Parma is a city in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna famous for its prosciutto, cheese, architecture and surrounding countryside. This is the home of the University of Parma, one of the oldest universities in the world. Parma is divided into two parts by the little stream with the same name.
The Roman colony was founded in 183 BC, together with Mutina (Modena); 2,000 families were settled. Parma had a certain importance as a road hub over the Via Aemilia and the Via Claudia. It had a forum, in what is today the central Garibaldi Square. In 44 BC, the city was destroyed, and Augustus rebuilt it. During the Roman Empire, it gained the title of Julia for its loyalty to the imperial house.
The city was subsequently sacked by Attila, and later given by the barbarian king Odoacer to his fellows. During the Gothic War, however, Totila destroyed it. It was then part of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna (changing name to Chrysopolis, "Golden City", probably due to the presence of the imperial treasury) and, from 569, of the Lombard Kingdom of Italy. During the Middle Ages, Parma became an important stage of the Via Francigena, the main road connecting Rome to Northern Europe; several castles, hospitals and inns were built in the following centuries to host the increasing number of pilgrims who passed by Parma and Fidenza, following the Apennines via Collecchio, Berceto and the Corchia ranges before descending the Passo della Cisa into Tuscany, heading finally south toward Rome.
Between the 14th and the 15th centuries, Parma was at the centre of the Italian Wars. The Battle of Fornovo was fought in its territory. The French held the city in 1500–1521, with a short Papal parenthesis in 1512–1515. After the foreigners were expelled, Parma belonged to the Papal States until 1545.
In that year the Farnese pope, Paul III, detached Parma and Piacenza from the Papal States and gave them as a duchy to his illegitimate son, Pier Luigi Farnese, whose descendants ruled in Parma until 1731, when Antonio Farnese (1679–1731), last male of the Farnese line, died. In the Treaty of London (1718) it was promulgated that the heir to the duchy would be Elisabeth Farnese's elder son with Philip V of Spain, Don Carlos. In 1731, the fifteen-year-old Don Carlos became Charles I Duke of Parma and Piacenza, at the death of his childless great uncle Antonio Farnese. In 1734, Charles I conquered the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, and was crowned as the King of Naples and Sicily on 3 July 1735, leaving the Duchy of Parma to his brother Philip (Filippo I di Borbone-Parma).
During World War II, Parma was a strong centre of partisan resistance. The train station and marshalling yards were targets for high altitude bombing by the Allies in the spring of 1944. Much of the Palazzo della Pilotta — situated not far (half a mile) from the train station — was destroyed. Along with it also Teatro Farnese and part of Biblioteca Palatina were destroyed by Allied bombs. Several other monuments were also damaged: Palazzo del Giardino, Steccata church, San Giovanni church, Palazzo Ducale, Paganini theater and the monument to Verdi. However Parma did not see widespread destruction during the war. Parma was liberated of the German occupation (1943–1945) on April 26, 1945 by the partisan resistance and troops of Brazilian Expeditionary Force. Recently Parma was chosen for the setting of John Grisham's American football comedy Playing for Pizza. During the European sovereign-debt crisis, after incurring a €900 million debt, the people of Parma voted in a direct democratic platform.
If you are in Parma, your trip is not complete until you try a hunk of its eponymous cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano. Known the world over, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese owes its quality to its source. The cows that produce the milk graze only on grass and hay in fields around the city. The cheese is made and aged from 18 months to over 30.
Another food you must try in Parma is the local cured ham, Prosciutto di Parma. Parma's Prosciutto is the gold standard for salumi. The hams are cured and aged in temperature and humidity controlled rooms for at least 10 months. The result is a salty, sweet, piece of meat that is sliced razor thin and can be eaten all by its self, or as a part of many regional dishes. It is delicious served simply over a plate of summer melon. As far as salumi goes though, Culatello is king. Unfortunately government regulation on the production of Culatello has driven it nearly to extinction, but there are still rogue producers who cure the meat in cellars. Culatello differs from Prosciutto in that it is made from the fillet cut of the ham as opposed to the whole ham.
Parma is also known for its delicate stuffed pastas and outdoor markets. Be sure to take advantage of the fresh seasonal vegetables that Parma has to offer.
Try a bottle of the local sparkling red wine called Lambrusco; great on its own and perfect with much of the local cuisine. It can be purchased in virtually any bar or corner shop and is very inexpensive.
- Parma Cathedral (Duomo) is an important Italian Romanesque cathedral: the dome, in particular, is decorated by a highly influential illusionistic fresco by Renaissance painter Antonio da Correggio. The construction was begun in 1059 by bishop Cadalo, later antipope with the name of Honorius II, and was consecrated by Paschal II in 1106. A basilica existed probably in the 6th century, but was later abandoned; another church had been consecrated in the rear part of the preceding one in the 9th century by the count-bishop Guibodo. The new church was heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1117 and had to be restored. Of the original building, remains can be seen in the presbytery, the transept, the choir and the apses, and in some sculpture fragments. The wide façade was completed in 1178: it has three loggia floors and three portals, whose doors were sculpted by Luchino Bianchino in 1494. Between the central and the right doors is the tomb of the mathematician Biagio Pelacani, who died in 1416. The Gothic belfry was added later, in 1284-1294: a twin construction on the left side had been conceived, but it was never begun. Beside the Cathedral lies the octagonal Baptistry of Parma.
- Teatro Farnese is a Baroque-style theatre, built in 1618 by Giovanni Battista Aleotti. The theatre was almost destroyed by an Allied air raid during World War II (1944). It was rebuilt and reopened in 1962. Some claim this as the first permanent proscenium theater (that is, a theater in which the audience views the action through a single frame, which is known as the "proscenium arch")
- The Baptistery of Parma is a religious edifice in Parma. Architecturally, the baptistery of Parma Cathedral marks a transition between the Romanesque and Gothic styles, and it is considered to be among the most important Medieval monuments in Europe. The Baptistery was commissioned to Benedetto Antelami by the City Council of Parma in 1196. The outside of pink Verona Marble is octagonal. The inside contains sixteen arches, forming alcoves each containing a painted scene. All these are 13th and 14th century frescoes and paintings. The most striking part of the Baptistery, however, is its painted domed ceiling. Sixteen rays come out of the center of the ceiling, which each correspond to the arches. However, problems were posed over time as the paintings were not true frescoes. The paint would start to come off the walls and would be literally hanging on. Due to this, the Baptistery had to be painstakingly consolidated and restored with syringes and spatulas.
- The Museo Lombardi The Museum was created by the efforts of Glauco Lombardi (1881-1971), who devoted his entire life to the recovery, study and conservation of all that remained on the antiquary market or in private collections of the enormous artistic and documentary heritage of Parma under the Bourbons (1748-1802, 1847-1859) and Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma (1816-1847), largely scattered during the period of Italian Unification in various residences of the Savoy family. From 1915 to 1943 the original nucleus of the Museo Lombardi was housed in the ballroom and adjacent rooms of the Ducal Palace of Colorno. The year 1934 is a crucial one for the museum: it was then that Lombardi finally managed to stipulate an agreement with count Giovanni Sanvitale to sell to the Museum the precious objects that had belonged to Duchess Marie Louise, grandmother of count Giovanni.
- The Ducal Palace, built from 1561 for Duke Ottavio Farnese on a design by Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola. Built on the former Sforza castle area, it was enlarged in the 17th–18th centuries. It includes the Palazzo Eucherio Sanvitale, with interesting decorations dating from the 16th centuries and attributed to Gianfrancesco d'Agrate, and a fresco by Parmigianino. Annexed is the Ducal Park also by Vignola. It was turned into a French-style garden in 1749.