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Musei Civici di Arte Antica
Comune di Ferrara

The Ducal Palace of Estensi, now Guildhall


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The Estense Ducal Palace

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The Ducal Palace of Estensi, now Guildhall
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The Ducal Palace (now Guildhall) is currently mainly property of the city of Ferrara. It was built from the XIII Century by the Estensi, lords of Ferrara since 1264, who here took up residence.
The noble palace was built in front of the Cathedral (1135), around which at the time was consolidating the centre of city power. Originally the palace was constituted of the building on via Cortevecchia and of the one in front of the Cathedral.

The palace was expanded in the second half of the XIV Century as desired by Marquis Nicolò II. Between 1479 and 1481 the Duke Ercole I d’Este ensured that the palaced assumed its current planimetry, organising the Ducal Palace around the ‘court’ (now Piazza Municipale) and around the back Garden of the Duchesses.

The latter was described at the time as a paradisiac place surrounded by beautiful porticos, an exclusive green space attended by the Duke and his court. Transformed in the following centuries, the garden still preserves a great charm and is open to the public for particular festivals. It was with Ercole I d’Este that Ferrara reached the peak of its glory. It was the Duke, with the court architect Biagio Rossetti, who devised the famous Addizione Erculea, the ante litteram urban plan for the area north of the Estense Castle, thanks to which Ferrara became the ‘first modern city in Europe’.

The Estensi inhabited the palace until 1598, year in which Ferrara was transferred to the direct control of the Pontificial State. Since then, the palace, still remaining for a long time ducal property at least in part, stopped being the residence of the Estensi court. It later became an architectural complex divided among different owners, until becoming mainly the Guildhall. The palace is therefore affected by its many modifications over centuries.


The façade facing the Cathedral

The façade facing the Cathedral is the result of a radical rebilding, executed between 1924 and 1928, when were reproposed the shapes and architectures of XIII Century inspiration that we now see. During these works was also built the Tower of Victory, in completion of the new façade in ‘gothic style’. The tower was dedicated to the memory of the dead of the Great War and contains the ‘Vittoria del Piave’ (Victory of the Piave River), a golden bronze statue executed by the sculptor from Ferrara Arrigo Minerbi (Ferrara 1881 – Padova 1960).

In front of the Cathedral protiro is the Volto del Cavallo. On the sides of this ancient access to the Court Palace are a refined arch and a column on which rest respectively the Marquis Nicolò III on a horse and the Duke Borso d’Este sitting on a faldistorio. The two statues, completed in 1927 by the sculptor Giacomo Zilocchi, are copies of the XV Century originals. The originals, executed by skillful artists such as Nicolò Baroncelli, Antonio di Cristoforo and Domenico di Paris, were destroyed in 1796 during the French occupation. Original is Borso’s column, restored several times, as well as the XV Century small arch on which the equestrian statue rests, authoritatively attributed to Leon Battista Alberti because of the typically Reinassance purity of its lines and executed by Bartolomeo di Francesco.

The facades of the Municipale Square

Through the Volto del Cavallo it is possible to access the Municipale Square, originally the Ducal Court.
Here took place some among the first stage representations of the Reinassance: many classic comedies were put up by the Estensi, like Plauto’s Menecmi, acted in 1487 in vulgar translation, to which assisted also the teenage Ludovico Ariosto.

In the Piazza Municipale stand out both the imposing Grand Staircase, built by the ducal architect Pietro Benvenuti in 1481, and the Court Chapel, now Estense Hall, built in the second half of the XV Century by the Duke Ercole I d’Este for his wife Eleonora d’Aragona and in honour of the Virgin Mary. The monumental portal of this former church was was composed with elements of various origins in 1692, while the two XIX Century statues of Saint George and Saint Maurelio, sculpted by Francesco Vidoni, were here placed during the 1835 restoration.
The ancient church, transformed into a movie theatre in 1916-17, is now employed for conferences and shows. The portal is inserted in an interesting façade, on which stand out the eight elegant trefoil windows of the main floor (latter half of the XV Century) and the sundial.

While on the South side of the square stands out the narrow Volto del Cavalletto, one of the ancient access routes to the Court, the façade at the entrance of via Garibaldi is characterised by the Volto della Colombina and a Reinassance lodge, modified in its upper part at the end of the XIX Century, when the engineer Giacomo Duprà endowed the XV century building with its current features.

The façade along Corso Martiri

The façade along Corso Martiri della Libertà is the result of a restoration operated in 1738 by the architects Angelo and Francesco Santini. On Piazza Savonarola the palace is characterised by the so-called Loggia dei Camerini, elegant XVI Century architectural structure in marble on six arcades. The upper part has been built during the XVIII Century works directed by the Santini brothers.

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