The city’s religious centre, Piazza Duomo is an evocative, intimate space that has kept itsmediaeval atmosphere. Characterising it are the severe façade of the Cathedral, its tall, thirteenth-century bell tower in brick with stone trim, the octagonal Baptistery in pink Verona marble, and the Bishop’s Palace, from the 11th century, featuring a Renaissance-style courtyard with loggia, just recently restored.
The Cathedral. The Cathedral, which is consecrated to Saint Mary of the Assumption, is Parma’s most important Catholic place of worship. The current cathedral began taking shape on the ashes of one built by Bishop Guibodo, which burnt down in 1055. Commissioned by Bishop Honorius II, it was completed in 1074 and consecrated in 1106. In 1178 the broad gabled façade was finished and the entire building with its three naves was completely overhauled by Benedetto Antelami; later on, between 1284 and 1291, the bell tower was rebuilt by Obizzo Sanvitale. There was a plan to build a second bell tower, a twin of the first one, to the left of the façade, but it was never carried through. Externally, Parma Cathedral is in Romanesque style, with a typical gabled façade, in which three portals and three loggias open, the two lower ones consisting of four triple-lancet windows and the upper one by single-lancet windows. Internally, the original Romanesque layout has remained, even if most of the interior (the central nave, the dome, and the transept) are due to later Renaissance interventions. Some of the side chapels were frescoed later in Gothic style. Of remarkable note is the fresco completely covering the inside of the octagonal dome, by Antonio Allegri better known as Correggio, between 1524 and 1530, approximately. This fresco, which measures 650m2, depicts theAssumption of the Virgin. Inside the tambour, painted to look like a balustrade, are figures of angels and Apostles. Above it rises a spiral of clouds that ends in a mass of angels, saints and patriarchs, arranged in several concentric circles. In their midst is the Madonna, flanked by Adam and Eve and Saint Joseph. In the centre of the fresco is a large yellow light, a symbol of the presence of God.
The Baptistry. Begun in 1196, and completed in 1307, the Baptistery of Parma is one of the most significant examples of its kind in Italy: it can be considered a symbol of the passage from late Romanesque to Gothic. Octagonal in shape, with a domed ceiling and clad in pink Verona marble, on the architrave of the monument’s north doorway is the date when building work began, along with the name of Benedetto Antelami who oversaw the work and created almost all of the building’s wonderful sculpted decoration. The west doorway features the Last Judgement while the south one represents Life. In the sober interior, of Gothic taste, 16 ribs soar towards the pointed vault converging on the ring of the vault key. In the centre, the double immersion font, it too octagonal, dates back to the late thirteenth century. In the interior, it is also possible to admire the cycle of the months and the seasons with their respective zodiac signs sculpted by Antelami.