The great feature of Piacenza is its famous piazzaa romantically, picturesquely perfect square, surpassing the most daring at-tempts of the scene-painter, and realizing a poet’s dreams. The space is considerable, and many streets converge upon it at irregular angles. Its finest architectural feature is the antique Palace of the Commune : Gothic arcades of stone below, surmounted by a brick building with wonderfully delicate and varied terra-cotta work in the round-arched windows. Before this façade, on the marble pavement, prance the bronze equestrian statues of two Farnesiinsignificant men, exaggerated horses, flying draperyas barocco as it is possible to be in style, but so splendidly toned with verdigris, so superb in their bravura attitude, and so happily placed in the line of two streets lending far vistas from the square into the town beyond, that it is difficult to criticise them seriously. They form, indeed, an important element in the pictorial effect, and enhance the terra-cotta work of the façade by the contrast of their color.
The time to see this square is in evening twilightthat Wonderful hour after sunsetwhen the people are strolling on the pavement, polished to a mirror by the pacing of successive centuries, and when the cavalry soldiers group themselves at the angles under the lamp-posts or beneath the dimly lighted Gothic arches of the palace. This is the magical mellow hour to be sought by lovers of the picturesque in all the towns of Italy, the hour which, by its tender blendings of sallow western lights with glimmering lamps, casts the veil of half-shadow over any crudeness and re-stores the injuries of time ; the hour when all the tints of these old buildings are intensified, etherealized, and harmonized by one pervasive glow. When I last saw Piacenza, it had been raining all day; and ere sundown a clearing had come from the Alps, followed by fresh threatenings of thunder-storms. The air was very liquid. There was a tract of yellow sunset sky to westward, a faint new moon half swathed in mist above, and over all the north a huge towered thunder-cloud kept flashing distant lightnings. The pallid primrose of the West, forced down and reflected back from that vast bank of tempest, gave unearthly beauty to the hues of church and palacetender half-tones of violet and russet paling into grays and yellows on what in daylight seemed but dull red brick. Even the uncompromising façade of St. Francesco helped; and the dukes were like statues of the “Gran Commendatore,” waiting for Don Giovanni’s invitation.