Discovering Este

by Iryna Venco on 25 January 2017

ancient Ateste (Padua, Italy)

A town to fall in love with…

Situated in the southern part of the Euganean Hills, Este is a fascinating and enjoyable place to explore. It was one of the most powerful and prosperous cities of northern Italy between the 10th and 3rd centuries BC. Today, the town of Este is notable for its archaeological treasures, abundant historical and cultural heritage and picturesque landscapes.

Ancient Ateste

Known as a “cradle of ancient Veneto”, Ateste (the Latin name of Este) was found by the Paleoveneti. It was the most populated city among those which gave the birth to one of the principal civilizations of northern Italy. According to a classical source of information and ancient legends, the Paleoveneti arrived in the Po Valley around the 11th–10th century BC. The ancient inhabitants of Ateste established their settlements near the presence of the Euganean Hills along the banks of the Adige River, which ran through the area until the serious flooding of 586 AD. It is said that Este took its proper name from this river.

Thanks to its advantageous position between Etruria and Europe, Este benefitted from commercial trade and cultural exchanges and became an important religious and civil centre during the Roman and Venetian epochs. The testimonies of these epochs have been well-preserved up to the present thanks to archaeological excavations which have been conducted since 1876, the results of which are displayed in the National Atestino Museum.

Historians tell us that Este was destroyed seven times in a period of about 1,000 years. The last of these destructions occurred at the hand of Ubertino da Carrara in 1337, who, however, rebuilt the castle, the imposing architectural structure of which we can admire now.

“Piazzette” Trento and Trieste

I prefer to start my day at a café in the piazza Trento (in the past known as the piazza delle Erbe), where you can enjoy an authentic Italian breakfast - a cup of fresh coffee or cappuccino and a delicious brioche. At first glance, this square seems to be more like a small and tranquil courtyard surrounded by buildings. There is a fountain made of trachyte in the centre of the square, dating from the first half of the 19th century. The most noticeable feature of this square is a façade of the small medieval church known as the Madonetta (the “small Madonna”), erected in 1585 and then rebuilt in 1847.

Near the piazza Trento is another square, the piazza Trieste, which has a Garibaldi monument in the centre, erected in 1890. The piazza Trieste was once known as the piazza dei Frutti, because of the fruit and vegetable market which had been operated here.

This place is very charming and pleasant. It has a friendly and relaxed atmosphere as locals and tourists enjoy their morning breakfast, especially during market days, which are Wednesday and Saturday, and it is always lively and full of colour and activity.

Piazza Trieste, Este (PD)
Piazza Trieste

La Piazza Maggiore — the Historical Heart of Este

An impressive statue of four lions is the first thing one notices upon entering the square. The 18th-century historian Antonio Angelieri mentioned this square as one of the most attractive among those of the Veneto region for its perfect spaciousness and fine paving. The piazza Maggiore has its origins in the late Middle Ages. It is well-documented in numerous historical records of the 12th-13th centuries as a pratum mercati. Initially, it was a commercial area which also included smaller squares, the so-called piazzette Trento and Trieste. It was a place for entertainment and performances such as la caccia al toro (bull-baiting) in the 18th century.

Today, the main square is a meeting place for different cultural and social events, festivals and carnivals. The square overflows with people in the evenings, especially on hot summer days as the local people and tourists have a drink or dine in the outdoor cafés.

Piazza Maggiore, Este (PD)
Piazza Maggiore

From all sides, the piazza Maggiore is surrounded by arcades. One of the main attractions of this square is the 18th-century Palazzo del Comune with its portico. It was a municipal building during the Venetian period and functioned as the Venetian Podesta’s residence. The Palazzo del Comune has a long history of reconstructions and transformations. On the front of the building is a commemorative plaque as a reminder of Giueseppe Garibaldi’s visit to Este. The ground floor, where there is now a loggia with a café, was once a meeting place for middlemen on market days.

Next to the Palazzo del Comune is a medieval Gothic palace that dates back to the 1300s. Today, this palace is home to the community Gabinetto di Lettura, which contains an important library and collection of manuscripts and publications about the history of Este. It was founded during the Austrian domination in 1846.

The piazza Maggiore is connected to Matteotti Street, the main town street, colonnaded from both sides and packed with coffee bars and charming little shops. Walking down this street, you will encounter the 17th-century Torre della Porta Vecchia (the Tower of the Old Gate) with its beautifully decorated clock. The gate was once one of the entrances to the medieval town.

Matteotti Street, Este (PD)
Este in Arte, Matteotti Street

Museo Nazionale Atestino

National Atestino Museum offers the most important and impressive collection of archaeological finds of the ancient Veneti civilization. Many native Atestini would recommend that you start your journey from this museum. It is currently housed in the 16th-century Palazzo Mocenigo.

All archaeological finds excavated in Este and its surrounding area are carefully disposed in 11 themed halls. Thanks to the abundance of archaeological artefacts, the history and cultural development of Este and its surroundings are explored, from the Eneolithic and Bronze Age to the more recent epochs of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

The museum is home to a magnificent collection of situlae (cinerary urns). The most valuable and outstanding example of this form of art is the Benvenuti Situla, dating from the 600 BC.

National Atestino Museum, Este (PD)
National Atestino Museum

The Castle of Este

Without a doubt, the medieval Carrarese Castle is one of the most important landmarks in the town. It was probably originally built around 1050, but later sustained devastating destruction and was rebuilt and extended by Ubertino da Carrara in 1339. Today, visitors are attracted by the opportunity to marvel at the imposing keep on a raised part of the castle grounds and the massive walls crowned with battlements. From a terrace of the keep there is an amazing view of the old town centre and the Euganean Hills.

Today, the inner bailey of the castle has been converted into a beautiful public garden. Walking down the garden paths, you can admire a patchwork of enormous evergreen trees, a magnificent rose garden, 18th-century statues of mythological deities and a charming fountain or simply enjoy your pleasant reading in the giant shadow of an old tree. Near the main entrance to the castle there is a cosy outdoor café, where you can pause to reward yourself with a cup of aromatic coffee.

The Carrarese Castle, Este (PD)
View of the castle garden from the Palazzo Mocenigo

The Church of San Martino with its Leaning Tower

It is easy to get to the church of San Martino from the piazza Maggiore. It is about 150 metres along Prince Umberto Street. This church is the most ancient religious building in Este and probably has its origins in the 11th century. It underwent several reconstructions over the centuries. The oldest part of the church is a leaning bell tower of about 23.50 m high, which has been leaning since the 15th century.

Chiesa di San Martino, Este (PD)
St Martin's leaning campanile

Among other tourist attractions in the town is the Duomo of Santa Tecla, which is worth setting aside some time to explore. The cathedral preserves numerous works of art, among which the most popular painting is the “Intercession by Saint Tecla” by Giambattista Tiepolo, depicting Saint Tecla praying to God to protect the town from plague.

There is a very pleasant walk around the castle walls. After a few minutes of walking down from the castle, you will encounter Cappucini Street, which leads up to one of the famous Renaissance monuments, l’Arco del Falconetto. If you continue walking up the cobbled street, you will reach the villa Kunkler, erected on the place of an ancient Capuchin monastery. The English poets George Byron and Percy B. Shelley stayed in the villa in the autumn of 1817 and 1818.

Local Events

The cultural and social lives of Atestini are full of different events, including music and film festivals, carnivals, theatre performances and outdoor activities. The most impressive festivals are the “Este in Fiore” and “Alla Corte degli Estensi”.

I particularly love the “Este in Fiore” festival for its brightness, vividness and creativeness. The piazza Maggiore changes its appearance every year and attracts visitors with new creative ideas, incredible imagination and a diversity of shapes and colours.

Este in Fiore festival
"Este in Fiore" festival

The “Alla Corte degli Estensi” festival is a perfect way to immerse yourself in the impressive journey and atmosphere of the Middle Ages, during which adults and children dressed in period costumes wander round the medieval town. Participating in the “Alla Corte degli Estensi” festival, which has occurred for more than 10 years, is the best way to uncover the original roots of an ancient culture and learn about the town’s fascinating history, while practising medieval arts like archery, swordplay and medieval dance. You will also be allowed to try your hand at an ancient mosaic technique from Ravenna or explore your strength by shooting arrows.

Alla Corte degli Estensi festival, Este (PD)
"Alla Corte degli Estensi" festival

Este is an ideal place to start your journey around the Euganean Hills

Undoubtedly, Este is not just a place to look at. It is also an ideal destination for those who like to combine sightseeing with outdoor activities such as cycling or hiking. There is a cycling route of about 60 km that circles around the Euganean Hills. You can organize your own tour and take a route through the lush vineyards and olive groves, charming small villages and stand-alone medieval villas and castles, or simply stroll lazily along the meandering Bisatto Canal and enjoy the stunningly beautiful scenery of Este’s countryside.

Este countryside
Este's countryside
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