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Certosa di Pavia

Heading south from Milan across the lush fertile plain of the Po valley, towards Pavia, brings you to the fabulous Certosa di Pavia. Set amidst the paddy fields that produce the rice for that most Italian of dishes, risotto, Certosa means charterhouse or a home of the Carthusians.

The order was founded in 1084 and it combines communal life with that of the hermetic tradition. Each monk has his own cell in which he spends his time in contemplation, emerging three times a day for communal services in the chapel. However, this austere lifestyle is at odds with the opulence of this religious complex and the solution to this riddle is Gian Galeazzo Visconti who was the first Duke of Milan. It was he who paid for and endowed the Certosa, intending the chapel to be the resting place for his dynasty and, by making the chapel part of a religious complex, he ensured the continuation and completion of the works after his death. Nor was the choice of the location a chance event – it was carefully chosen as it was between Milan and Pavia, the second city of the Duchy. The Duke also included a provision in the endowment requiring the monks to spend a specified part of the income from the lands given to them to improve the building which explains the splendour of the edifice. Work started in 1396 but the church itself, the last part of the project, was only consecrated in 1497.

The first thing to hit you is the facade which is a riotous mixture of Romanesque and Renaissance influences but is essentially Lombard in style, covered with inlaid marble designs. The interior is equally dazzling but lack of lighting can make appreciation difficult and photography is forbidden. There are twelve interior chapels richly decorated with frescoes and also look out for the trompe l’oeil paintings of lay brothers looking down on the nave.

Outside the church, there is also a museum to enjoy but be aware that opening hours are limited and it is closed on Mondays.  Also, note that there have been complaints of theft from vehicles. Don’t leave any valuables in your car.

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