PAVIA, 55km south of Milan, is close enough to be seen on a day-trip, yet retains a clear identity of its own. A comfortable provincial town with an illustrious history, it boasts one of the masterpieces of Italian architecture in the nearby Carthusian monastery, the Certosa.
Founded on an easily defendable stretch of land alongside the confluence of the Po and Ticino rivers, Pavia was always an important staging post en route to the Alps. Medieval Pavia was known as the city of a hundred towers, and although only a handful remain, the medieval aspect is still strong, with numerous Romanesque and Gothic churches tucked away in a wanderable web of narrow streets and cobbled squares. The town reached its zenith in the Dark Ages, when it was capital of the Kingdom of the Lombards: emperors – including Charlemagne in 774 and Frederick Barbarossa in 1155 – subsequently came to Pavia to receive the Lombards' traditional iron crown. This all came to an end in the fourteenth century when Pavia was handed over to the Viscontis and became a satellite of Milan.