Thursday, June 26, 2014

Pavia Italy

Dr. Renzo Motta arranged for me to visit northern Italy for a week to tour the University of Turin and the University of Padua. Renzo, Dr. Daniele Castagneri, Dr. Giai Petit, Dr. Marco Carrer, and Dr. Paola Nola were excellent hosts and I got to see five cities, the western Italian Alps, the eastern Italian Alps, and spend a night in Venice.
My flight to Milan connected through the Rome airport. I got to see some interesting landscapes including the coastal town of Fiumicino where the Leonardo da Vinci airport is located on the outskirts of Rome. According to Wikipedia, this is the sixth busiest airport in Europe.

To the south of Rome are a series of old calderas that are now filled with rainwater. From the air, Lago Albano, Lago di Nemi, and the surrounding Parco Regionale dei Castelli Romani look like a beautiful natural area that I would like to visit in the future. We had a very nice view of these mountains and lakes as we flew into the Leonardo da Vinci airport outside of Rome. Reading about this area on Wikipedia showed that this was the site of the 1960 Summer Olympic canoeing competition, the site of Castel Gandolfo which is a retreat that the popes would visit, and it also showed this 1869 painting by George Inness. I like these old paintings as a representation of what the landscape and vegetation looked like over 100 years ago.

Georges Inness 1869 (photo from Wikipedia

I landed in Milan and Renzo picked me up at the airport. We quickly drove to the town of Pavia which was 22 miles south of Milan where I stayed the night and had a wonderful Italian meal with Renzo and his family. They gave me a great tour of the city that included viewing some of the old churches, the University of Pavia campus, and the river that runs through the town. I really like these old city streets with buildings from the 16th century lining the cobble stone streets.

This area of Italy is flat, being located between the Italian Alps to the north and the Apennines to the south. It is a large agricultural region that actually produces a lot of rice. You can see the reflection of the light off of the rice paddies as we flew into Milan. The Po River Valley is a major geologic feature which is a low-lying area that has been in filled with the sediment from the Apennines (orogeny – mountain building – peaking from 23.0-2.6 million years before present) and the Alps (caused by the collision of the African and European plates starting in the Late Cretaceous about 70 million years ago and peaking about 35 million years ago).

Publius Cornelius Scipio, a consul with the Roman Empire, established a military camp in 218 BC at the site of modern day Pavia and the city has played an important role in history ever since. The Roman bridge over the river was completely replaced in AD 1354. This bridge was badly damaged during World War II. During the debate on whether to repair or replace that bridge, a large section of it collapses in 1947 so it was decided to replace the bridge with this modern construction.

The University of Pavia was founded in 1361 and located at the site of the school or rhetoric which is documented to have existed in AD 825. This would make this the oldest proto-university in Europe. It is amazing to visit places with such long and storied history compared to our young European architecture and history in the United States.

Many notable scientists, philosophers, and artists have resided at the University. Alessandro Volta (1745–1827) is probably one of the most notable scientists that I recognized from studying physics as he is the inventor of the battery. I wish I had more time to tour the University and read about the history that has transpired in this place. Since I am following Albert Einstein around Europe, I feel that I should mention that he lived in Pavia from 1894-1895 with his family when he was 15 years old.

It was good to meet Dr. Paola Nola and spend an evening with her family touring the city. She is an associate professor at the University of Pavia who focuses on botany, ecology, and dendrochronology. Much of her work is related to developing chronologies in multiple species in the Quercus, Fagus, Larix, and Pinus genera as well as examining climatic response (Nola 1996) and ecological interactions such as her paper examining the interaction between Fagus sylvatica and English ivy (Hedera helix - Nola 1997). She has also completed insect outbreak analysis on Larch budmoth (Zeiraphera diniana) and examined its effect on forest dynamics (Nola et al. 2006).

Cathedral Square shows the common roundabouts, tram tracks, and has a statue of Minerva by sculpture Francesco Messina from the early 1900s.  Minerva was the Roman Goddess of wisdom as well as poetry, medicine, commerce, weaving, crafts, and magic. She was the roman equivalent of the Greek Goddess Athena which was a nice continuation of our experiences in Athens.

The Basilica of San Michele Maggiore was completed in AD 1155. It was built on the site of the Lombard Palace chapel which was destroyed in a fire in AD 1004.  This was also the site of the coronation of Louis III in AD 900 and Frederick Barbarossa in AD 1155.

Construction on the Cathedral of Pavia was started in AD 1488. Leonardo da Vinci was known to have contributed to the construction of this church and one of his students completed the alter area AD 1521. Just outside of this Cathedral was the Civic Tower of Pavia which was built in the 11th century and was 72 meters tall. This tower collapsed on March 17th, 1989 killing four people and injuring 15 others. The tower was partially constructed with brick which decayed overtime resulting in this catastrophic collapse.

I only had a short time to spend in Pavia, but it was great to see this city and to understand a little bit about its long history.

Nola, P. (1996). Climatic signal in earlywood and latewood of deciduous oaks from northern Italy. Tree Rings, Environment, and Humanity. Radiocarbon, 1996, 149-258.
Nola, P. (1997). Interactions between Fagus sylvatica L. and Hedera helix L.: a dendroecological approach. Dendrochronologia, 15, 23-37.
Nola, P., Morales, M., Motta, R., & Villalba, R. (2006). The role of larch budmoth (Zeiraphera diniana Gn.) on forest succession in a larch (Larix decidua Mill.) and Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra L.) stand in the Susa Valley (Piedmont, Italy). Trees, 20(3), 371-382.


  1. Well written post on Italy tours! You shared beautiful photos. Italy is looking great place for visiting. I will definitely go there. Thanks!
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