The town of Piacenza is quite a large and busy local centre, but although it is now surrounded by more recent urban sprawl it has preserved an attractive historic centre with both medieval and renaissance period buildings to admire. The town is situated about half way between Parma and Milan, near the north-west border of the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy.
Italy This Way comment: Piacenza has several interesting buildings and monuments, but in places the centre is rather run-down and quiet, and several of the museums and monuments were unexpectedly closed when we visited, so while we recommend you visit if you are passing we would not travel a great distance to visit the town.
It is the medieval centre in Piacenza where you will find the attractions of the town and your visit will start in the central plaza, the Piazza dei Cavalli, and in the surrounding streets. There are a good number of interesting buildings to enjoy, typically dating from the renaissance and earlier medieval periods.
Piazza dei Cavalli is dominated by the Palazzo Gotico (as seen in the main photo) which is a very lovely 13th century palace constructed in marble and red brick, and an impressive example of medieval civic architecture. The facade is the most interesting part of the palace.
The ground floor level consists of gothic style arches and marble walls, and the layer above is in red brick with windows surrounded by further arches. The top of the palace is a series of marble cornices and crenellations, and a redbrick clocktower.
Also in the same square there are two 17th century bronze statues on marble pedestals by Francesco Mochi and generally considered to be among the finest examples of sculpture from the baroque period (the name of the square, Cavalli, means horses and was named for the two statues). The large building on the other side of the square is the Palazzo del Governatore.
There are several important religious monuments in Piacenza. From Piazza dei Cavalli you can follow Via XX Settembre to reach the duomo, on another attractive square surrounded by colourful houss and with a statue on a column in the middle. This 12th century cathedral is interesting for its facade that combines marble with brick, its square brick tower and the frescoes and paintings it contains, particularly those in the dome.
We expected the Piazza Duomo and the Piazza Cavalli to be lively places surrounded by cafes but in reality both were very quiet: perhaps Piacenza receives less visitors that might be expected.
Also close to here, the 11th century Piacenza Basilica of Sant'Antonino has an octagonal tower as its most interesting feature, and a baroque interior.
Other notable religious monuments in Piacenza include the Basilica of San Savino,a 12th century building in the roman style which has preservd some original mosaics; the renaissance style Church of San Sisto and the Church of Saint Francis, built in the 12th century and still retaining part of its medieval cloisters.
Among the other palaces in Piacenza you can see the 17th century Palazzo dei Mercanti, used as the town hall, the 15th century Palazzo Landi (on the site of an older palace), the Palazzo Landi and the Palazzo Scotti da Fombio.
The substantial, though never completed, 16th century Palazzo Farnese to the north of Piacenza centre is a large building with a courtyard that houses the Civic Museum with an art gallery and several small museums, and includes a notable painting of the 'Madonna and Child' by Botticelli, among others.
The most unusual artefact in the museum is a bronze carving dating from the Etruscan period (200 BC) and said to represent a sheep's liver - the writing is the names of the Etruscan gods and it is thought that it was used by Etruscan priests when divining the future (much as real animal entrails were used for the same purpose).
The Piacenza Tourist Office in the Palazzo Gotico can give you a brochure that lists several more museums and palaces if you wish to further explore the architectural heritage of the town.
There are many interesting historic towns and villages to discover in the region, including Rivalta and its castle, Bobbio and its abbey, the very picturesque Castell 'Arquato, and many others.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Emilia-Romagna guide.