Stroll through the village and enjoy the amazing array of colourful murals decorating the walls.
Ravenna, Spectacular Mosaics
Visit Ravenna to see stunning early Christian mosaics covering the walls of its churches and monuments. Dating from the fifth and sixth centuries, these magnificent artworks were created when Ravenna was the western capital of the Roman Empire and capital of the Byzantine Empire in Europe. This Byzantine influence is evident in the design of these mosaics.
“The Mosaics of Ravenna”, found in eight major monuments, make up a UNESCO World Heritage site. These monuments include churches, baptisteries, and mausoleums, one of the best being the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia with its star covered cupola. The Arian Baptistery is one of only a few remaining Arian cult monuments. Find information about opening times and admission of the monuments in the city on the Ravenna Mosaici web site. One of the monuments is outside the city centre, in the ancient Roman port of Classe, where you can also visit Roman ruins.
Ravenna’s tradition as a top producer of mosaics continues today. The city’s Mosaic Art School has courses for beginners up to professionals, still using ancient techniques.
To view more modern mosaics, head to the City Art Museum which also houses a large collection of 14th – 21st-century artworks. Ceramics, 14th-century frescoes, bronzes, and other ancient artworks can be seen in the National Museum of Ravenna, housed in the former San Vitale Monastery.
Faenza, Fabulous Ceramics Collection
Faenza has been one of Italy’s most important producers of majolica ceramics since the Middle Ages. The name Faenza derives from the French word “faience”, meaning majolica. By the 16th century, the city was well-known for its yearly weeklong ceramics fair, drawing people from all over Europe. The Festa della Ceramica, a summer ceramics festival, still carries on the tradition with many booths featuring local artists.
Artisan ceramics workshops dot the city centre and outskirts, producing several different styles of ceramics. If you’re looking to buy high-quality ceramic pieces, Faenza is the place to do it.
The International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza houses one of the world’s largest ceramics collections. Exhibitions cover hundreds of years of ceramics production and include pieces from 5 continents. In addition to the permanent collection, special exhibits are also held throughout the year. I was amazed at the extensive collections, definitely the best I’ve ever seen.
Take some time to walk around Faenza’s historic centre, too, or have a drink in the beautiful main square. You can even go up in the bell tower for a bird’s eye view of the town. If you want to see more art, head to the Municipal Art Gallery with collections of paintings from the Roman era through the 20th century.
Brisighella, Artisan Town and Thermal Waters
Brisighella, another of the Borghi più Belli d’Italia, has one of the most unusual historic centres I’ve ever seen. In the Middle Ages, Brisighella became an important centre for gypsum, which had many uses. Built into the medieval town wall is a unique covered passageway dating from the 12th century, called Via degli Asini, for the transport of gypsum from the quarries in the 3 rocky hills above town. Atop one of the hills is a 14th-century castle, another has an 18th-century church, and atop the third is the 19th-century clock tower with a 6-hour clock.
Today artists are drawn to Brisighella and the town encourages artisans to open small shops with handcrafted goods in the town centre. One of these is Stamperia Bertozzi where you’ll find beautiful block-printed tablecloths, bed linens, and other cloths decorated by hand using carved wood blocks. It’s a great place for buying a unique souvenir or gift. In the early 20th century, Brisighella was known for producing high-quality embroidery and that handicraft is being revived. Other shops to visit include Boutique la Glicine and Sartorial, selling embroidered items and historic clothing.
The area around Brisighella produces good olive oil, for sale at Cooperativa Agricola, and there’s a wine shop in town too. Brisighella’s restaurants are known for their excellent cuisine and if you eat too much and want to work it off, you can take the Nordic Walking Path outside town. Brisighella is also known for its thermal waters and across the river from the historic centre, you can end your visit at the thermal baths, open from mid-May through October (except on Sundays), if relaxing is more your style.
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