Cremona, Italy's home of the violin

RONAN O'CONNELL travels to Cremona, Milan's 'little brother' town famous for violin making

It’s not easy to compete with a city like Milan, a world fashion centre embellished by glorious architecture and historical sites. Yet its little brother Cremona manages to do just that. This stunning town, just one hour by train from Milan, is ripped straight from your Italian holiday fantasies — narrow cobblestone streets embellished by colourful old buildings, manicured parks, quaint cafes and ancient churches.

What makes it even better is that, for the most part, it’s just you and the locals. Cremona is overlooked by tourists. Despite being the world’s most famous hub of violin makers (luthiers), whose latest instruments can be seen hanging in the sun to dry outside their studios, few travellers make it here.

It was for a story on the luthiers that I came to Cremona, the birthplace of the violin. I was fascinated by the history of this ancient art form and the precise craftsmanship of luthiers such as Mr Lima. There are about 200 master luthiers in Cremona, a town of 70,000 people 80km south-west of Milan, Italy’s second-largest city.

Each year dozens more luthiers graduate from the town’s several famous violin-making academies. They are attracted by Cremona’s historic links to the instrument — the four-string violin was invented here in the 1500s by Andrea Amati.

Many of the world’s top violinists have their instruments hand made here. A new Cremona violin can cost as much as $80,000.

The history of this craft is explained in great detail at Cremona’s wonderful Museo del Violino. Particularly fascinating is the story the museum tells of Antonio Stradivari, the most renowned luthier in history. The Cremona man made more than 1000 violins across his career in the 17th and 18th centuries, some of which still exist, including a violin made in 1721 which sold for more than $20 million.

While it was the violins that brought me here, but it was Cremona’s charm that prompted me to linger, and it was in the public square named after Stradivari that I really fell under the town’s spell. A comfy chair, a cannoli pastry, a cold bottle of water and a glimpse of the magnificent Cremona Cathedral was all it took.

Later, I went to explore the nearly 900-year-old Romanesque cathedral, decorated by dozens of arches. Its interior is equally striking, embellished by intricate stucco work and wonderfully complex frescoes from the 15th and 16th centuries. Looming above it all is the cathedral’s monumental belltower.

Called the Torrazzo of Cremona, it stands 112m tall, one of the loftiest man-made structures on earth when it was built 700 years ago. More than 500 steps ascend to the tower. To climb them to the top was tiring. But the views were phenomenal. As I looked out across this pretty town of violins I did as the Italians do: savour the moment.

This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.

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