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Ferrara is a delightful small city, with an unusually large central area bounded by medieval walls or ramparts, most of which are in pretty fair condition and provide excellent walking. Apart from some twentieth-century quarters, mainly on the western side, near the railway station, the city can be roughly divided into the southern, medieval part, and the northern mainly Renaissance quarter, known as the "Herculean addition", after the late 15th-century Duke Ercole, who also had a mass dedicated to him by Josquin des Prez ("Hercules dux Ferrarae"). Bang in the middle of the city is the imposingly stark Castello Estense (the Estensi were the ruling family for centuries), which is less forbidding than it looks, but despite some frescoed ceilings, it is still only one of the major sights of Ferrara. There is also a fine cathedral, various interesting churches, and some remarkable galleries and museums, especially, in the "Herculean Addition", the Palazzo dei Diamanti, but most of all the battered but still amazing allegorical frescos in the Palazzo Schifanoia, towards the eastern end of the medieval city. The city commemorates in particular two of its favourite sons: Savonarola, who however made his name elsewhere (in Florence, with his "Bonfire of the Vanities"), but far more importantly the poet Ariosto, who gives his name to a pleasant spacious square in the Renaissance city.
Ferrara is a great city for walking, especially in the medieval area, where you will sometimes find yourself going along narrow vaulted streets. Driving a car in Ferrara is not recommended, because of these narrow medieval lanes; still, distances can seem rather forbidding on foot, though there is a reasonable bus service (get tickets at shops displaying a large T). The main traffic hazard in Ferrara is in fact the bicycle; the city is flat as a pancake, and Italians cycle in much the same way that they drive cars. Watch out when crossing the road!
Wines of the area are not outstanding (the best-known is Lambrusco), though you will fid wines from many other areas. However, the whole Emilia- Romagna region is famous in Italy for the quality of its food, and Ferrara is no exception. Local specialities include capellacci con la zucca (pasta stuffed with pumpkin), the pork-liver based salama da sugo, and the death-by-chocolate pampapato cake. But above all, if you're looking for a light meal, try a piadina farcita. Piadina, a speciality of the whole Romagna region, is a sort of focaccia pancake, usually served with fillings of various sorts - often mixed salami, but more frequently a combination like Parma ham, cream cheese and rocket. Goes down excellently with a glass of beer at a pavement cafe. Vegetarians? Well, Italians are becoming used to the idea, and certainly you can usually find a number of non-meat dishes on an ordinary menu.
The Ferraresi are generally friendly and obliging. However, not all that many of them speak English, so try to learn a bit of basic Italian before you go!