With its terracotta rooftops, pale yellow and red brick buildings, and grand medieval towers, Cremona in the northern Italian region of Lombardy is one of Italy’s underappreciated gems. The grand Cathedral of Cremona and the Torrazzo tower are some of the most impressive sights in the city, and its cultural heritage and history of violin craftsmanship give Cremona its identity as a centre of fine instrument craftsmanship. Home of some of the greatest luthiers in history, Cremona is still a world leader in violin making. Located on the banks of the river Po, Cremona is easily explored as a day trip, or an overnight stay from nearby Milan or Brescia.
A Short History Of Cremona
The city was founded in 218BCE as a Roman military outpost, on the site of a former Cenomani Gaul village. With access to strategic roads such as the Via Postumia, Cremona grew to be one of the largest cities of the region. But in 69CE, the city’s high standing came crashing down. Cremona was sacked and burned during the Second Battle of Bedriacum by the troops of Vespasian, as part of the civil war of the Year of Four Emperors.
Rebuilt as a Byzantine outpost, the city was sacked again in the 7th century by the Lombards after the fall of the Roman Empire. Afterwards, Cremona began to grow and improve its prestige as part of the Holy Roman Empire. Cremona became an independent city republic in 1098. The city came under the control of several states over the following centuries, notably the Duchy of Milan (1334), Spain (1541), and Austria (1707).
Cremonese Violin Making
Cremona is most commonly known for its fine violin craftsmanship. Since the 16th century, Cremona has produced some of the most expensive and sought after violins in the world. Old masters such as Stradivari, Guarneri and the Amati family set the standard for hand-made violins, and their centuries-old instruments can sell for millions of Euros. Today, the old town is packed with instrument workshops, where luthiers craft their instruments for buyers around the world.
Must-See Sights In Cremona
For Cremona’s most impressive sights, head over to the heart of the medieval city, the Piazza del Comune. Facing this public square are the Cremona Cathedral and it’s impressive Torrazzo clock tower, the Cremona Town Hall, the Baptistry, and the Loggia dei Militi (a historic assembly hall for the military).
Cremona Cathedral (Duomo Di Cremona)
Cremona Cathedral is one of the grandest sights in the city. Almost a millennium old, the cathedral had a tragic start when its first iteration (still under construction) was destroyed by an earthquake in 1117, just ten years since construction began. The finished building was completed around 1170 in Romanesque style. It has undergone numerous renovations and rebuilds from the 12th to 15th centuries, to include Gothic elements such as the rose window, and the loggia at the top that includes statues and carvings.
The interior of the cathedral is known for its beautiful wall frescoes depicting biblical scenes that cover much of the wall space. Visitors also admire the wooden choir stands, and the altar cross decorated with gold and silver. Downstairs, there is the Cripta di Sant’Omobono, a lavishly decorated crypt that houses the bodies of Cremonese saints. Visiting the cathedral is not complete without climbing the steps of the Torrazzo clock tower, for the best views of the city.
Cremona Torrazzo And Astronomical Clock
The bell tower of the Cremona Cathedral is called the Torrazzo, and it’s impossible to miss. Standing at 112.54 metres (369.2 feet), this brick structure is the third tallest brick bell tower in the world, and Italy’s tallest bell tower. The tower was completed in 1305, as part of the city cathedral. The Torrazzo is known for its extraordinary astronomical clock, the largest in the world. At 8.2 metres (26.9 feet) wide, and 8.4 metres (27.6 feet) including the outer copper frame, it is positioned extra low on the tower so everyone can see it. It was added to the tower in 1583, and displays the time, date, Zodiac signs, movement of the stars, and lunar phases.
Cremona Town Hall (Palazzo Del Comune)
Just opposite the Cremona Cathedral is the city’s town hall, the Palazzo Del Comune. A medieval building completed in 1206, the town hall was renovated in the fifteenth century to add rectangular windows and a marble balcony for delivering speeches and announcements. The town hall can be visited for free by tourists, except on days when meetings are in progress. Inside, you’ll find several notable works of art, such as The Porta, and works by Cremonese Renaissance and Baroque painters such as Luigi Miradori, Giovanni Battista Trotti and Boccaccino.
Other Things To Do In Cremona
Outside the Piazza del Comune, there are a few more things to see and do in Cremona, especially for those who wish to learn more about the city’s history and its violin-making traditions.
Roman Roads In Cremona
The remains of two ancient Roman roads were discovered in 1967, built during its heyday as a Roman outpost. They were found during the renovation of the Chamber of Commerce House, and are made of broad stone slabs with polished surfaces to give make the road smooth and flat.
Archaeological Museum Of San Lorenzo
To learn more about the Roman era and Medieval history of Cremona, the best place to visit is the Museo Archeologico San Lorenzo. 10 minutes walk north of Cremona Cathedral, the museum is housed in the San Lorenzo, a 12th century church. Inside, the museum houses Roman artefacts such as jewels, mosaics and tableware. It also has the excavated site of a 5th century Christian burial ground which was discovered on the site, as well as a 10th century middle ages monastery.
Cremona Violin Museum (Museo del Violino)
For those interested in learning more about the history and craft of Cremonese violins, it’s worth checking out the Cremona Violin Museum. It opened in 2013, and is located just 5 minutes walk from the cathedral in the Palazzo dell’Arte. There, you can find examples of instruments by Antonio Stradivari, Guarneri del Gesù, and Andrea Amati, displayed in a red velvet-lined room designed to look like the lining of a violin case. There are also historic documents and tools, and interactive musical kiosks for kids to play with.
Eating And Drinking In Cremona
In addition to the great food that can be found all around Italy, Cremona has several speciality dishes that originate from the city, and are well worth trying during your visit.
Mostarda Di Cremona
Served as a condiment that often accompanies cheese, mostarda di Cremona is a mixture of boiled fruit and mustard oil. The dish can be home-made or bought in jars, and consists of fruits such as figs, cherries, pears, quince, pineapple, apricots, peaches (and more), boiled and candied and preserved with mustard oil. The sweet and spicy dish is also sometimes served with meat and poultry.
Torrone di Cremona
Perhaps Cremona’s most famous sweet is the torrone, a honey and egg white nougat containing vanilla, candied fruit, lemon peel and almonds. Often cut into triangular portions, it was named torrone after the word torre, a reference to the similarity to the torrazzo tower. Torrone served as the inspiration for today’s popular chocolate Toblerone, with the name coming from a mixture of the word torrone, and the creator’s name, Theodore Tobler.
Cremona’s traditional salami is called salame Cremona, an aromatic and spicy pork salami with a garlic taste, served as an appetiser. It is made with Italian pork, and is known for its intense red colour and soft texture.
Gran Bollito Cremonese
When it’s time for the main meal, try the gran bollito Cremonese, a hearty stew of different cuts of meat and vegetables, served with mostarda. Typical meats in the gran bollito are beef, pork and veal, and even may include tongue and salami. The cuts of meat are prepared in different pots for different times. It’s a meal perfect for winter and large get-togethers.
As one of Italy’s smaller cities, Cremona is often overlooked in favour of nearby tourist favourites such as Milan or Bologna. But for those looking for a unique visit, Cremona is a delight. Whether it be admiring the view from the Torrazzo bell tower, or learning about exquisite violin craftsmanship at the Cremona Violin Museum, Cremona is certainly a worthwhile side trip whilst travelling through Italy.