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The Sound of Cremona

On a rainy day, I boarded the train from Milan to Cremona for a day trip.  Cremona reminds me of – Stradivarius and Torrone (Nougats).  Antonio Stradivarius is famous for producing the world’s best violins ever seen or rather heard ! Till date, musicians and violin makers  debate on what exactly made his instruments the best.

A huge guitar stands in the street outside the railway station welcoming the travellers and setting the context of what defines the city! As one proceeds towards Piazza Stradivari, one notices several shops of musical instruments.

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The statue of Antonio Stradivari stands majestically inspecting the violin in his hand, in the middle of Piazza Stradivari. Born in Cremona, Stradivari was responsible for bringing the craft of violin making to the highest pitch of perfection.  He was still a student of Nicolo Amati when he first begin to label his violin creations. Nicolo Amati is from the Amati family. His forefather Andrea Amati is the founding father of the violin and is credited with making the first violin instruments! Stradivari adopted different methods to violin creation from the Amati models.  He used deeper color varnish and experimented with the proportions  to yield powerful and penetrating tone.  Few of them debate that the secret of his perfect acoustic violins lie in the formula of the varnish he used. Some of his creations can be seen in the Violin Museum. Some even debate that the secret lies in the density of special type of wood he selected to make violins. Nicolo Paganini, a great violinist once quoted that Antonio used only the wood of the trees on which nightingales sang.

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Inside the Violin Museum stands a huge human figure made of musical notes. The Violin Museum today holds priceless collections of the three masters – Nicolo Amati, Antonio Stradivari and Guiseppe Guarneri – who created a golden age of violin making. The part of the museum has a workshop where one can see young violin makers learning the craft. It was beautiful to walk among the 16th and 17th century violins made by the trio.

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A peep inside one of these violins, I was able to spot the label of “Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis” – the signature announcing Antonio Stradivari of Cremona.  To mark the date of the violin creation, Antonio only printed the first digit of the year and remaining three digits were handwritten.  Towards the last days of his life, he started mentioning his age at which he created these masterpieces.  Today with so many fake Stradivari violins in the market, only an expert violin maker or restorer can truly identify the real Stradivarius from a copy. The museum also hosts live violin concerts where the audience can listen to these collections.

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Cremona cathedral, the Bell Tower (Torrazzo) and the Baptistery dominates the Piazza Del Comune. The columns of the Cathedral’s narthex stand on two lions which in a way also is symbolic as Cremona was under the control of Venetian rule from 1499 to 1509. The frescoes inside the Cathedral are jaw dropping. The sidewalls are decorated portraying the Life of Mary and Christ.  The Crucifixion by II Pordenone detailing the last scenes of the Passion is a treat for sore eyes. Towards the other side of the Cathedral, there is a huge golden cross.

Cremona Italy Violin

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The unique Octogonal shaped Baptistery lies next to the Cathedral. The octogonal structure has references to pagan sepulchre. The Eighth day symbolizes the Resurrection of Christ.

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The city’s best views can be seen by climbing the 502 steps of the Torrazzo (Bell Tower). At 112.7 m in height, it is the third tallest brickwork bell tower in the world. The fourth storey of the bell tower has the largest astronomical clock in the world.

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After climbing the spiral stairs, I was famished and stepped in for some tasty fresh sandwiches at Ugo Grill. One of the best sandwiches I have tasted! Highly recommended!

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The best time to visit Cremona is during the Festa Del Torrone. Torrone is a traditional nougat made of toasted almonds, honey and other ingredients including egg whites. The word Torrone comes from the Latin origin “torrere” – means to toast. Torrone has been a traditional sweet of Cremona since 16th century and has been considered a valuable gift and a treat to present during Christmas.  The famed nougat was first introduced as a dessert during the wedding of Francesco Sforza and Maria Visconti. The pastry chefs were inspired by the city’s Torrazzo and hence they named the dessert Torrone. Festa Del Torrone is a Nougat Festival where the sleepy musical town of Cremona becomes lively with performances, events and various food tastings.   One of the tastiest Torrone I had was from a stall during the festival which had Cinnamon flavor.

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Italians lovingly call Cremona as the city of 3 T’s – Torrone (Nougat), Torrazzo (bell tower) and Tettone (city of inclined roofs). Colloquially, Tettone also refers to “large breasts”!

But enjoying the musical tour of this city with the delicious Torrone in my hand, dancing to the tune of a wacky disco marching band “Tamarros”, I define my memories of Cremona as the city of 3 T’s- Torrone, Torrazzo and Tamarros.

Also read my other Travel Experiences in Italy

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Copyright ©2018, Lakshmi Nair. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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