The Venetic people were the first to elect Este as their cultural centre. Since then the city, renowned for its majestic city wall, has maintained this cultural vocation, hosting such artistic talents as Shelley, Byron (guests at Villa Kunkler) and Debussy. Indeed, the entire city centre has a wealth of artistic and architectural monuments to charm the visitor. The Gothic buildings from the Scaliger age and the City Hall in Piazza Maggiore; the Museo Nazionale Atestino (Atestino National Museum), one of the most important archaeological museums in Italy, the Cathedral of Santa Tecla that houses an altar-piece by Giambattista Tiepolo. These are only a few of the gems you can behold within the walls of the city that takes its name from the great Estensi dynasty. The villas with their sumptuous gardens are also worthy of note: for example, who can resist admiring the view of the secret hortus of Villa Contarini or the park that Giuseppe Jappelli designed for Villa Cornaro-Benvenuti.
The town of Este was named after the river Adige, or Athesis in Latin, which ran in this territory until the year 589 when a devastating flood recalled by Paolo Diacono moved its course a few kilometres southward. The conquest of the Veneto by the Romans was a peaceful process: the people of the Veneto joined forces with the Romans against the Gauls, and Este became a Roman colony. Este proved able to preserve its administrative independence until the end of the Roman Republic, while the centralization of the political power in the Roman Empire prevented the continuation of past magistratures. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the town of Este was wrecked by Attila’s troops and came to a mere rural village. The town rose again after the 10th century, when its feudal lord Azzo – later to be called Azzo II d’Este – built a castle there. The Lords of Este, having received the title of marquis, initiated one of the most important Italian dynasties and moved their capital city to Ferrara (1239). Conquered twice by Ezzelino da Romano, who had its castle pulled down (in 1238 and 1249), in the 14th century Este was disputed by the della Scala, the da Carrara and the Visconti Houses until it surrendered spontaneously to Venice in 1405. This marked the beginning of a long period of peace. Under the rule of Venice Este experienced a period of economic and demographic growth, which was unfortunately interrupted by the tragic plague of 1630. The administrative reorganization by Napoleon and the rise of the middle class gave new thrust to the town governors, who promoted various initiatives of great interest as the establishment of the museum called Museo Nazionale Atestino and the opening of public schools. The development of Este continued also after it was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy, in 1866.