Palazzo della Ragione
Palace in the middle of two squares
In the midst of Piazza della Frutta and Piazza dell'Erbe rises the Palazzo della Ragione. The ancient palazzo which resembles a huge upturned ship was built in the 13th century and served as the seat of the city courts, and the covered market of Padua.
Upper floor’s Great Hall is a true miracle of architectural audacity. Measuring 80 by 27 meters and with a height of 40 meters, the Great Hall is believed to be one of the largest medieval halls still existing, at the same time having the largest roof unsupported by columns in Europe.
Originally it was divided into three rooms adorned with painted walls by Giotto. After the fire of 1420, the Venetian architects who undertook the restoration removed the internal partitions of the upper floor, forming the present great hall, Il Salone. The great hall is decorated with around 500 frescoes, a rich iconography that brings together astrological and religious symbols, but also with numerous references to the Serenissima represented by the lion (in 1420 Padua was already subject to Venice), this series of frescoes is among the largest and most complex known.
The huge hall is not only decorated by many paintings, it is also home to plenty of curiosities that should not be missed, like the 19-foot-tall wooden horse, a Roman tombstone, a Foucault pendulum, numerous clocks, sundials, and time measuring instruments. Among these there is the famous Pietra del Vituperio or the "stone of failure", that once stood in the center of the courthouse and on which insolvent debtors were humiliated and banished from the city.
Even if the close relationship between Il Salone and justice became obsolete over time, the function as commercial headquarters maintained even 800 years later. The ground floor hosts the oldest European market. Originally dedicated to the commerce of a wide selection of food, clothes, spices and jewels, today is mostly active in the food and beverage sector.
During the Saturdays and the workweek mornings you can experience daily market activity, as merchants cry their wares in the squares on the both sides of the palazzo. The huge market around Palazzo della Ragione is one of the biggest in northern Italy, and again reflects well the former glory of the free trading city of Padua.
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