The Views of Pavia - Atlas Obscura

The Views of Pavia

Basilica di San Teodoro

These 500-year-old frescoes depict the city in its glory days. 


The university city of Pavia is just a short train journey away from the metropolitan bustle of Milan. This unpretentious burg is home to one of the oldest universities in the world (Università di Pavia, founded in 1361), one of the largest cathedral domes in all of Italy (the Duomo di Pavia), and most famously, the resting place of St. Augustine. Still, Pavia often gets dwarfed by its massive neighbor to the north, but in a lesser-known church just blocks from the main drag, visitors can see that Pavia was once a unique and bustling city.

The Basilica di San Teodoro was built in the 1300s to house the relics of its namesake, the former bishop of Pavia and patron saint of fishermen. Entering the church, one is greeted with the familiar religious iconography, but covering the northwest corner are two massive frescoes depicting a walled city of towers, boulevards, and commerce. It looks a whole lot like Bologna, but these are accurate depictions of Pavia back in its heyday.

The Views of Pavia were added to the church in 1525. Three years earlier, Pavia had successfully fended off a French siege; The frescoes were added during the church’s renovation as a celebration of the city. They have traditionally been attributed to the artist Bernardino Lanzani, and they showcase many former and existing landmarks in Pavia.

Viewers can pick out the Visconti Castle to the north, the covered bridge over the Ticino River, and the numerous towers that once dotted the city. The bridge and castle remain and are popular attractions, but only three of the original towers still stand. They can be visited as well, but unlike those in Bologna, nobody is permitted to climb to the top. Sitting in the front seat like a tour guide is Anthony the Great, patron saint of the city suburbs beyond the river.

Despite the substantial changes that Pavia has undergone in the past 500 years, the city is still quite recognizable. Today, it exists as a quiet and relaxed town strongly influenced by the university and provides the perfect day trip from Milan.

Know Before You Go

Open Monday through Saturday from 3–6:30 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m.– 12 p.m. The Church of San Teodoro is only minutes from the Pavia Duomo and the Ponte Coperto. The downtown area is relatively small and the whole city is highly walkable. Follow signs for "Chiesa da San Teodoro."

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February 21, 2024

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