The origin of Ferrara is uncertain. It was probably settled by the inhabitants of the lagoons at the mouth of the Po.
Historical records are found only at the time of the Lombard king Aistulf in 754, when the city was part of the Exarchate of Ravenna.
Independent until 1101, Ferrara was then mainly dominated by several great families, among them the Adelardi and in 1146 the Este.
The Este family has been known as the most powerful family in Ferrara as it succeeded in strengthening its position.
Under Nicol?II (reigned 1361?88) there was built the famous Este Castle, the work of the architect Bartolino da Novara, which became a symbol of the power of the city of Ferrara and a sure defense against external dangers.
The reign of Nicol?III (1393?1441), son of Alberto, marked the strengthening of Estensi domination in Ferrara and the introduction of Estensi influence generally in Italian politics.
With Leonello (reigned 1441?50), Ferrara developed considerable distinction in the fields of art and culture. Leonello reign was one in which Ferrara represented a lively centre of culture and humanism, filled with painters like Pisanello, Jacopo Bellini, Rogier van der Weyden, Andrea Mantegna, and architects like Leon Battista Alberti.
Dukes of Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio. Leonello’s brother and successor, Borso (reigned 1450?71) rule increased the city of aesthetic and cultural prestige.
Beatrice and Isabella, married into the Sforza and Gonzaga families, thus sealing the Este’s status as one of the most glittering of Renaissance dynasties.
Alfonso I, married Lucrezia Borgia, who continued to support the retinue of artists and poets, patronizing Titian and Ariosto – as did the last Este duke, Alfonso II, who invited Tasso and Guarini to his court.
Visitors came to hear the spectacular productions of the Este musicians, the activities of which mostly ceased in 1598 with the demise of the Este court.
The town remained a part of the states of the Church, being occupied by the Austrian from 1832 until 1859, when it became part of the kingdom of Italy.