Pavia

Pavia is a city of about 70,000 people located due south of Milan, and easily reachable from there by car or train. The city is best known as the home of the University of Pavia, which dates to the 1300s and counts explorer Christopher Columbus among its alumni. Pavia's other calling card is its status as a production center for a great deal of Italy's rice. If you're a fan of risotto, this is a darn good place to get it about as fresh from the earth as possible, at almost any restaurant that catches your fancy along the city streets. The two main tourist sites here are Certosa, which is a Carthusian monastery from the 1300s and 1400s, and Castello Visconteo, a late-1300s castle that today is home to Museo Civico, the city's museum.

Fact

Albert Einstein wrote his first scientific work, “The Investigation of the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields,” while living in Pavia with his family in the late 1800s. He was supposed to be at a boarding school in Munich, but used a doctor's note to persuade school officials that he was allowed to leave to be with his family in Italy.

Certosa

This monastery complex is noted for its Gothic and Renaissance architecture. It was under construction from the 1390s until the early 1500s. There is a noteworthy collection of stained glass windows here along with sculptures, frescoes, and other works you would expect of the Renaissance era.

Monks still live on the complex, so while you can look around, admission is by donation instead of purchased ticket, and you'll find no guided or audio tours. Remember to dress appropriately, with covered shoulders and long pants or a skirt that dips below your knees.

Castello Visconteo

Galaezzo II Visconti, part of the Visconti dynasty that ruled the city of Milan from 1277 until 1447, built this castle as a primary residence for his family in 1360 after taking over the city of Pavia. Though the structure itself is beautiful, Visconti himself was known as downright sadistic, being infamous for instituting a form of torture that predated the “breaking wheel,” upon which people were strung and then stretched and beaten to death over several days' or even several weeks' time.

Today, thankfully, no such horrors take place at Castello Visconteo, which now houses Pavia's Museo Civico, or city museum. Here, you can see collections of art and archaeological relics that detail the city's past, including a good bit about the Visconti family's era of command.

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