Parma: Creative City of Gastronomy…and Not Only
January 2, 2017
I absolutely love Afar Magazine. I look forward to that every-other-month issue of gorgeous photography and truly cutting-edge travel suggestions. Their latest issue is all about The Afar 100 – Where to Go in 2017. Three places in Italy made the list, so this week I’ll begin a mini-series highlighting their choices. Today: Parma.
AFAR says, “If you like Rome, visit Parma.” Food and art lovers alike rejoice in this city. Wonderful smells drift down the uncrowded streets, and vibrant colors define several artistic masterpieces. Parma features a multitude of places to visit, such as a central palazzo, a theater (yes, plan your trip around a musical performance … SO worthwhile), many museums, along with loads of churches to visit for art and architecture. If you’re looking to deepen and broaden your Italy experience, Parma is where you need to be.
Parma is a mid-sized city of under 200,000 inhabitants. It is located in northern Italy, about an hour from the more famous city of Bologna (which we recommend visiting, too!). Parma actually serves as a great base for foodies to explore this region, called “Emilia Romagna”; it’s easy to arrange day trips from here to see up-close the production of some of Italy’s most famous exports: prosciutto di Parma, balsamic vinegar of Modena, and of course, il formaggio parmigiano DOP (true Parmesan cheese, which can only come from this area). UNESCO named Parma as a Creative City of Gastronomy in 2015. Only five Italian cities have earned the “Creative City” designation, and only six cities in the whole Europe/North America region (with Parma being the sole Italian representative) are “Creative Cities of Gastronomy”.
Parma was founded by the Etruscans, like many towns of this area. It was most likely named long ago after a circular shield, called a “Parma”. Romans re-founded Parma, along with Modena, around 183 BC. Over the centuries, Parma developed a reputation for being loyal to the Roman empire, earning the nickname “Julia”. During the middle ages, Parma served as an important trading hub. By the fourteenth century, feudal lords ruled the entire region, leaving a plethora of churches, castles, and other interesting structures that merit a visit. Within a couple of hundred years, feudal power was substantially eroded and a new event — the founding of the Nobles’ college – began to draw students and others to the region. In 1860, Parma united with the kingdom of Italy and began to become the relatively modern city (yet with a lovely intact historical center) that we have today.
Come experience the wonderful sights and tastes in Parma, without the crowds. Start with the Galleria Nazionale, which features Da Vinci and a variety of works from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. A visit to the theatrical Museo Glauco Lombardi will lead you through the life of Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife, Marie-Louise of Hamburg. Delve into the private and undiscovered life of this famous couple through paintings, documentaries and letters. And absolutely don’t miss the Battistero (Baptistry – see featured image), which was built between the 12th and 14th centuries. Considered one of Italy’s most harmonious medieval monuments, the spectacular octagonal structure boasts elements of both Roman and Gothic style, and is completely covered in pink marble from Verona. Inside the baptistery, there are 16 beautifully-frescoed arches corresponding to the eight external sides. For opera buffs, Teatro Regio is one of the finest opera houses in Italy. The Regio has hosted many great composers, including Giuseppe Verdi (who was born in the region of Parma) and Gioachino Rossini. This opera house continues to cater to the musical tradition of Parma, staging four operas every season, as well as an annual Verdi Festival.
So stay a few days in laid-back Parma. While you’re there, be sure to catch the langoustine and shrimp beignets at F.I.S.H. Bistro Afar Mag tells me they’re to die for! End with the fior di latte gelato at Cremeria Emilia – located in several towns of the region as well as – go figure – Bucarest, Romania!