The Pilotta Palace, seriously damaged by bombing in 1944, has been partially reconstructed. The original part dates back to 1583, and is by Francesco Paciotto under commission from Ottavio Farnese, who wished a “corridor” (porticoed gallery) that would link the ducal palaces of Rocchetta and of the park. It takes its current name from the fact that the courtyard was once used to play the game – of Basque origins – known as “pelota”.
Today, the Pilotta Palace houses some of the city’s most important institutions:
The Palatine Library. Founded in 1761 by the Duke of Parma, Philip of Spain, and opened to the public in 1769, the Palatine Library is divided into three rooms: the Sala di Maria Luigia, the Sala Dante, frescoed by Scaramuzza with scenes from the Divine Comedy, and the Galleria del Petitot, which still features period shelving. The collection today includes 700,000 volumes, 3,000 incunables, 6,600 manuscripts, 50,000 prints, illuminated codices from the 11th-12th centuries, the Tarchioni collection that includes 11,500 volumes of literature, linguistics, philosophy and religion (texts from the 16th-20th centuries) and the Ferrarini Theatrical Library inherited in 1950 from the lawyer Mario Ferrarini.
The National Archaeological Museum The ducal Museum of Antiquities was founded in Parma by Philip of Spain in 1760 to house finds from excavations at Veleia (a small Roman city in the Apennines near Piacenza). Under French rule in the early nineteenth century, the most precious pieces were removed, but later brought back after the Congress of Vienna. Under Marie Louise’s rule the collections were enlarged by important acquisitions. Since the Unification of Italy, it has been home to one of the most active study and research centres in the field of Palaeontology.
The National Gallery. Founded by the Dukes of Parma, Philip and Ferdinand, the National Gallery collections were enriched by acquisitions made by Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma. Today, the collections include works from the 13th to 19th centuries, of various schools, from that of Emilia of the 15th and 16th centuries (Correggio, Parmigianino) to the Venetian one of the 18th century (Tiepolo, Canaletto and Bellotto). Masterpieces of the collection include: “Head of Girl” (known as “Scapigliata”), attributed to Leonardo da Vinci; “Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam” by Hans Holbein; “The Youth”, “The Madonna of the Bowl” and “The Madonna of St. Jerome” by Correggio; “The Turkish Slave” by Parmigianino; and a statue of Marie Louise by Antonio Canova.
The Farnese Theatre A work in wood by Giovanni Battista Aleotti, the Farnese Theatre was erected inside the Pilotta Palace, transforming what was once the armoury, the Sala d’Armi. It was commissioned by Ranuccio I Farnese in 1618 to celebrate Cosimo II de’ Medici’s stay in Parma. The official opening took place in 1628 on the occasion of the wedding between Margherita de’ Medici and Duke Odoardo Farnese. The theatre became an example for the uniqueness of certain solutions: from its mobile scenery arrangement to its machines to move actors around from above, to its ingenious system to fill the stalls with water in order to stage naumachiae – naval battles. In 1732, after the last performance, the theatre entered a slow decline, ending in almost total destruction during the Second World War. The rebuilding carried out in the nineteen fifties used original drawings: the wooden parts, once covered in decorations, were left natural to highlight the few original remains.