FERRARA, a city and archiepiscopal see of Emilia, Italy, capital of the province of Ferrara, 30 m. N.N.E. of Bologna, situated 30 ft. above sea-level on the Po di Vomano, a branch channel of the main stream of the Po, which is 3 m. N. Pop. (1901) 32,968 (town), 86,392 (commune). The town has broad streets and numerous palaces, which date from the 16th century, when it was the seat of the court of the house of Este, and had, it is said, 100,000 inhabitants.
The most prominent building is the square castle of the house of Este, in the centre of the town, a brick building surrounded by a moat, with four towers. It was built after 1385 and partly restored in 1554; the pavilions on the top of the towers date from the latter year. Near it is the hospital of S. Anna, where Tasso was confined during his attack of insanity (1579-1586). The Palazzo del Municipio, rebuilt in the 18th century, was the earlier residence of the Este family. Close by is the cathedral of S. Giorgio, consecrated in 1135, when the Romanesque lower part of the main façade and the side façades were completed. It was built by Guglielmo degli Adelardi (d. 1146), who is buried in it. The upper part of the main façade, with arcades of pointed arches, dates from the 13th century, and the portal has recumbent lions and elaborate sculptures above. The interior was restored in the baroque style in 1712. The campanile, in the Renaissance style, dates from 1451-1493, but the last storey was added at the end of the 16th century. Opposite the cathedral is the Gothic Palazzo della Ragione, in brick (1315-1326), now the law-courts. A little way off is the university, which has faculties of law, medicine and natural science (hardly 100 students in all); the library has valuable MSS., including part of that of the Orlando Furioso and letters by Tasso. The other churches are of less interest than the cathedral, though S. Francesco, S. Benedetto, S. Maria in Vado and S. Cristoforo are all good early Renaissance buildings. The numerous early Renaissance palaces, often with good terra-cotta decorations, form quite a feature of Ferrara; few towns of Italy have so many of them proportionately, though they are mostly comparatively small in size. Among them may be noted those in the N. quarter (especially the four at the intersection of its two main streets), which was added by Ercole (Hercules) I. in 1492-1505, from the plans of Biagio Rossetti, and hence called the "Addizione Erculea." The finest of these is the Palazzo de' Diamanti, so called from the diamond points into which the blocks of stone with which it is faced are cut. It contains the municipal picture gallery, with a large number of pictures of artists of the school of Ferrara. This did not require prominence until the latter half of the 15th century, when its best masters were Cosimo Tura (1432-1495), Francesco Cossa (d. 1480) and Ercole dei Roberti (d. 1496). To this period are due famous frescoes in the Palazzo Schifanoia, which was built by the Este family; those of the lower row depict the life of Borso of Este, in the central row are the signs of the zodiac, and in the upper are allegorical representations of the months. The vestibule was decorated with stucco mouldings by Domenico di Paris of Padua. The building also contains fine choir-books with miniatures, and a collection of coins and Renaissance medals. The simple house of Ariosto, erected by himself after 1526, in which he died in 1532, lies farther west. The best Ferrarese masters of the 16th century of the Ferrara school were Lorenzo Costa (1460-1535), and Dosso Dossi (1479-1542), the most eminent of all, while Benvenuto Tisi (Garofalo, 1481-1559) is somewhat monotonous and insipid.
The origin of Ferrara is uncertain, and probabilities are against the supposition that it occupies the site of the ancient Forum Alieni. It was probably a settlement formed by the inhabitants of the lagoons at the mouth of the Po. It appears first in a document of Aistulf of 753 or 754 as a city forming part of the exarchate of Ravenna. After 984 we find it a fief of Tedaldo, count of Modena and Canossa, nephew of the emperor Otho I. It afterwards made itself independent, and in 1101 was taken by siege by the countess Matilda. At this time it was mainly dominated by several great families, among them the Adelardi.
In 1146 Guglielmo, the last of the Adelardi, died, and his property passed, as the dowry of his niece Marchesella, to Azzolino d' Este. There was considerable hostility between the newly entered family and the Salinguerra, but after considerable struggles Azzo Novello was nominated perpetual podestà in 1242; in 1259 he took Ezzelino of Verona prisoner in battle. His grandson, Obizzo II. (1264-1293), succeeded him, and the pope nominated him captain-general and defender of the states of the Church; and the house of Este was from henceforth settled in Ferrara. Niccolò III. (1393-1441) received several popes with great magnificence, especially Eugene IV., who held a council here in 1438. His son Borso received the fiefs of Modena and Reggio from the emperor Frederick III. as first duke in 1452 (in which year Girolamo Savonarola was born here), and in 1470 was made duke of Ferrara by Pope Paul II. Ercole I. (1471-1505) carried on a war with Venice and increased the magnificence of the city. His son Alphonso I. married Lucrezia Borgia, and continued the war with Venice with success. In 1509 he was excommunicated by Julius II., and attacked the pontifical army in 1512 outside Ravenna, which he took. Gaston de Foix fell in the battle, in which he was supporting Alphonso. With the succeeding popes he was able to make peace. He was the patron of Ariosto from 1518 onwards. His son Ercole II. married Renata, daughter of Louis XII. of France; he too embellished Ferrara during his reign (1534-1559). His son Alphonso II. married Barbara, sister of the emperor Maximilian II. He raised the glory of Ferrara to its highest point, and was the patron of Tasso and Guarini, favouring, as the princes of his house had always done, the arts and sciences. He had no legitimate male heir, and in 1597 Ferrara was claimed as a vacant fief by Pope Clement VIII., as was also Comacchio. A fortress was constructed by him on the site of the castle of Tedaldo, at the W. angle of the town. The town remained a part of the states of the Church, the fortress being occupied by an Austrian garrison from 1832 until 1859, when it became part of the kingdom of Italy.
A considerable area within the walls of Ferrara is unoccupied by buildings, especially on the north, where, the handsome Renaissance church of S. Cristoforo, with the cemetery, stands; but modern times have brought a renewal of industrial activity. Ferrara is on the main line from Bologna to Padua and Venice, and has branches to Ravenna and Poggio Rusco (for Suzzara).
See G. Agnelli, Ferrara e Pomposa (Bergamo, 1902); E.G. Gardner, Dukes and Poets of Ferrara (London, 1904).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)