Certosa di Parma

 

Parma is a beautiful (and world-famous for its ham!) city and Carthusian monasteries are fascinating. No wonder then if the Certosa di Parma, has a special mystique that made it unique enough to earn it the title of a famous Stendhal book. Should your Italian journey include a visit to it, however, you should probably change your plans.

First thing first, the Charterhouse of Parma mentioned in the book is never explicitly defined as that monastery: many literature professors believe that the novel was actually inspired by the abbazia di Valserena, another monastery nearby. The written descriptions don’t fit either, however. Also, in Stendhal times that building had already ceased to be a monastery: in the following centuries it was razed, rebuilt and repurposed many times. After being a cigar factory, a reformatory and more, it is now a training academy for State correction officers. So why should anyone be interested in the charterhouse? One reason is, as with almost all religious buildings in Italy, the surviving artworks and masterpieces. Of the original floorplan only the San Girolamo church remains, and it is frescoes and cloisters are worth a visit indeed.

No less interesting is of course the link to the literary masterpiece, a staple of the Romantic genre. While some descriptions are purely fantasy, the general atmosphere can be easily traced to the local geography – at least because the story was inspired by the real life events of the Farnese family, found by the author in an ancient manuscript. Having said this, Italy is indeed home to many – seventeen, to be precise – well-preserved Carthusian monasteries which maintain to this day all the majesty of these unique buildings, often baroque on the outside and extremely stark inside.