Cathedral square is one of the most important square in Parma, it represents the power that the church had during the middle age.
In every side of this square an important religious building appears: the cathedral which is the symbol of the church, the beautiful baptistry where in the past the christians received the sacrament of baptism, then the bishop’s house where the bishop still lives and works, and in the end the bishop museum.
The cathedral is one of the most characteristic churches of the romanesque architecture.
Maybe the construction of the building started in 1046 but was destroyed by a big fire and restarted in 1059 by the desire of the bishop Cadalo who would later became Pope. We know that in 1074 it was almost finished.
The facade follows the typical romanesque style; it is made of brownstone and is characterized by a gable roof which doesn’t give the possibility to understand how the interior is. The facade is decorated by three orders of loggias, the high
est, which is the more recent, is not accessible but was thought to make evident the gable roof. The other two orders were modified to insert the prothyrum and the rose window. The prothyrum is an extension added to the door. On the big facade there are three doors, the main one was decorated in 1280 with a prothyrum. It is characterized by a roof supported by two columns posed on two lions which were constructed expressly for this building.
In fact during the romanesque period some parts were taken from old roman buildings and reused in the church. One interesting thing you can see on the main door is the beautiful relief which represents the months of the year. During the medieval age was it common to represent the months of the year by the activity which the people do in each month. For example, august had made the wine barrel, september is harvesting the grapes and october is drinking the new wine. Probably this reliefs were done before Benedetto Antelami’s relief of the months because the sculptor would have copied it.
Walking around the extern of the church we can see that the chapels are not original but were added later. The oldest part is the apse and the tall transept which are decorated with loggias too.
The belfry was added probably during the XIII century probably the original project would be with two belfries but the earth wasn’t stable enough to support the weight and the construction was interrupted. The only one that we can see is more similar to the gothic style than the romanesque because it is characterized by typical gothic pointed arches. On the top of the roof there is a golden angel, it is a copy because the original one is inside the church. The belfry was recently restored after a big storm which destroyed the roof and the angel.
The other beautiful building in this square is the Baptistry, it was built between 1196 and 1216 by Benedetto Antelami. We are sure about this information because is written on the entablature of the main door.
Benedetto Antelami was an important architect and a sculptor of the medieval age, he probably had worked in the south of France before arriving in Parma. There he saw and studied the gothic cathedral.
The baptistry is a construction in Verona’s red marble with eight sides and is considered an early gothic building. What we immediately notice is the hight of the construction. The hight is one of the features which characterizes gothic art.
The architect decided not to add
decoration but to lighten some parts of the heavy marble. In fact another characteristic of the gothic architecture is the lightness.
For example we can think of the cathedrals in France with big colored windows.
Antelami has given it a sense of light with the four order of loggias covered with the entablature and the highest decoration with pointed arches. The pointed arch is different to the round arch because of the little point. It is one of the main feature the gothic art, and we can compare the arches of the baptistry with the near arches of the cathedral.
Benedetto Antelami was a complete artist, he planned the construction imaging at the same time the architecture and the sculpture in harmony with each other.
For example the capitals in the small columns are all different, to give a sense of variety.
In the lowest part he planned the three indented doors splayed with eight columns. This particular kind of door was born in romanesque art and was later used also during the gothic period. All gothic art comes from the romanesque one actually.
The three doors are decorated with reliefs in order to explain to christian meaning of the baptism, the redemption. During the middle age only few people were able to read and write, therefore the church imagines had to explain the meaning of the sacred texts.
On each door’s lunette there is a different relief. The main door, wich is on the north face of the building, is called the Virgin door because its relief represents the Virgin with the child, [x] the three Magi on the left and on the right St Joseph with the angel. The west door is called the Redeemer door because the relief upon it represents God on the throne and the day of judgment. The last is the south door and it’s called the Life door, because of the relief representing a young man who is gathering the fruits which symbolize the pleasure of life; under him there is a dragon represented pity.
We can say that in two hundred years the two main architectural styles of the middle age are represented in this square: romanesque the gothic, and these two amazing buildings are their symbol.