Friday, April 12, 2013

Faenza: Emilia-Romagna's Capital of Ceramics

World renowned for its rich and colourful majolica pottery, Faenza rose to fame during it's golden age, the Renaissance, with its production of exquisitely made glazed earthenware pottery known a faience, that even in Etruscan times was exported all over Europe. According to legend, the name of the first settlement was Faoentia — "I shine among the gods." The very name, coming from the Romans who developed this centre under the name of Faventia, has become synonymous with ceramics. Today there are over 60 factories and workshops, most in the city's centre, producing different forms of exquisite Faenza pottery. 

Mirta Morigi, a modern day potter working in Faenza today

At the wheel

A Mirta Morigi modern ceramic piece

The “Garofano” pattern is a true Italian classic pattern of Faenza

The soil in and around the city contains rich clay deposits that are the basis of Faenza's world famous ceramic industry. Located along the Via Emilia, halfway between Bologna and Rimini, the town which has Roman and Etruscan origins, was already famous for the production of ceramics by the 1st century A.D., but reached the peak of its splendour in the 15th and 16th centuries. After a period of decline, which coincided with the fall of the Roman Empire and the subsequent barbarian invasions in the Middle Ages, Faenza experienced a strong economic recovery under the rule of the Manfredi in the second half of the XV century. After a short period of Venetian domination, the city became part of the Papal States, until the Unification of Italy in 1860. 

The International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza

The modern interior of the MIC, renovated in the 90s

Home to the largest collection in the world dedicated to ceramics, The International Museum of Ceramics, has important pottery and ceramiche from all over the world, including stunning works from the Renaissance and the works of artists such as Chagall and Picasso. Founded in 1908 by Gaetano Ballardini, the museum was a reference point for ancient, modern and contemporary ceramics in Italy and throughout the world. During the Second World War, bombing raids on Faenza caused the almost total destruction of the museum, with heavy and incurable losses to the collection and archived material. 'Post fata Resurgo', or 'Resurrection from death', was the motto for the Museum's reconstruction. These events led to an appeal launched by the then director Gaetano Ballardini, in which he asked friends, researchers and collectors as well as major international museums and public bodies to help him to reconstruct the collections and the Museum itself. The MIC now represents one of the greatest Museums in the world devoted to ceramics, with collections and ancient artifacts from all over the world.

MIC ceramic antiquities

Ceramics from the Renaissance 

Elaborate ceramic pieces from the Renaisance

A piece by Fernand Leger

Faenza has a rich history aside from ceramics. At the beginning of the 14th century the Guelph family of Manfredi began a rule over Faenza that was to last for almost two centuries. The peak of splendour was reached under Carlo II Manfredi, in the second half of the century, when the city centre was renewed. After a brief period of Venetian domination Faenza became part of the Papal States until 1797. The city we see today was formed over a long arc of historical evolution and enriched over the years by fine architecture with strong Renaissance and Neoclassical features.

On Piazza del Popolo are two porticoed wings or arcades 
known as the Portico degli Orefici, built about 1610

The Portico degli Orefici

Torre dell'Orologio

Faenza, still surrounded by its old Roman town walls, suffered severe war damage but has been almost completely restored. The town's main architectural attractions are concentrated in two main squares: Piazza del Popolo, lined by two spectacular double order porticoed wings, and Piazza della Libertà. The Palazzo del Podestà and Town Hall, both of mediaeval origin, stand in Piazza del Popolo. Along the east side of Piazza della Libertà is Feanza's Duomo, Cattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo. Built to Giuliano da Maiano's design, it was begun in 1474 and completed in 1511, however the marble facade remained unfinished. Opposite the Cathedral is Portico degli Orefici, a spectacular open arcaded gallery known as the Goldsmith's Portico, built in the first decade of the 17th century, and the lovely fountain that dates to the same period. The Torre dell'Orologio, in front of the entrance to the Piazza, is a a faithful reconstruction of the original 17th-century tower that was blown up by retreating Germans in 1944. Like a phoenix from the fire, Faenza is cyclically regenerated and reborn. 

The centre of Faenza, which is closed off to traffic, 
is popular with those using bicycles - the only efficient way to get around

17th-century bronze fountain in Piazza della Libertà by Domenico Paganelli in 1621

The Duomo di Faenza, Cattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo is a Roman Catholic cathedral built in the style of the Tuscan Renaissance in the centre of Faenza. It's the seat of the Bishop of Faenza-Modigliana and is dedicated to Saint Peter the Apostle. Construction of the cathedral began in 1474, but the marble decoration of the facade remained unfinished. 

Duomo di Faenza, Cattedrale di San Pietro Apostolo

The Pinacoteca and Museum of Faenza

Statue of Evangelista Torricelli, an Italian physicist and mathematician 
born in Faenza and best known for his invention of the barometer

After a morning at the Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche and exploring historic Faenza, it was time for lunch so we headed for the main square, Piazza della Liberta, in search of Enoteca Astorre for some traditional local cuisine. 

One of Faenza's covered porticos on the way to lunch 
at Enoteca Astorre, on the main square

Enoteca Astorre overlooking Piazza della Liberta in Faenza

Enoteca Astorre, ideally located in the centre of Faenza and in front of the Duomo on Piazza della Liberta, was originally part of a wing of the 18th-century Palazzo Laderchi which was commissioned in 1780 by Count Ludwig Laderchi. Today it is home to the Museum Torricelli, a collection of memorabilia and papers of Evangelista Torricelli, the Italian physicist and mathematician who was born in Faenza and is best known for his invention of the barometer. Astorre's menu is based on traditional local cuisine, with dishes such as Ravioli, Strozzapreti, Passatelli Taleggio and the local flatbread typical of the Romangna region called Piadina.

A glass of wine at the bar with piadina, the regional flatbread

Enoteca Astorre is a restaurant as well as a wine shop, 
so we picked up a bottle or two for our last night in Emilia-Romagna

Enoteca Astorre's eclectic interior

Antipasto Mista with piadina

Tagliatelle al Ragù 

Cappelletti al ripieno di formaggio

Piadina is the thin Italian flatbread which we enjoyed at lunch, and is a typical dish prepared in Romagna. Usually made with white flour, lard or olive oil, salt and water, the dough was traditionally cooked on a terracotta dish called a 'teggia' in the Romagnolo dialect, although nowadays flat pans or electric griddles are commonly used. The etymology of the word piadina is uncertain, although it's thought tocome from the Greek word for focaccia. Romagna was heavily influenced by Byzantium during the early Middle Ages when the Eastern Empire reconquered parts of Romagna, which would explain how the Greco-Byzantine recipe entered the local gastronomy. Piadina has now been added to the list of the traditional regional food products of Italy typical of the Emilia-Romagna Region — una tra le ricette più tipiche della gastronomia Romagnola. Buon Appetito!

Piadina Romagnola
Makes 8 flatbreads

3/4 cup vegetable shortening or lard
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp honey
8 cups tipo 00 flour
1 3/4 tbsp active dry yeast
1 large egg, brought to room-temperature
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

In a double boiler over medium heat, gently melt the shortening with the milk and honey. Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl and set aside. In yet another bowl, gently sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. 

On a large wooden cutting board or counter, dump the flour mixture in a mound and create a well in the center. Pour the egg and half of the shortening mixture into the well and combine the mixture with your hands, incorporating the flour slowly. Keep kneading once all the flour is incorporated; the dough should hold together after a few strokes. Gradually add the rest of the shortening mixture one tablespoon at a time. 

Knead dough for 15 minutes; then let it rest for another 15 minutes between two plates. While the dough is resting, pre-heat a griddle or flat-top and grease it, sparingly, with shortening.When the dough is rested, break off about one cup of dough, enough to form a ball about the size of your fist. On an unfloured surface, roll out the dough to form thin, 10'' rounds. Repeat with remaining dough. When the griddle is hot, cook the rounds, about three minutes on each side, or until dark brown spots appear. Continue to cook the remaining piadina, stacking them together under a kitchen towel to keep warm. They can be served on their own, or with a classic filling of prosciutto, Taleggio cheese and arugula.

Piadina dough can be made and stored in the refrigerator for 3 days, or wrapped and stored in the freezer for a month. Prepared piadina are best eaten the same day they are made or frozen for up to 1 month.

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