Discovering Pavia between shopping and tradition

Doing shopping in the historic center of Pavia can be a very addictive experience because you cross roads full of tradition and culture, where the history of school books is mixed with the stories of grandparents, who tell us about a world so profoundly changed, but not forgotten or about to forget it. We like to imagine so a walk to shops and shop windows, in which the visitor, the tourist, the citizen himself, takes the time to savor the taste of the mixture of yesterday and today that the buildings, the cobbled roads, place names can tell those who wish to learn or simply remember.

The walk can start from Piazza Minerva which takes its name from the statue of the goddess, a work of Francesco Messina, placed here in 1936. It alludes to the cultured vocation of Pavia, city of an important university since 1364. Here once there was Cavour Gate that, even in more ancient times, was called Borgoratto Gate and Marica Gate. It was the western entrance to the city. Cavour Gate was located at the intersection of the road leading to the railway station and the one leading to Milan, city to which the statue of Minerva turns its back, some say as a sign of defiance and a rivalry that dates back even at the time of the struggles between municipalities.
However, one of the many goliardic traditions suggests students not to look at the statue in the eye, under penalty of not get the graduation. Piazza Minerva leads into Corso Cavour, at the entrance of which, on the right, we can see a beautiful building in art deco style, one of the few buildings spared by the changes around the square in the Fifties.
The building was designed in the late Twenties by the engineer Ernesto Aleati, as home of the Cavalier Enrico Gerardo, owner of the "Award-winning beers & soda water's factory". The plant, located near the house of the owner, was opened in the late XIX Century. In the advertising of the time, the factory was mentioned for the production of beer in March, a drink, according to the Teutonic tradition, that was prepared towards the end of winter and it was characterized by a high alcohol content to protect it from deterioration during the summer months. The company also provided the service at home, in barrels and bottles, large and small.
On the other side of Corso Cavour there is the INA building, designed by the engineer Guglielmo Ulrich between 1950 and 1953.

Corso Cavour is one of the most beautiful thoroughfares of Pavia, a straight line of about 650 meters which is the most western part of the ancient "decumanus" of the roman city. After a very airy entrance the street narrows to smaller dimensions that allow you to stroll through the shop windows from both sides of the road. A few meters from each other there are some historical shops of Pavia. At number 32 there is the optical shop Chiolini, store opened in the Thirties by Angelo Chiolini, brother of the more famous photographer Guglielmo; next there are the clothing store Novelli and the shirts shop Cignoli, two other stores that can boast more than fifty years of activity. At number 34 there is the gastronomy and delicatessen shop of mr. Lodola Walter. At number 37 there is the pastry shop of Giorgio Medagliani.
In front of Cignoli and Novelli there is the modern Benetton Store, but Pavia's citizens, at least forty years old people, recall that this was the venue of the Standa, and those with a few more years probably connect the building to the birth of the first department stores in the city. In 1960, at the initiative of Gilio and Giuliano Ravizza, "The Tex" opened its doors, a complex of ready-to-wear for men, women and children. Two thousand square meters, on three floors, connected by elevators and an escalator, dedicated to the presentation of clothing for all, as well as an ecclesiastical department. This was a real new for Pavia: a shopping centre that soon became famous throughout the North Italy and came to the attention of a large company who bought it in 1965, turning it in the Standa warehouses.

The commercial vocation of Corso Cavour is symbolically confirmed by the choice of ASCOM - the traders association - to put an office here, in one of the noblest buildings of the city: the XV Century Carminali Bottigella Palace, triumph of the art of ceramics. The building, at number 30, stands in front of the courthouse. In Pavia is difficult to find a building with no history and also the imposing headquarters of the courthouse is located in a building dating from the second half of the XVII Century, professed home of the Somaschi fathers.

Continuing, at number 18/20 there is the beautiful Art Nouveau building of the Politeama, a complex of shops and a historic movie theater, now the only one left in the city. The Cinema Politeama was inaugurated in 1927 (architect Portaluppi) and among the many wonders of the architecture there was the ceiling that culminated in a stained glass dome that, in the summer, it was left open for watching the sky as well as allowing the aeration of the theater, where, as we recall, once you could also smoke. The theater has been completely renovated into a modern structure.
From the Politeama, turning on the other side of the road, in the direction of Piazza Vittoria, you have been surprised by the presence of a tower, a beautiful XV Century building crowned by a loggia, attributed to Amadeo. The tower dominates the other historic location of department stores of Pavia, which once housed the Upim and in recent days the Coin store. Going even further back in time, at least from the twenties, there was here the Hotel Restaurant Pesce d'Oro.
Further along Corso Cavour crosses Via XX Settembre - that was called district of San Rocco - leading in Piazza Petrarca, the current square dedicated to the city market on Wednesday and Saturday and, on the other side, via Bossolaro leading to Piazza del Duomo. At the crossroad between via Bossolaro and Via Beccaria - in the district of Beccherie or butchers, there is Cima, a historic bar of Pavia, already existing at the beginning of the twentieth century.
At the end of Via Bossolaro, on the corner of Piazza Duomo, there is another historic store of the city: the Cazzani and Villani pharmacy of the Nineteenth Century.

Going back along Corso Cavour, at number 9, there is the fur store Mazzocchi, a Pavia's family with a long tradition in the field of trade. In front of this one there is a commercial activity that was accommodated in the arcades since the Fifties. At that time here there was also the shoe store La Varesina which ended up giving the name to this space of covered walkway. The shoe store remained here until few years ago.
Then you reach Piazza della Vittoria or, if we want to call it by its traditional name, Piazza Grande, the true heart of the city.
This is the oldest square because here there was the forum of the roman town. Focus of public life, this ancient medieval widening took its current plant around the 1376 thanks to the intervention of Galeazzo II Visconti, to whom we owe the idea of ​​a regular and rectangular shaped square, surrounded by arcades on the sides. There are numerous buildings worthy of interest that overlook the square. On the western corner of Corso Cavour there are the Red House or Casa dei Diversi: the first name refers to the material of construction, the red brick originally covered by a coloured plaster to simulate a brick facing; the second name derives from the surname of the family who built this palace between 1376 and 1383, Nicolino Diversi who was the master of the ducal revenue.
The south side of the square is elegantly occupied by the Broletto, the old town hall, while on the eastern side there are two churches now deconsecrated. At the corner of Via della Zecca, there is San Nicolò della Moneta, whose dedication recalls that Pavia, since Roman times, enjoyed the privilege of being able to mint coins. In the northern part of the square there is instead Santa Maria Gualtieri, dating from the early XI Century and today fascinating multipurpose community hall.

Today in Piazza della Vittoria especially bars overlook, whose terraces are the finest drawing room in the city from which to enjoy the sun and watch the people pass by. Once, however, the types of business that were located under the arcades were much more varied. For example, the ground floor of the Casa dei Diversi housed, at the corner of Via Beccaria, the Bianchi delicatessen that, at least since the Thirties, remained here until the Eighties. Then there were shops of trinkets, photography, fruit and vegetables, household products, hairdressers and grocery stores, the most famous, the one that everyone remembers, was the Cesare Noè's grocery near to Santa Maria Gualtieri. At the right of Noè's Grocery, the household goods store "pottery, porcelain, cutlery and crystal "Arpesella" opened, at the left of Noè the fabric store Ventura appeared, store that remained opened until a few years ago, as well as the shop Tessilmoda which was located on the opposite northwest corner.

The fabric stores were once many and Mr. Eligio Ventura, an exceptional guide, born in 1932, helps us to remember: the larger warehouse was the one of Ettore Quario at the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, in vicolo San Sebastiano; then there was the company Casali; the shop of Savio in Piazza Grande - now they have a clothing store for children in Strada Nuova; and always in the Lombardi Square, there were Rezzani and Pierino Tessera (the last one then moved in via Mascheroni); there was then a weaver called Grassani in via Capsoni; and finally, in the Cathedral Square, there was the store of Sora and Ramaioli.

The commercial vocation of Piazza Grande is old because from the XVII Century to the Fifties this was the venue of the city market. There are some famous photos of the early decades of the XX century that show the expanse of white tents of the hawkers who occupy the square. Paolo Marabelli tells: It began long before dawn, when, from the trap-door scale of the underground, sellers appeared with their easels and benches, to be prepared promptly to take the incoming goods from the storehouse. Only the faintly crackling flames of bonfires and the smell of polenta and roasted chestnuts remained.

Then in 1957, Piazza della Vittoria was completely gutted to realize, in its basement, an underground market to replace the one on the open air, while the street vendors were invited to move in Piazza Petrarca. The underground market was opened in 1961, and for that time the construction was really futuristic. On a surface of over 1,700 square meters, it housed 43 stands. Since 2008 it has been affected by a major redevelopment that has led to a new opening in 2011.
The road that connects Piazza della Vittoria to Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) is via Omodeo, formerly known as the district of the Bell Tower; the bell tower was the civic tower that stood next to the facade of the cathedral and that unfortunately no longer exists because it collapsed in 1989.

Among the shops of the past that were in via Omodeo, we can cite one very tipical, the one called "polentaio". Augusto Vivanti tells of a modest store for those who possessed little money. You went in through a heavy wooden door, and immediately you saw faded walls, rough furnitures and beams, expression of the poverty of the past. [...] You could buy the "polenta vedova", that means with no condiments or side dishes; the shop had in fact replaced the shack of Piazza Grande, of Giuan "al matt", who played the cornet at each cooking and animated the square of happy faces.

But it is time to leave Piazza della Vittoria and continue the walk along the Strada Nuova. It is called "Nuova" (New) but is among the oldest in the city, because if Corso Cavour, and its continuation Corso Mazzini, resume the route of the “decumanus”, Corso Strada Nuova follows the trend of the cardo, which is the north-south axis of the characteristic road of the Roman city. It's called "New" from the 1377. In that year was celebrated in Pavia the wedding of Violante Visconti and Amedeo VI of Savoy. To seal that event, the father of Violante, Galeazzo II, wanted the accommodation of the ancient “cardo”, along which the wedding procession would have passed. Over the centuries, the thoroughfare was been obstructed by buildings. Galeazzo II did eliminate ledges, gardens and even a church that blocked the way, to get a straight 1200 meters that connects the Castle to the north with the south bridge over the Ticino.

The block of houses at the corner of Corso Cavour and New Road is occupied by the Fur Shop Atelier Annabella and the historic bar Demetrius, now bar Annabella. This is the oldest café in the city, founded in 1758 by Demetrio Sarcani with the name of Bottegone albeit on the opposite side of the current one. During the XIX Century the bakery was added to the activity and in 1864 it was moved on the opposite side of the road where it is still today.

If you take Strada Nuova in the direction of the Castle, at number 110, you come to the pastry shop Vigoni, opened in 1878. It is always a good choice entering for tasting the famous Paradise Cake or just to take a coffee and admire the antique Art Noveau furniture.
Some shop windows away, just across the main entrance of the University, at least since the thirties, there was the stationery Marelli.

The University occupies a long block, to arrive in front of Piazza Italia, venue of the provincial administration. At the corner of Corso Strada Nuova and Corso Carlo Alberto there is the university canteen. In fact, before that the university had bought this building in 1975, it was a supermarket. The Self Service Vigorelli, located here since 1967, proposed to its clients a new sales system for its time, although already successful abroad, namely to help themselves, without the help of clerks.
Just beyond the other side of the street there is the XVIII Century's Theatre Fraschini.

If instead you take Strada Nuova in the direction of the river, a number of stylish shops follow one another. We are in the temple of the shopping. Although not in large numbers, some historic businesses survive even here. At number 51, the jewelry store Fassina, that exists since the second half of the nineteenth century. Initially, however, it was placed on the opposite side of the road. Facing the jewelry store there is a building, a fine example of Art Nouveau architecture in Pavia, designed by Rossi in 1908. It presents an arcade on the ground floor and at the first floor there is a long balcony supported by corbels with lion busts and floral forms made of wrought iron. this is Dellera House, traditionally venue of a famous fur shop that closed the Pavia's store in 2015 to have only the Milan's one. It was 1885 when Mattia Dellera and Carlo Lanzani opened in our city a shop specializing in the production of shoe's uppers and transmission belts, soon converted into fur shop. Dellera family has managed the business for four generations.

At number 72 you will find another piece of commercial history of Pavia: the Quaroni hats store opened around 1927. At that time in Pavia the Vanzina's hats laboratory was still active, located in Luino and specialized in the manufacture of felt hats.
The number 33 is the venue of a commercial activity since 1879, a workshop of fabrics and haberdashery; in 1936 it was bought by the Ferretti family that still runs the clothing store of the same name.

Going down the Strada Nuova you can indulge in a detour on the right into Via Volturno, a narrow street that was once animated by shops of food, intended for daily shopping of the housewives. As Paolo Marabelli wrote: Here the housewives found everything for the procurement of the day without moving, zigzagging from side to side of the district: baker, butcher, grocer, greengrocer, cheese in appetizing exhibition, oil, poultry etc. There are still some craftsmen: a knife grinder, a ladies' hairdresser, the sale of furniture, trinkets shops, a modern shop of televisions.
In the era of hypermarkets, the type of the shops of Via Volturno has changed, but its charm remains unchanged.

Via Volturno leads into Via Siro Comi, where today there is a organic food store. In the Thirties here there was the entrance of the public baths, as advertised on the commercial guides of that era: Health resort Zacchi. Open every day of the year. At every hour in every day of the year you can take baths in marble bathtubs, with hot or cold water, for the convenience of the gentlemen swimmers. Medicated baths with mineral water or salts, as are indicated by the medical prescriptions. Cure with hydropathical showers. Steam baths, sitz baths, foot baths. Towels are provided by the establishment. The service is overseen by the concerned person.

Not so far from here, there is little square San Marino, a snug corner of Pavia, that is undervalued but of great beauty. In front, towards the Fifties, a cinema opened. The citizen called it "pulè" (hen-house in the local dialect) for its quite popular vocation, with the benches and the earth floor. Later it became the Eden movie theater, specialized in screenings for schools at the morning and red light films at night! Now, it does not longer exist.
Going down through via Siro Comi, you arrive in Corso Garibaldi, which, for some years, seems to want to steal the title of shopping street to Corso Strada Nuova, with more exclusive and detailed business proposals, offering a more relaxed atmosphere due to the smaller size of the roadway and the total closure to traffic.

At the beginning of the street there is the Gambarana Palace (XVIII Century), built by the family whose name it bears. Behind the simple façade there is an elegant building that still preserves neoclassic decorations. You can come in, accessing by the grand staircase that is, entering the courtyard, on the right. The ground floor of the building was assigned to the stores, including the legendary grocery Comini. It was open even before the mid-nineteenth century, and survived until the Eighties. It was a place where you could really find everything.

A little further on, at number 3, only recently another historic shop closed its doors: the Pastore luggage and leather store, that was here since 1955. The company was founded in 1926 and the venue was on the corner between Via Cardano and via Rezia.

Speaking about the unforgettable shops of Corso Garibaldi that today are not here anymore, you cannot not mention the Maruffi stationery, which provided, with school supplies and textbooks, generations of students of Pavia. Even in the Eighties it was the place to find the Bignami, cheat sheet ("bigino") of the latin versions, like of any other subject, at a time when the internet still could not come to the aid of listless students.

But in Corso Garibaldi there are still numerous historical shops: at number 10 there is the Beolchini weapon store, at n.12 there is the gastronomy of Natale Carena, at n. 20 you find the frames store, managed by Angela De Paoli, that is almost in front of the Da Cesare Creamery and Ice-cream shop, at number 15. Here you can enjoy one of the best ice-cream in town or the best hot chocolate of Pavia, crowned by a cloud of soft and fragrant eggnog, in an essential and old-style ambient.

Further, the road intersects Via Porta. From the entrance of the street you can enjoy a breathtaking view of two of the many towers that Pavia had in the Middle Ages, when the city earned the nickname of the city of a hundred towers. These were the towers that the rich and powerful families built to show their status in the world, competing in height with other noble neighbors. Today only few of the highest are remained, including those of Via Porta, but if you look around with a bit of attention you will see some of the others, now reduced in height and internally used as a dwelling or shop. And this is the case, for example, of the tower that houses the Pedotti pharmacy, right in front of via Porta, at number 25 of Corso Garibaldi. The premises of the pharmacy have a great historical and artistic value, as it dates back to 1700, and you really should snoop inside.

We have almost reached the end of the walk. We proceed towards the end of the long and interesting Corso Garibaldi and, just before of the wide space of the church of Saints Primo and Feliciano, we find another historic shop: the Fontana hardware shop at number 36, another store in which once you could really find everything, from the "gun" for the stove, to household goods, screws and bolts.

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Delicatessen and Gastronomy Walter Lodola - Pavia

The license of charcuterie's shop, linked to this commercial activ


The company Cignoli exists at least since 1908, as evidenced by a Certificate of Gold Medal that

Annabella - Pavia

Annabella was founded in 1953.

FERRETTI - Clothing - Pavia

At this number of Strada Nuova a commercial activity already existed since 1879; it was a haberda

BEOLCHINI - Armory - Pavia

The weapon store of Corso Garibaldi was born by an initiative of Sergio Beolchin

BRAMBILLA – Frames - Pavia

The historic business was born in 1906, and it was registered with the Chamber of Commerce in 190

FONTANA Fancesco - Hardware store - Pavia

One of the oldest hardware stores of Pavia is the one of Francesco Fontana, whose father had the

The events in pavia

Arte Pubblica - Eventi a Pavia - pavialcentro
Friday 12 May to Tuesday 12 November

Ciclo di conferenze a cura del Direttore artistico Ar.Vi.Ma Silvia Ferrari Lilienau.Nel corso di cinque conferenze si affrontano le declinazioni dell'arte pubblica dagli anni Trent

De Chirico, De Pisis, Carrà. La vita nascosta delle cose - Eventi a Pavia - pavialcentro
Thursday 18 April to Sunday 28 July
Castello Visconteo

Un punto di vista nuovo sulla storia dell'arte.

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