Last Updated on November 27, 2023 by Laura Teso
Palazzo della Ragione is the medieval Palace of Justice of Padova, located between two piazze: Piazza della Frutta e Piazza delle Erbe.
A bit of history
It was built starting from 1218. In 1306 architect Giovanni degli Eremitani added the upper hall with its peculiar inverted ship’s-hull roof (the largest in Europe without columns). The hall is 82 meters long, 27 meters wide and 24 meters high. In 1756 a tornado took the roof off. It was engineer Ferracina (also builder of St. Mark’s clock) who reconstructed the structure. In 1798 the Courthouse was transferred. Since then Palazzo della Ragione hosts meetings, anniversaries and recently exhibitions.
I am surely partial, but I find il Salone [sah -LOH -neh](the big hall, as we call it in Padova) one of the most beautiful buildings in my city and in the entire region. I love everything about it: its ground floor arches with cafés and small shops selling every kind of food, the upper open loggia which allows you to have a great view on the Piazza delle Erbe or the exceptional frescoes adorning its walls (one of the rare medieval astrological cycles – and the largest too- survived to the present day).
And let’s not forget the covered market, coherently called “sotto il Salone” (under the big hall). Whenever I pass there, I can’t help thinking: “Quant’è bello!“ (How beautiful it is).
In order to get into the Salone you have to climb the Scala dei Ferri (Irons staircase) past the so called Volto della Corda (Rope Arch): Traders who cheated on measures were tied by their wrists, lifted up to 3 meters high and then dropped. At the Volto della corda, on the northern facade of the Palazzo, you can see some units of measurement (for flour, grains, bricks and fabrics) carved on the wall. Their purpose was to avoid quarrels during business negotiations. The other three staircases (Wine, Herbs and Birds) are now closed to the public.
On the left of the Palazzo della Ragione (in Piazza delle Erbe, that with the round fountain), you can see the Debite Palace. The two buildings weree once connected by a raised walkway. The condemned debtors where once processed in the Salone and then led to the Debite Palace (prison). The facade facing the Debite Palace is rich in ornaments (emblems, shields, crests).
Palazzo della Ragione – interior
The inspiration behind the fresco cycle was due to Italian philosopher, physician and astrologer Pietro d’Abano (friend of Marco Polo by the way). He was one of the most erudite men of his time. Because of his doctrine, the Inquisition considered him a necromancer and charged him three times with heresy, atheism and magic. Two times he was released. The third time he died in prison (1312) after being tortured.
A fire destroyed the first cycle (by Giotto) in 1420. Some minor artists repainted it in accordance to the same iconographic scheme. It consists of 333 squares, on three overlapping bands, displaying astrological themes indicating the influence of the stars on human activities.
The squares composition
In the lower part: animals (emblems of the Justice Court seats), virtues, arts, saints and patrons of Padova. In the upper part: the astrological theme, divided into 12 areas, each presenting:
- month (with the connected agricultural activity)
- zodiac sign
- related Planet
- an Apostle
- one or more constellations
Below is the (reduced) scheme, so when you go you can take alook at your birth month representation.
|March Figure blowing on horns
|Mars Warrior sitting on a throne
|April Young woman with flowers
|Venus Madonna and Child
|May Young knight carrying a branch
|Mercury Bearded surveyor with a sphere
|June Peasant harvesting grain
|Moon Woman on a chariot
|July Farmer beating the grain
|Sunlight Man on a chariot
|August Peasants harvesting grapes
|Mercury Astronomer sitting in the chair with sphere
|September Farmer picking fruit
|Venus Venus half-naked with mirror
|October Bearded figure bears with two cups of wine
|Mars Moved from his seat and located into the next compartment (November) as a warrior on horseback
|November Peasants intent to pig pasture
|Jupiter Old man sitting with scepter and orb
|December Peasants killing a pig
|Saturn Crowned male figure with flag, biting his hands
|January Family at the fireplace
|Saturn Naked man with hoe and looking at the mirror
|February Farmer pruning the vine
|Jupiter on a throne with scepter and globe
Here and there you can also spot some frescoes with religious subjects (the most important is The Coronation of the Virgin -above the door leading to the Town Hall), and others referring to the magical world instead: the Alchemist (in the month of May) or the Wizard (July).
Luckily there are some multimedia stations where you can find all the information you need (and not only in Italian!).
Remember: The starting point is the Aries fresco on the south east wall (in the Foucault’s Pendulum corner. I honestly had no idea why the pendulum was there. Then I read on the Blog di Padova that it testifies the bond between Padova and the scientific world. Grazie, Alberto!).
Other interesting things to see
Vituperio (insult) stone: insolvent debtors had to undress in front of 100 people (only blouse and underpants allowed) and sit there three times in a row pronouncing “Cedo bonis” (I give up the goods). They were then expelled from Padova. In Italy we have an idiom “restare in braghe di tela” (to remain in short pants, meaning being broke) that derives precisely from this custom. It was Saint Anthony who introduced this sort of punishment to replace imprisonment and lasted until 1600s.
On the other side you can see a giant wooden horse (nearly 6 meters high). It was built for a mythological joust by the Count Capodilista in 1466 and it was paraded through the centre piazze with a Jupiter statue on the saddle and pulled by 12 oxen.
In conclusion, I think that Palazzo della Ragione is beautiful and it is worth the visit for the frescoes, the history that it contains and the view on the piazza from the loggia. What do you think?
entrance from the “Scala delle Erbe”
Piazza delle Erbe
Disabled entrance Via VIII Febbraio (platform lift)
Ask at the Town Hall entrance or call +39 049 8205006
Tuesday to Sunday
February 1/October 31 9am – 7 pm
November 1/January 31 9am – 6 pm
Closed on Mondays, December 25 and 26, January 1, May 1