The city of Cremona, in the northern region Lombardia, is a city of art and music, homeland of illustrious musicians and composers, such as Claudio Monteverdi and Amilcare Ponchielli, has always been considered the world capital of the violin. Everything in Cremona speaks about music and violin making. The approximate 140 violin workshops, of which a third are foreign owned (25 are non-European), hand down the tradition of the old Masters. In addition, the historical collections present, and their importance in the area of music, contribute to make of Cremona a unique center of violin making at the international level. It was the birthplace not only of Antonio Stradivari, the still unsurpassed master luthier, but also of the modern violin itself and of a series of craftsmen who made some of the most beautiful-sounding stringed instruments known to man.
Antonio Stradivari, Italy’s most famous luthier, produced over 1,100 violas, guitars, cellos, and violins. Around 600 of his instruments exist today. They are often called Stradivarius, or abbreviated to Strad, and their stature is legendary. Although he was well renowned as a violin maker during his lifetime, his instruments did not become popular until the beginning of the nineteenth century when the incisive and powerful yet clear tone was found to be ideal for either the intimacy of the chamber music salon or the vastness of an orchestral auditorium. Italian violin makers of the seventeenth and eighteenth century had neighboring workshops in Cremona and most likely used nearby forests of the Southern Italian Alps as their source of spruce wood. Stradivari's instruments seemed to have been made of something special and for more than 250 years people have tried to discover his secret. According to the great violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini, Antonio Stradivari used only “the wood of trees on which nightingales sang”. Even the wood he used was of unusual density owing to the freezing conditions of the seventeenth century “Little Ice Age” in which it grew. Today, 50 violin makers, or liutai as they are called, keep up the tradition using similar methods but all searching for that secret Strad ingredient. They are so mad about violins in Cremona that they’ve even set up an International School of Violin Making to keep the tradition alive.
To learn all about violins, visit the Museo del Violino in Piazza Marconi (closed Mondays). Inside the museum are excellent multi-media exhibits about the history of the violin and how they’re made. There’s also a large display of violins and other string instruments and an auditorium with a stage at the center, built to optimize acoustics for musical performances. The Civic Museum Ala Ponzone-Stradivariano on Via Ugolani Dati 4 has a display of stringed instruments and artifacts from Stradivari’s workshop. It also houses paintings from the middle ages through the 20th century, ceramics, cathedral artifacts, and archeological finds including a large collection of coins.
But Cremona it is also known for its beautiful medieval and Renaissance architecture, such as the Torrazzo, one of Europe’s tallest surviving medieval brick towers that houses one of the world’s largest astronomical clocks. Begin in Piazza del Comune, a typical Medieval piazza dominated by the city's most important structures: the Duomo, the Baptistery, the Palazzo del Comune with its Torrazzo - the emblem of the city - and the Loggia dei Militi. The Fodri and Raimondi Palazzi date from the Renaissance. And the churches of San Sigismondo, San Pietro al Po and Sant'Agostino are all worth a visit.
And if after this walk you feel hungry remember that Cremona is a center of excellence for meats, cheeses and confectionery products. Its rich and tasty cuisine boasts exclusive recipes characterized by local ingredients, such as the “Grande Bollito Cremonese” (boiled meat) or “marubini” (a fresh stuffed pasta boiled in broth).
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