The international fame of the town rests perhaps on its two great food products - parmesan cheese and parma ham - that are both highly reputed around the world. The city itself also has a great deal to offer, including some of the finest buildings, artworks and monuments in northern Italy and numerous bars', restaurants and upmarket shops.
The heart of the city radiates north and south from Via Mazzini and piazza garibaldi with most important sites close by, and this is a good place to start your visit to Parma.
The three historical highlights of the town are all close together, and comprise the cathedral, the baptistry, and the San Giovanni Evangelista church:
Completed in 1106, the cathedral in Parma is an example of the Lombardy-Romanesque architectural style of the region.
Inside, the cathedral is highly decorated - note in particular the frescoed ceilings then inside the dome you can see the astonishing painting of the 'Assumption of the Virgin' by Corregio.
It was other artists from Corregio's school that painted the ceiling of the nave, while another artistic highlight in the cathedral is the statue by Antelami called 'Descent from the Cross'.
The remarkable baptistry (also by Antelami) was built over the course of the 13th century and its ornate design and decoration make it an exceptional building, perpaps the most important medieval building in Italy and combining elements of both gothic and romanesque astyles of architecture
The four-storey baptistry is built in light pink marble and has many individual highlights such as a frieze that encircles the building. You will notice that its external octagonal appearance becomes a 16 sided interior, with the walls and ceiling ornately frescoed - from the outside there is little clue to the magnificent domed ceiling inside the baptistry.
At the Museum Diocesano you can see some sculptures from the cathedral and baptistry as well as an extensive mosaic dating from the 5th century.
Church of San Giovanni Evangelista
This church was built in the early 16th century and has a baroque style facade including several inset statues. Inside there is another dome painted by Corregio, called the Vision of Saint John at Patmos, as well as paintings by Parmigiano.
Other highlights and information
Yet more stunning frescoes can be seen in the Santa Maria della Staccata church, this time by Parmigianino, and in the impressive Camera di San Paolo (part of a benedictine monastery) there is another exceptional work by Corregio, this time representing mythological characters.
The impressive Teatro Farnese, a wooden structured copy of Palladios theatre in Vicenza, is part of Parma's extensive Palazzo Pilotta - the palazzo itself dates from the 16th century and has large gardens developed in the 18th century with a sprinkling of fountains. Much of the Palazzo was severly damaged during the Second World War but has been extensively renovated since.
There are also two very interesting museums in Parma in the Palazzo Pilotta:
- the National Gallery, which includes works by El Greco, Corregio and Fra Angelico among others; and
- the National Museum of Archaeology, with a wide selection of Roman era artefacts collected in the region around Parma
In addition to all this splendour, find time to explore the narrow backstreets of Parma, before heading for some of the many fashionable boutiques and restaurants, which will tempt all remaining funds out of your credit cards
After exploring the historic centre of Parma cross the river to vist the large gardens of the Duke's Palace along the western river banks. These are a pleasant place for a stroll, with the palace and gardens dating from the 16th and 18th century respectively
Garden enthusiasts will also want to visit the Parma botanical gardens (on Viale Martiri della Libertà), an extensive park area also established in the 18th century.
Parma and opera
Notably, if you are a music lover, Toscanini was born at 'Casa Natale di Toscanini' (I'm gussing it wasn't called that when he was born!) at the southern corner of the park of the Duke's Palace. Verdi also lived in Parma and composed several works in the city. Music lovers wont want to miss the opera if there is a performance during your visit - the opera house is one of the finest in Italy.