Top 10 things to do in Crema Italy and nearby – Crema is a small town, located south of Lombardy, a region of northern Italy, very quiet and pretty, of about 35,000 thousand inhabitants. It is similar to a small wedding favor with a historic center full of beautiful historic buildings, churches and elegant streets. A city to be discovered by peeking into the courtyards of the palaces to find secret gardens, stop in the cloisters of the convents to take a break and to enjoy an ice cream (ice cream in Crema is a kind of must!)
And all strictly on foot or, at most, by bicycle. Stress in Crema is unknown.
A whole day in Crema, maybe you think you’ll get bored? In my opinion, this is not the case; Between art, walking and delicious breaks the day will pass in a breath indeed, you will want to come back. I challenge you to do that.
History of Crema: the mystery of the origins of Crema and its legends.
Crema and its territory are between the Adda and the Serio Morto rivers. The origins of Crema are to be found in a small strip of land, the Insula Fulcheria, surrounded by the marshy waters of Lake Gerundo: the whole area was reclaimed by the Benedictine monks in medieval times.
Today, a small portion of this marshy area remains protected by the Moso Agricultural Park established in 2009. It is an interesting park to visit and offers an example of how the territory must have been at the beginning.
According to legend, the foundation of Crema took place in 570 when some inhabitants to escape the Lombards, would have taken refuge on a hill, in the center of this swamp. And on this hill, corresponding to the current Piazza del Duomo, they decided to found the city, whose name derives from Cremete, their legendary leader.
But let’s jump forward and get to the year one thousand. Crema was a center of considerable importance and assumed increasing weight in the balance of the Lombard municipalities, fighting to strengthen its independence from Cremona and moving towards the Milanese orbit. The following century was also characterized by the alliance with Milan and a strong opposition to Cremona and Lodi. The rivalry between Crema and Cremona is still present today and the subject of benevolent jokes. And this is a typically Italian note: the rivalry between neighboring cities often has roots in the communal era.
The most famous episode in the history of Crema is the siege of Frederick Barbarossa.
During his second descent (1158-62) into Italy, the emperor aided by Cremonesi, Pavesi and Lodigiani laid siege to Crema (from July 1159 to January 1160) which had rebelled by allying itself with Milan. The city was razed to the ground and Barbarossa forbade the reconstruction of defensive architecture.
Of this tragic moment, we remember the episode of the ‘Cremaschi hostages’: the emperor had the citizens of Cremaschi taken prisoner tied to the war machines and approached the city walls, hoping that the besieged would surrender instead of hitting their fellow citizens. Unexpectedly, however, the hostages themselves were incited to continue the attack against Barbarossa, thus causing the death of many.
The reconstruction of the city was possible only after 1185 by the concession of Barbarossa. The following century was very prosperous economically; defensive works were carried out (including the walls and the castle of Porta Serio) and the Duomo was rebuilt in its new Gothic guise (1284-1341).
In 1361 the city was hit by the plague epidemic, which devastated the city. On this occasion began the devotion of Crema’s to St. Pantaleon, invoked to free the city from illness and from that moment venerated as patron saint of the city, on June 10, the day on which, as tradition dictates, the epidemic ended.
Meanwhile, the rivalry between Milan and Venice soured; The Venetians besieged the city in 1449. Thus began the dominion of the Serenissima, destined to last until 1797.
The dominion of Venice over Crema determined a period of peace and wealth; above all, considering its strategic position, the city was granted a good degree of administrative autonomy.
The dominion of the Serenissima ended with the Napoleonic wars and Napoleon decreed the municipality, first called the Republic of Crema, then absorbed after only two months in the much larger Cisalpine Republic.
Subsequently, Crema follows the historical events of unitary Italy. The new government aggregates the Cremasco to the territory of the Province of Cremona, a situation that continues to this day.
Top 10 things to do in Crema Italy and nearby
- Duomo Square
- The Cathedral
- The gates of the city
- San Domenico and Austro-Hungarian Market
- Terni de’ Gregori Palace
- The St. Augustine
- Benzoni Palace
- Santa Maria delle Grazie
- Basilica of Santa Maria della Croce
- The pond of Riflessi
The square winds U-shaped around the Cathedral and all the buildings that surround it on the sides are arcaded. Here is the heart of the city and its living room. Here the main streets that cut it in two intersect: via Matteotti from North to South and Via Mazzini/Via XX Settembre from East to West. At the ends of these two streets, which look like a single long road cut in half by the Torrazzo, are the two surviving city gates: Porta Serio and Porta Ombriano.
The square is entirely fifteenth-century, Venetian and absolutely homogeneous in style. If you turn your back on the Cathedral you have in front of you the Palazzo del Comune, with the Torrazzo arch, and on the right the Palazzo Pretorio with a large vaulted underpass and the lion of the Serenissima that dominates the wall of the tower. Next to the Duomo is the Bishop’s Palace.
On the southern side the square is closed by a series of porticoed houses between which there are narrow covered passages very narrow, residues of the ancient accesses to the fortified nucleus. Welcome to the living room of the city! You will find outdoor tables where you can sit down to have breakfast, enjoy an ice cream and enjoy an aperitif. Thanks to the city’s pleasant climate almost all year round, it is possible to stay in the dehors of the square.
I’ll point out one last thing: in Crema was shot in 2017 the Oscar-winning film by Luca Guadagnino ‘Call me by Your name’.
The image of the two protagonists Elio and Oliver sitting at the table of the bar in Piazza Duomo near the newsstand, intent on chatting, has become an icon of the film. Here, Oliver asks Elio how he spends his holidays and Elio replies that he usually reads books, transcribs music and bathes in the river. In a relaxed setting, Elio outlines with a few words the dilated rhythm of summer in Crema.
Now that you have arrived in front of the newsstand why don’t you follow their same path, cutting through vicolo Marazzi, passing in front of the door of peeling paint where the two have found shelter to exchange quick effusions? You will find the door covered with graffiti praising love!
Piazza Duomo in Crema by night
Watch the following short video that shows Piazza Duomo in Crema by night. The song in the video is a very famous Italian song.
In the middle of the square stands the Cathedral of Crema. The building we see today is not the original Romanesque one: the ancient Duomo was destroyed by Frederick Barbarossa during the famous siege, and some remains can be glimpsed in the crypt.
The current construction dates back to the period 1284-1341. The style that distinguishes the façade is Lombard Gothic: you will surely be struck by the refined façade with precious single-lancet windows, mullioned windows and other architectural elements enriched by clay inserts. It is striking and fascinating that the façade is much higher than the church!
The interior is wide, divided into three separate bays with massive pillars. What we see today is the result of the restoration that took place in the 50s.
The bell tower
Given the increase in tourists in Crema, the city, in collaboration with the Rotary Club of Crema, is working to turn the bell tower into a museum complex worth visiting. The top of Crema’s bell tower offers breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding area. The view of the city from the bell tower of the Cathedral is certainly one of the most beautiful things to do here in Crema.
Currently, I cannot indicate the climb and visit to the bell tower of Crema as a must activity as it is not open continuously. It is now open on the occasion of holidays and special events that affect the city of Crema.
The ancient gates of the city of Crema
The walls of Crema are fifteenth-century and wanted by the Venetians. In ancient times the gates to access the city were four (in correspondence with the four cardinal points). In the Napoleonic era the walls lost their military function and maintained only that of custody of the town (for this reason in the evening the doors were still closed) and tariff line. The gate was the control point for people and goods in transit who, in order to be introduced into the city, had to pay a tax.
In 1804 the two doors that it was decided to keep with this new function (we are talking about Porta Serio and Porta Ombriano) were redesigned in a neoclassical key. Typical of the neoclassical style are the niches with togated characters, allegorical figures and sculptural groups clearly visible on both doors.
San Domenico and the Austro-Hungarian Market
Very close to Piazza del Duomo is the Complex of San Domenico in which, in the former church of the Convent to be precise, there is the theater of Crema and the homonymous foundation.
Some brief historical notes: the presence of the Dominican friars is documented in Crema from the XXXIII century. At the end of ‘500 century the building underwent a progressive expansion, while, in 1614, it became the seat of the Court of the Holy Inquisition. With the arrival of Napoleon’s troops, the convent was confiscated and transformed into military barracks and from here began an endless story of changes of intended use. Since 1992, all the premises remained empty and devoid of functions; at the same time, the municipal administration begins a redevelopment plan of the historic buildings of Crema, with the intention of allocating them to cultural use; in 1999 the San Domenico Foundation was born.
The convent, initially equipped with three cloisters, currently has only two. Magnificent traces of the era in which the complex was a monastery is the former refectory: the cycle of frescoes – dating back to the second half of the fifteenth century – as well as the effects of illusionism in depicting precious marbles on the walls. Today in this place is located the Foyer of the Teatro San Domenico.
On the square overlooks the majestic Austro-Hungarian Market, built by demolishing the third cloister of San Domenico in the mid-1800s. The place had a dual purpose: to celebrate the visit made by Francis I of Austria in Crema on May 17, 1825, and host the market of grains and linens, whose value was recognized since the centuries when the territory of Crema was under Venetian rule.
Terni de’ Gregori Palace
A few steps from Piazza Duomo, along the central Via Dante Alighieri, is Palazzo Terni formerly Palazzo Bondenti. It is undoubtedly one of the most characteristic buildings in the city. Eighteenth-century in Baroque style, it was built by the will of Count Nicolò Maria Bondenti.
At the center of the portico is the staircase of honor with four flights that give access to the main floor. The building is spread over two main floors and an attic. The windows have elegant frames with decorative terracotta motifs, while the two portals bear refined stone ornaments. Elegant wrought iron workmanship embellishes the balconies, windows, oval openings of the wall (which have celebratory statues of the family) and the gate.
The interiors are decorated with a complex of frescoes of the eighteenth century. Through the portal of the south arm you reach the garden with tall trees; in the courtyard to the east, enclosed by the three bodies of the building, overlooks an elegant portico with twin columns that support lowered arches.
The St. Augustine. The convent, the refectory, the cloisters
Turning your back on Palazzo Terni, on the right is the convent of Sant’Agostino, the heart of the cultural and artistic life of the city. The former convent complex now houses the homonymous cultural center, which includes the Civic Museum of Crema and Cremasco and numerous spaces used for events, concerts and temporary exhibitions.
Founded in 1439 to house the monks of the Hermits of St. Augustine congregation, the convent is linked to the Augustinian Observance of Lombardy phenomenon. The phenomenon of the Observances is a reform undertaken by the monastic and conventual orders between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that proposes a return to respect for the original rule. Crema was the mother house of the Augustinian observance in Lombardy and throughout the fifteenth century the convent was an important spiritual, cultural and political center.
In 1797, with the advent of the French and the establishment of the Republic of Crema, the convent was suppressed and destined to house barracks until the Second World War. Finally, in 1945 the convent was purchased by the Municipality of Crema and renovated to house the Museum and the Library.
A must-see is the refectory, which is the place where the friars gathered to eat while the sacred scriptures were read. The large room measures about 30 x 9 meters and is entirely frescoed. The paintings are the work of the painter Giovan Pietro da Cemmo flanked by various helpers. The work dates back to 1507. On the east wall is depicted the Last Supper: it is one of the first copies that takes up the painting made by Leonardo da Vinci in the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.
Entering and walking through the northern cloister you are immediately fascinated by the geometry of the architecture and the Gothic forms of the ogival arches of the ancient monastic complex. Here are exposed documents of recent city history, with inscriptions, epigraphs.
In the historic center of the city, between Via Rivafredda and Via Civerchi, there is Palazzo Benzoni, which I recommend you visit because, being home to the library, it is almost entirely open to visitors. It is a noble palace of the sixteenth century,
Structured around a quadrangular garden courtyard, it is striking for the sumptuous portal on the façade. The portal, which opens into the portico, flanked by pilasters, leads into the large staircase adorned with stucco statues leading to the main floor. Despite the interventions over the centuries, the interior of the palace has maintained the characteristics of a prestigious noble residence. The rooms on the main floor, which housed the home of the Benzoni family, where today the rooms of the library are located, have a wide variety of stuccoes that decorate doors and frame seventeenth-century paintings.
Santa Maria delle Grazie
It is a small sanctuary, located near Porta Ombriano, built in the early 1600s, has a simple façade of sixteenth-century taste, while the interior consists of a single hall covered by a barrel vault, ending with a small presbytery. I recommend the visit because the church welcomes the frescoes by Gian Giacomo Barbelli which gives grandeur to the church. Made in 1600 it is a valuable decorative cycle celebrating the stories of the Virgin.
The effect of spectacular perspective illusionism is achieved thanks to a complex compositional system. In the vault is depicted the Assumption of Mary, pushed upwards by an articulated square populated by fake statues of prophets and evangelists, in a triumph of musician angels; while above the presbytery, a little secluded, there is the Coronation of Mary.
On the side walls are depicted the apostles looking out from a balustrade in various attitudes, while on pilasters and cornices the artist has painted a multitude of cherubs celebrating. On the counter-façade and above the side door are frescoes “The Adoration of the Magi” and “The Rest during the Flight into Egypt”.
Basilica of Santa Maria della Croce
Outside the city walls is the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Croce. The sanctuary’s origin lies in the Virgin’s apparition to Caterina degli Uberti. On April 3, 1490, Caterina from Crema, was driving along the road to Bergamo with her husband Bartolomeo Pederbelli, known as Contaglio, originally from that city, when the man attacked her with a sword, leaving her agonizing in a forest at the edge of the road. The woman invoked Our Lady’s help so as not to die without having received the sacraments.
The Virgin, who appeared to Catherine, granted her request and allowed her to be rescued. The next morning the young woman was taken to Crema where she died after receiving the comfort of the sacraments from a priest. On the site of the apparition, now included in the crypt, took place on the day of Santa Croce (May 3, 1490) the first of many miracles attested that led to the decision to build a sanctuary.
The project highlights the transformation of Crema’s culture in a humanistic-Renaissance sense; it was edited by Giovanni Battaglio (Lodi, c. 1440 – c. 1500), a follower of the models of Donato Bramante and engineer of the city of Milan. The work began on August 6, 1490 with a grandiose procession of people and civil and religious authorities that paraded from the city to the place of the miracle.
Probably as a result of conflicts with the clients in 1499, Giovanni Battaglio left the direction of the construction site. He was replaced by master builder Antonio Montanari (documented since 1492) who finished the work around 1501; Antonio Montanari is responsible for the roof of the Basilica which, probably, in the original project of Battaglio had to consist of a dome of Bramante style.
In 1677 the Reformed Order of the Discalced Carmelites was established near the church, who built the large convent in 1706. They also erected the bell tower that flanks the basilica a few years later. The friars remained until the suppression of the convent in 1810.
The church is an imposing construction at the end of a tree-lined avenue. It has a central plan and was designed inspired by the canons of Lombard Renaissance architecture. Entirely made of terracotta, it is striking for its warm color alongside the green of the copper domes (material added in the twentieth century) and the white of the plaster.
The exterior is in four overlapping areas, with three orders of walkable galleries. The first order of galleries is composed of single-lancet windows, the second level appears more elaborate with a series of mullioned windows under which runs a decoration with small terracotta rosettes with the motifs of the flaming sun, the wheel and a complex geometric figure.
The last level consists of a late-Gothic gallery decorated with rosettes surmounted by a series of trefoil single-lancet windows.
The interior is the result of a demanding decorative work that took place over a long period of time; It is organized around an octagonal hall with four lateral arms that complete the Greek cross plan. A dome with eight segments covers the main compartment
Alternating with the four arms are as many semicircular chapels.
The realization of the painted panel of the altar in the main chapel was entrusted to Benedetto Rusconi, known as Diana (Venice, 1460 – 1525), who perhaps made it in 1501. The work represents the Assumption of the Virgin, the interest of the painting lies both in the importance of the commission to the affirmed Venetian painter and in the representation of the background where one of the very few testimonies of the image of the ancient castle of Porta Serio appears.
The side altars are decorated in stucco probably by the sculptor Giovanni Antonio Abondio of Ascona (about 1575-80). On the tympanum sit two female figures in stucco holding books. Inside the niches appear figures of prophets. The wall paintings (1585) are by Aurelio Gatti (Cremona, 1556 – Piacenza, 1602) except those of the chapel of the Andata al Calvario made entirely by Carlo Urbino (Crema, 1525 – 1585), author of both the frescoes and the altarpiece.
Between 1700 and 1702 the recently settled Discalced Carmelites commissioned the decoration of the main dome to the Valtellina Giacomo Parravicino (Caspano, 1660 – Milan, 1729) (figures) and to the Varese brothers Giovanni Battista Grandi (Varese, 1643 – Bizzozero, 1718) and Girolamo (Varese, 1658 – Milan, 1718) (quadrature) called for the execution of the Triumph of the Cross which occupies the eight internal segments of the drum.
Under the presbytery is the scurolo, which stands in the place where the Madonna appeared to Caterina degli Uberti. On the vault Giacomo Parravicino (Caspano, 1660 – Milan, 1729) painted the unfortunate young woman from Crema, taken to heaven towards the Madonna (1721). Behind the eighteenth-century marble altar there are two dressed wooden statues depicting the Virgin (seventeenth century) and Catherine degli Uberti (eighteenth century). At the bottom of the chapel there is a terracotta relief representing the Madonna and Child. It is a serial replica from a marble model by the Florentine sculptor Antonio Rossellino. The sculpture is the object of veneration because it is considered the protagonist of various tearing and eye movement miracles.
Crema Italy lake and beach: il Laghetto dei Riflessi (The Pond of Reflections)
The Laghetto dei Riflessi is a small lake in the Crema countryside near the Serio river. It is located in the Municipality of Ricengo, about 9 kilometers from the city starting from Piazza Garibaldi.
So Crema is not a town directly on the lake as there are other localities at Lake Maggiore, Garda, Como or Iseo and Crema is not a beach place. When people who live in Crema want to go and swim at a beach place they usually take at least half a day free, take the car or train, and go to Lake Iseo, Lake Garda, or in Liguria.
Anyway, the Laghetto dei Riflessi is a fascinating place, included in the Places of the Heart of Fai (Italian Environment Fund) and is a natural oasis near the river where some protected animal species live. Suggestive in all seasons, it has become a stopping place for migratory birds and others. For those interested in birds it is the ideal place and you can take some beautiful photos.
The Reflex Pond was chosen by the director Luca Guadagnino for the bathroom scene in the film ‘Call me by your name’, Oscar-winning and blockbuster. Even years after the release of the film, the Pond of Reflections attracts many tourists, especially foreigners.
Pond of Reflections how to get there?
Now I’ll explain how to get to the Laghetto dei Riflessi starting from Crema.
Leaving from Porta Serio (the gate located near Piazza Garibaldi) you have to reach the outskirts of Crema.
When you reach Canale Vacchelli you have to turn right and take the paved road that leads to Ricengo, entering the countryside. I advise you to cover it calmly, it would be better by bicycle; in Crema there are several bike rental points.
The Riflessi Lake can also be reached by car by taking the same route. Once you reach the paved road you need to park your car. The car park is located near the church (Castle area), then you can get there in 10 minutes on foot on a dirt road. The Parco del Serio (of which the Laghetto dei Riflessi is a part) has positioned a surveillance camera at the entrance to the area, which serves to film the license plates of those entering by car or motorbike.
Pond of Reflections bathroom: can you swim?
Is it possible to swim in the waters of the Riflessi Lake? Unfortunately, I have to answer no. Swimming in the Reflex Pond is strictly prohibited.
It is a rather widespread malpractice to dive into the waters of the lake following in the footsteps of Elio, one of the two protagonists of “Call me by your name”.
I remind you that the pond is a natural oasis near the river and requires respect for the fauna and the ecosystem. There has always been a ban on bathing, well signposted. Which is not a whim, it has important reasons. The prohibition was foreseen to protect the safety of visitors as these are unsupervised and dangerous areas, even for expert swimmers.
Furthermore, in relation to the protection of nature, it is important to understand that the use of these areas by visitors can disturb the fauna, which is removed from the feeding and possible nesting areas.
Visitare il Laghetto dei Riflessi può essere un’esperienza assolutamente piacevole ma mi raccomando: rigorosamente a piedi ed evitando assolutamente il bagno. Si può prendere il sole, passeggiare con il cane, leggere e riposare.
The Pond of Reflections: can you have a picnic?
Certainly, indeed I recommend it; the Riflessi lake has an equipped picnic area.
Crema things to do in one day?
The historic center of Crema is quite collected and easily visited on foot. Smaller than that of Cremona, it is also less known for tourists. The places described in our top 10 can be easily reached on foot, evaluating only how to reach the sanctuary of Santa Maria della Croce and the Laghetto dei Riflessi, just over two kilometers from the historic center.
‘Call me by Your name’ by Luca Guadagnino: the places of the film.
Crema, along with other places in Cremasco, is the city where “Call me by your name”, Guadagnino’s Oscar-winning film, was filmed. Although the book from which the film is based is set in Liguria, Guadagnino fell so in love with the beauty of the places in this area that he decided to set the film right here.
If you wish you can follow in the footsteps of Elio and Oliver; you can do it alone, but the municipality of Crema offers a guided walking or cycling tour to discover the places in the city center where the scenes of the film were shot. Many tourists in this way fell in love with Crema and its hidden and gentle beauty.
How much to stay in Crema?
To visit the historic center you need one day, if you want to visit the surroundings (Il Laghetto dei Riflessi and other places of the Cremasca companion) you should stop for two. The city is equipped with numerous B&Bs and there are several restaurants with various price ranges. From Crema you can easily reach other very beautiful cities to visit: Cremona, Bergamo, Brescia and Milan are all forty km away.
By train to/from Crema
From Milan you can easily get there by train (the ticket costs about € 5.50) with change in Treviglio and from Crema you can easily reach other cities of art such as Cremona, Brescia, Bergamo, Lodi.
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