"I grew up in a forest. It's like a room. It's protected. Like a cathedral...it is a place between heaven and earth."
- Anselm Kiefer
With limited time left in the area we were staying, we had to choose between two cities for our last outing. As we looked online, a particular cathedral and castle caught our eye in the city of Ferrara so we decided to head there to see Ferrara Cathedral and Castello Estense. In the online images we saw, the cathedral looked amazing, both inside and out, and we were excited to go see it in person.
Ferrara was about an hour or so from us and we headed out at about 11:00 am to arrive by noon. As usual, John was providing me with fantastic navigation help and we only had about 15-20 minutes of driving time left when suddenly he said, "Uh, Mom, this says the cathedral closes at 12:30 pm." I said, "What time is it now?" and he replied, "11:50 am." We both burst into laughter. This reaction was understandable once you know that it was not the first time this had happened to us in the last couple of days.
As disheartening as it was to hear of its early closure, the cathedral was one of our main reasons for coming to Ferrara so we decided to go for it. We had already driven too far to turn back and we figured we could see it for a few minutes, at least.
We got very lucky and found a parking spot close to the city center. We used Google Maps to walk there because we had no time to waste. Again, my great navigator, John, was getting us there via the quickest route. After a few blocks, he stopped and said we had arrived but as we looked around we did not see a church. I thought Google Maps may be mistaken (it happens occasionally) because there was no church. It turns out they were doing work on it and the entire exterior was completely covered with white mesh. We decided to circle around the block where we found a small sign on the front and an opening in the temporary wooden fence.
The laughter in this situation came later only in hindsight. It was not so thrilling in the moment but we kept positive and decided to go inside for the 20 minutes we had left. We approached the wooden doors, almost hidden behind the white mesh. There was a couple in front of us and as they came to the door, a tiny woman in a suit was standing there holding up three fingers. They started to enter the doors and the woman said, "Closing, three," and held up her fingers again. The couple in front of us deciphered that they were closing now and would reopen the cathedral at 3:00pm, and they turned to leave. I think the tiny woman thought we were with them because as they left, she turned and disappeared behind the door. I thought it wouldn't hurt to look inside the door and see if she may have stepped away and we could go in for the remaining 15 minutes. Worst case scenario was that she was just behind the door and would turn us away also; best case scenario was that she walked down the hall and wasn't watching the door. It was only 12:15 by now and it said online that they closed at 12:30 so, hey, we could have 15 minutes in there, right? I peeked in, saw no one and said to John, "Let's go!" We ran across the narthex and into the cathedral. I gotta say, that was fun.
The architecture of European cathedrals is everything you imagine a church should be, whether you are a religious person or not. The detail and care they put into the structures and all of the intricate, beautiful artwork makes me wish that this kind of care, thought, and skill had been put into churches in my country.
One of the most incredible things in the cathedrals are the intricate paintings on the ceilings. As we walked into the cathedral, we didn't even have to look up to see it....white mesh covering the entire ceiling.
I have to say, I had a moment where my heart sank upon seeing the covered ceilings. For a moment, I thought, "Seriously?" But it was just a moment and almost immediately after, it hit me that I am always wanting to have photos that are not the same old stuff you constantly see, shot a million times by everyone, and here I was, getting exactly what I wanted. Be careful what you wish for, haha. With less than five minutes left before closing, I walked around a bit to see where I wanted to take a photograph or two from. We then heard a loud announcement in Italian. No doubt this was an announcement that they were closing but I figured there would be a little mercy shown if we didn't exit immediately upon hearing it. We were in a church, after all. Less than thirty seconds after the announcement, we heard the thundering sound of the enormous metal bolt that secured the large wooden doors of the cathedral being lowered. You can't miss the sound of cathedral doors being bolted no matter how far away you are. They look and sound like the same metal bolts used in the castles of old. We were in one of the side areas behind some columns and John said, "Maybe we should leave in case we get locked in here for the next three hours." While that might sound like a very cool thing to me for I could take my time and really explore the place, I would never want to put my son in a position that would cause him anxiety. He has enough of that to deal with as part of Asperger's/Autism. I know him well and he comes first, so the minute he said that, I said, True, okay, let's go. We walked toward the exit and the tiny woman was just starting to walk away from the door when she saw us coming. She looked at us with an expression that needed no translation as she lifted the enormous metal bar that probably weighed more than she did and could keep out a battering ram. As soon as we heard the wooden doors close behind us and the crash of the bolt being lowered into place, we busted out laughing. Sharing these hilarious moments and fun experiences with my son was well worth the drive to a cloaked and almost-closed cathedral.
Simply returning to the cathedral at 3:00 may sound like an easy solution to some but that was not true for us. We originally planned to do that when we left the cathedral but as the temperature rose, it got too hot for us. It is often 80 degrees by 10:00 am here and it rapidly climbs as the day wears on. The heat is so intense during the afternoon and early evening that we feel too miserable and uncomfortable to fully enjoy whatever it is we're doing. Because of this, John and I have been trying to change our sleep schedule. When left to our comfortable sleep rhythms, we are typically up until 2am, even if we get up by 8:00. We don't sleep in really late, it is just hard for us not to stay up late. To be up super early in the morning, like 6:00 am, so that we can beat the heat, our typical 2:00am bedtime is not going to work. Changing sleep cycles is not easy! Personally, I wish sleep were unnecessary. I wish we could spend our entire 24 hrs doing what we choose.
After leaving the cathedral, we went to the Museo della Cattedrale, the cathedral's museum. As we entered, they said they were closing in 30 minutes. We chuckled, said okay, and went in.
We were very careful to watch the clock so we would be out on time. At about ten minutes before they were scheduled to close, the woman from the front desk came and stood near us. I asked her if it was time for us to go and she said, "No, you still have eight minutes." So John and I continued looking at the works of art while keeping a close eye on the time. Three minutes later, at exactly five minutes before closing, the funniest thing happened. The woman in the uniform and all seven security guards lined up by the door, shoulder-to-shoulder facing us, one with arms crossed. I wish I would have taken a photo of them standing there! It looked so funny. Nothing like a little pressure on us to leave, haha. We immediately headed toward the door and each one of them turned and followed us right out the door, locked the door, and left. Their line-up trick was so effective, they got out a few minutes early that day. John and I thought is was hilarious and right on par with the kind of day we were having.
We then headed over to see the Ferrara Castle which was very nearby, thank goodness, for now the sun was blistering hot. We had planned to go inside the castle but when John went up to the door to read the sign, he turned and looked at me, rolled his eyes and said, "Closing in one minute." Again, we laughed. We decided we would check out the exterior which was pretty awesome, I have to say, and it had many areas where we could stay in the shade. It still has a moat around it and some interesting places to explore. After the castle, we drove back to our cabin. By now It was too hot to be in the sun long enough to cross the street. If you visit here in the summer and you are from cooler climates like ours, I recommend trying to acclimate yourself somehow. I don't know, maybe crank up the heat in your home to a level that feels unbearable and work up to longer periods of unbearable heat and humidity. Then you'll be all set to go sightseeing all day long!
Fun adventures in Ferrara, folks, full of good reminders to stay positive even when it seems like the day is going to hell. It is a lot more fun to laugh about things than get overly frustrated.
Anselm Kiefer, quoted above, was born in 1945 and is a German painter and sculptor. Much of his work draws from German history, myth, literature, art history, music, philosophy, topography, architecture, and folk customs. His works incorporate materials such as straw, ash, clay, lead, and shellac.