Pavia Certosa Cloister And Dome Red Brick And Marble Renaissance Architecture

A Day Trip to Pavia and the Certosa di Pavia

Pavia Certosa Church Interior Front Entrance View Nave With Blue Ceiling Frescoes Stone Columns Late Gothic Architecture

Pavia’s proximity to Milan makes an easy day trip. The Certosa di Pavia lies 8 km (5 miles) north of town, with its own train stop. To save time and avoid the site’s mid-day closure, we recommend visiting the monastery on the way into or out of Pavia. All sites are marked on our Google map.

Roman Pavia: Ponte Coperto, Piazza della Vittoria

Medieval Pavia: San Pietro in Ciel D’Oro, San Michele, Basilica di San Teodoro, Towers of Pavia

Renaissance Pavia: Visconti Castle & Civic Museums, University of Pavia, Cathedral (Duomo di Pavia)

Certosa di Pavia

Getting to Pavia and the Certosa di Pavia

Further Reading

Pavia Piazza Della Vittoria With Cafes White Umbrellas And Cathedral Dome

Pavia came into its own after the Roman Empire collapsed. The invading Lombards made it their new capital in 554 as they swept down the peninsula. Charlemagne defeated them in 774, but his new Holy Roman Empire kept Pavia as the capital of Italy. As a result, the city stayed loyal to the Emperor even in the 11th century when many city-states began to declare independence. 

The Basilica di San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro takes its name from the mosaic in its apse, depicting Saint Peter in a golden sky. From 720 to 725, King Liutprand rebuilt a sixth-century church to house the recently-acquired remains of St. Augustine; most of the church we see today dates to 1132. An elaborate white marble “ark” from the 14th century holds the sacred tomb. The church also holds the remains of Boethius, another Christian philosopher-martyr. Open 8:30-12 & 3:30-7 daily; see website for more information. 

Lombard kings received their ‘Iron Crown’ at Pavia’s Basilica di San Michele Maggiore, a church founded in the 660’s. The coronation tradition continued with Holy Roman Emperors such as Frederick Barbarossa in 1155.

Pavia San Michele Romanesque Church Brick Dome Interior
Pavia San Teodoro Romanesque Church Frescoes Sheep With Palms And Sculpted Heads
Pavia Tower Ruins Next To Duomo Brick Exterior
Rubble from the collapsed bell tower by the Duomo

The Torri di Pavia refers to the dramatic cluster of three towers around the Piazza di Leonardo da Vinci. Historians estimate that Pavia held about 65 such structures during their peak in the 12th century, but few survive today. The Civic Tower next to the Duomo collapsed in 1989, raising awareness of (and funding for) precarious Italian landmarks.

After several messy centuries, a handful of Italy’s independent city-states emerged as dominant. Milan sealed its place among the major powers with a final defeat of its neighbor Pavia in 1359. After such a takeover, most towns would shuffle off to history’s sidelines – instead, Pavia’s fortunes went up. Milan’s ruling dynasty, the ruthless Viscontis, wanted to revive the Lombard dream of a united Italian peninsula ruled by a local family. Where better to base their new empire than Pavia, the historic capital?

The Viscontis started by building a new castle in Pavia in 1360. Constructed as a residence rather than a stronghold, the elegant structure took less than six years to complete. Today the castle houses Pavia’s Civic Museums. Highlights include the Pinacoteca Malaspina with works by Bellini, Luini, Correggio, Veronese as well as a large wooden model of the Duomo from 1497. See website for visiting information.

The Viscontis’ most lasting effect on Pavia turned out to be the university. It was founded in 1361 by the Duke of Milan to promote the city as an intellectual and cultural center. Today it’s one of Italy’s most prestigious universities and houses an eclectic series of specialty museums: from alumnus Alessandro Volta’s cabinet of batteries to life-size anatomical wax models and the head of scientist Antonio Scarpa preserved in formaldehyde. Most of the museums have limited opening hours: check the website for details.

Pavia Duomo Interior Nave And Alter White Marble Renaissance Architecture Bramante
Pavia Certosa Church Interior Nave Marble Columns With Frescoed Ceiling Late Gothic Architecture
Pavia Certosa Church Exterior Detail Marble Facade With Sculpture Brick Towers In Background Renaissance Architecture
Certosa Di Pavia Interior Church Nave With Blue Ceilings And Frescoes Late Gothic Architecture
Pavia Certosa Cloister Arched Ceilings With Visconti Crest And Church And Dome In Background

Independent wealth and a pastoral location insulated the Certosa from the outside world for centuries. But towards the end of the 18th century religious reforms expelled the Carthusians. Italy’s new government requisitioned the property in the 1860’s, and the next century saw alternating periods of abandonment with efforts to repair and revive the monastery. Since 1968, the Certosa has been home to a group of Cistercian monks who, like the Carthusians, live ascetic lives in near-complete silence. 

The Certosa di Pavia is generally open Tuesday-Sunday, from 9-11:30 and afternoons beginning at 2:30. For seasonal closing times and travel information, see the website.

The main church and museum are open to the public, with a modest dress code (no bare shoulders or knees). To access the rest of the monastery, visitors can take an Italian-language tour led by one of the monks. Tours generally start whenever enough people have gathered, rather than according to a fixed schedule. Arriving at around ten, we had just the right amount of time to explore the church before picking up a tour. Instead of fixed-price ticketing, the monastery requests a donation; visitors can also purchase honey, soap, and other products made on-site at a shop by the museum.

Frequent trains run between Pavia and Milan, many of which stop at the Certosa di Pavia station en route.

Pavia’s train station lies about 13 minutes’ walk from the Piazza della Vittoria.

The Certosa di Pavia lies 8 km (5 miles) north of the city of Pavia, with its own small train station on the line from Pavia to Milan. At the edge of a parking area, signs guide visitors through the farmlands to the monastery visible in the distance. The 1.5 km (1 mile) walk takes about 20 minutes.

A word of caution when using digital maps: several locations go by the name “Certosa di Pavia” including the monastery itself, the train station (1.5 km east), and a village (1.6 km west). Be sure to verify the location on the map itself before getting directions; our map indicates the monastery and train station.

For more on the region, see our post on the architecture of Milan.