Ferrara is sleepier than other comparable cities in Italy. But that’s not meant to be denigratory. Ferrara benefits from the quiet.
A short 40-minute drive from Bologna, Ferrara was for years served by slow regional trains covered with graffiti. Now Ferrara lies on the main rail line from Bologna to Venice and is easily accessible by train. Nonetheless, the city is ignored by most travelers. Unlike elsewhere on the Peninsula, one could go hours, if not days, without hearing a lick of English.
Ferrara has the distinction of being both “Europe’s first planned city” and “Italy’s first modern city.” In 1492, oligarch Ercole d’Este hired local-born architect Biagio Rossetti to enlarge Ferrara’s footprint, elegantly building upon the city’s existing architecture. Walk along the Renaissance city walls (of Rossetti’s design) for a beautiful view of the city.
Today, much of the center of the city is blocked from car traffic making its cobblestone alleys some one of the most pedestrian-friendly in Italy. In 1995, the city was declared a World Heritage Site.
Ferrara was once a center of Jewish life in Italy. Since the Fifteenth Centiry, Via Mazzini has been the center of Jewish life in the city. Now there’s a Jewish Museum; walk the neighborhood and sample heritage dishes here like smoked eggplant and goose with grapefruit.