The Province of Piacenza is the westernmost of the nine provinces in the region of Emilia-Romagna in northwestern Italy. It is bounded to the east by the Province of Parma and to the north by the Provinces of Cremona, Lodi and the region of Lombardy. The Piedmont region lies to the west, while to the south is Liguria. Seven years ago, it was slated to be combined with the Province of Parma, but local opposition saw that plan dismissed in 2014. The northernmost part of the province is largely flat, but the south is hilly and extends to the Ligurian Apennine Mountains. The alluvial Po Plain is agricultural land and is the location of many vineyards.
Piacenza was founded by the Romans for military purposes in 218 BC. It was conquered by Carthaginians in 207 BC and sacked by the Gauls a few years later. During the fall of the Empire, Piacenza was destroyed by barbarians, but the town was rebuilt under the rule of bishops in the 10th century. During the Middle Ages, Piacenza was deeply involved in the wars of the Holy Roman Empire, but it also became immensely rich due to fertile agricultural land. It passed from Papal rule, to the Viscontis and then to the Sforzas. Visitors today can visit the wonderful medieval villages such as Bobbio, Castell’Arquato, Vigoleno and Fiorenzuola d’Arda, which rose along the ancient Via Francigena, hosting pilgrims on their way to Rome. The province also has a great number of medieval castles with their unmistakable shapes, such as the Fortress of Castell’Arquato and the castles of Gropparello, Paderna, Rivalta and Rocca d’Olgisio, making it extremely fascinating for history buffs.
The capital city of the province, Piacenza, is situated on the banks of the River Po and lies between Milan to the west and Parma to the east. With a population of just over 100,000, it is an important city with its economy based on wine production, manufacturing and industrial innovation.
As a tourist destination, Piacenza benefits from its historical past – the old town center features several beautiful palaces and churches. The city is also known for its fine food and wine culture and offers an array of fantastic dining experiences. Furthermore, this region of Italy features several stunning national parks and some amazing landscapes to explore.
The 14th century Palazzo Farnese is one of the most impressive buildings in Piacenza. It was expanded by Emperor Charles V two centuries later into a palatial complex of five stories, with an impressive front façade and a great number of windows. Within its walls in an archaeological museum containing the legendary ‘Liver of Piacenza,’ a life-sized bronze model of a sheep’s liver covered in Etruscan inscriptions dating to the second century BC. There is also an impressive art gallery containing works from the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Centro Storico of Piacenza is a fantastic place to simply walk through and take in the sights. Starting at the Piazza Cavalli, visitors marvel at the beautiful Palazzo Gotico and the Chiesa di San Francesco. The Gotico Palace is an icon of the city and one of its most fascinating and amazing structures. Created by four architects in the Lombard Gothic style, the front façade is split into two halves. The bottom half has an open portico and a series of white stone arches. The top half has a contrasting red brick design and is topped with crenulations.
After viewing the palazzo, head east down the charming Via XX Settembre towards the most significant religious building in the city, the Duomo di Piacenza. Dating from the 12th century, it is one of the best preserved examples of Romanesque architecture in northern Italy. The front façade has a beautiful design with a large circular rose window and three ornate archways. With an overall length of 280 feet, it is also the longest church in this part of the country. Inside are found colorful frescos from the mid-late Renaissance and numerous treasured wooden sculptures.
Only a short walk from the Duomo is the Basilica di Sant’Antonino, a beautiful building with many fine features, such as its rose window and bell tower. Constructed in 1350, the Gothic-style church features a huge open-arched portico at the end of the northern arm. Inside, the church are frescos from Gavasetti and Robert de Longe.
Afterwards, head northeast and walk through the beautiful and peaceful Giardini Margherita near the city’s main train station. The streets of the historic center are lined with beautiful old buildings and classic architecture. Furthermore, throughout the city you will find amazing restaurants and cafés.
For those interested in natural history, the Museo di Storia Naturale is a fascinating place to explore. It is located in the southeastern corner of Piacenza, not far from the Piazza della Liberta. Within the museum, visitors will find a varied collection of artifacts and exhibitions including taxidermy animals, machinery and dioramas recreating the natural environments of the area.
Located next to the Basilica di San Sepolcro on the Via San Siro is the premier art gallery of Piacenza, the Galleria d’arte Moderna Ricci Oddi, which draws a significant number of visitors due to its impressive collection of over 400 paintings of 19th and 20th century art.
In the southern part of Piacenza, on the outskirts of the city is the Parco della Galleana, a wonderful place to relax on a sunny afternoon. To the north is the beautiful parkland of Adda Sud, a haven for those who enjoy wildlife and natural scenery. White storks have been known to nest here and there are several points of interest, including the Castillo Maccastorna, where 70 ghosts are said to walk its halls and the Abbey of Abbadia Cerreto.
If you travel down the southern banks of the Po River you will come to the quiet hamlet of Pretta. This charming village has a population of under 200, but is home to some fantastic sights. First, the surrounding countryside is stunning and features a myriad of hiking trails alongside the river. You can stroll through the Parco di Rivalta and up to the expansive Ponte di Tuna. Secondly, the village itself contains the beautiful Castello di Rivalta. This ornate medieval castle contains a wonderful selection of historically restored rooms and significant artifacts.
Also located in the south of Piacenza, archeology buffs will not want to miss the archaeological area of Veleia Romana, one of the most important of the region, where it is possible to admire the ruins of this ancient Roman city.
Finally, in the eastern part of the province is the home of the great composer Giuseppe Verdi, located in Sant’Agata, Villanova sull’Arda. Villa Verdi was his home for more than half a century, from 1848 until his death in 1901. It is still owned by the Verdi family and contains many of his personal effects, including the piano on which he composed many of his most famous operas.