The Diamond of Ferrara
At least 8 500 grey marble spikes reflect light off the Diamond of Ferrara. An extraordinary palace in a city famous for its multifaceted Renaissance architecture.
Corso Ercole I d’Este is a long road and it runs in the opposite direction of the cafés, the castle, the cathedral and all the piazze that give Ferrara a warm, relaxed, lively atmosphere. No wonder most tourists give up before they reach the Palazzo dei Diamanti.
Those who brave the cobbled stones and get past the police headquarters and the row of unassuming, quiet facades will encounter one of the most remarkable and influential examples of Renaissance architecture. Before the other celebrated architect of the area, Palladio, was born, the military engineer Biagio Rossetti was assigned the project of enlarging Ferrara, and contrary to his contemporaries he adopted an urbanistic approach.
Rossetti created a medieval city that could handle overpopulation and the need for hygiene and traffic. The parallel avenues are broad and straight and lined by palaces that are almost austere in their geometry, yet behind the firm exterior there’s almost always a courtyard with green grass, trees and a fountain. Really fascinating.
A Shimmering House
The crown on Rossetti’s work is the diamond of Ferrara. Palazzo dei Diamanti that was finished in 1503. A building he designed upon commission from the brother of Duke Ercole I, Sigismondo d’Este. Diamonds were the Duke’s regal symbol, so Rossetti had marble blocks carved out to decorate the façade. Some say there are 8 500 silver grey spikes while others mention the figure 12 600. I didn’t count, but I could see they were all positioned differently in order to maximize the light reflected off the building, and the locals claim that on cold winter days the building shimmers as if it was made of ice.
As an antidote to the outside chill factor, the building now houses a national art gallery, where they currently show an exhibition of Paris according to Modigliani, Picasso and Dali. And inside the gate there’s the most charming Renaissance courtyard with a cloister and a marble well. That should get the blood running.