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Pomposa Abbey

Ferrara, City of the Renaissance and its Po Delta

The abbey is certainly one of the most important historical places, and one of the most suggestive locations in the whole province: once an island surrounded by the waters of the Adriatic sea, the Po di Volano and the Po di Goro rivers, today it is an enchanting historical and cultural site. The foundation of the church probably dates back to the 6th or 7th century. Archaeological vestiges state the presence of a religious building dedicated to Holy Mary, dating from the 7th-8th century, in the area now occupied by the left apsidiole of the basilica. The first historical evidence of the Benedictine monastery dates back to 874, when pope John VIII claimed his sovereign right over it against the Ravenna diocese. The Abbey reached the peak of its spiritual reputation and economic power during the 11th century: in this period the Pomposa buildings were enlarged and adorned on the will of the abbot Guido degli Strambiati from Ravenna. The church was reconsecrated in 1026, and the bell tower, the cloister and the Government Palace (Palazzo della Ragione) were built beginning from 1063. In the first centuries after the year One Thousand Pomposa owned lands, woods, saltworks and fishing valleys. The abbot extended his secular and ecclesiastical jurisdiction over a large region, and the abbey became a cultural centre of major importance: it was here that Pier Damiani wrote his works, that Dante and Giotto were hosted, that Guido Monaco invented the modern music notation before he moved to Arezzo. The abbey gave hospitality to popes and emperors, and in those years it already featured a well-known library. Pomposa remained an island until around 1250; then, the Po river, the source of the wealth and power of the abbey until the 13th century, changed its course, bringing about the slow and relentless decline of the monastery. The land turned into a swamp, floods were frequent and the monastic order knew a general decadence so that in the 14th century Pomposa was turned into a commendam and in1553 it was suppressed as an abbey . Finally the monks left the monastery in 1671, and moved to the new convent of St. Benedict in Ferrara. Today the church is under the eclesiastical jurisdiction of the archidiocese of Ferrara and Comacchio.
The church architecture shares the features of the late basilicas of Ravenna, and it is the result of several additions and transformations: the interior, consisting of three aisles divided by two uninterrupted rows of columns, ends in an apse that has a semicircular shape inside, and pentagonal outside. The nave walls of the church preserve precious frescos of the 14th-century school of Vitale from Bologna, representing scenes from the Old Testament in the upper band, from the New Testament in the lower band and images of the Apocalypse in the spandrels between the arches; the apse vault shows Christ in glory surrounded by angels and saints. Also noteworthy are the other ornaments inside and outside the church: the fragments of the mosaic flooring, the elegant terracotta friezes, the stone relieves with ceramic bowls, the variously decorated ocula opened on the walls.
In the Chapter-house are wonderful frescos of the Giotto school, representing the Crucifixion with saints; in the Refectory the Last Supper and the Miracle of St. Guy are portrayed, probably the most valuable series of paintings of the 14th-century school of Rimini. In the great hall of the former dormitory of the monastery the Pomposa Museum was founded in 1977, collecting inscriptions, marbles, majolicas and other archaeological findings.
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