Palmanova: Ideal city of the Renaissance

Picnic on the Bastions

Traditionally on Easter Monday Italians go for the first picnic of the season. Traditionally this day is also spoiled by bad weather, but not this year. Though nippy and with a promise of rain, it did hold to the evening. One of the best places to go for such a countrified event is on the bastions of Palmanova. There is green space for everybody and lots of parking space.

It is an uncommon town shaped as a nine-pointed star in northeastern Italy (Coordinates 45°54′N 13°19′E). The town was built by the Venetians in 1593, as the Republic of Venice wanted to curb Turkish invasions. It is a concentric city with the form of a star, with three nine-sided ring roads intersecting in the main military radiating streets.

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The town had been a Venetian dominion for over 200 years (1593-1805), until General Bonaparte conquered it. After the Treaty of Campoformido the fortress entered the Austrian Empire’s area (1798-1805); and then it was conquered by the Kingdom of Italy (1806-1814). After Napoleon’s defeat Palmanova became part of the Hapsburg Empire until 1866. Palmanova was finally annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.

During World War I, Palmanova was a military center for hospitals, warehouses, and an exercise field for drilling troops.

Palmanova is embedded in three sets of walls: the 1st set of Walls dates1593 – 1620; the 2nd set of Walls dates 1665 – 1683; and the 3th set of Walls 1806 – 1809.

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The Entryways
Still today, the entryway to town of Palmanova through the three Monumental Gates attributed to Vincenzo Scamozzi; The Gates are the only buildings visible from the outer Fortress and partly preserved the original architectonic characteristics. The outer facade, contrasts with the severity of the inner forms, which enhance the rather military practical function.

The Gates
Gate Udine (1604-1605) was built, together with Gate Cividale, in 1605. This gate houses two big wheels which were used to lift the drawbridge.

Gate Aquileia. The first Gate to be built (1598). The external façade is refined by two vaults that embrace the sentry box. Under the sentry box on the moulding there was the great St. Mark’s Lion made of stone which was demolished by the French in 1797.

Gate Cividale (1604-1605). This gate, along with gate Udine, has a simpler line. On the facade, St. Mark’s lion lay inside the moulding which is above the keystone. In the inside yard there were rooms for the guards and the officers on duty, and for the officer responsible for the goods in transit and for the movement of people.

The Downtown
The Piazza Grande, a square hexagon, to which all the main edifices of the city open, is built in Istrian stone. It is rather bare in my modest opinion. A green lawn with trees and benches would be more appealing, especially in the summer months. The cathedral is located in front of the town hall is noteworthy; it is not sure the identities of the architects but may have been Vincenzo Scamozzi and Baldassare Longhena. The bell tower of the cathedral, erected in 1776, was deliberately made short because enemies attacking the city should not be able to see the cathedral from outside the city walls.


The Bastions
Walking through the Bastions is a joy for military-history lovers, or for the Game of Thrones enthusiasts. I do wonder why they did not filmed in here too!

There are Ramparts or Bastions : a wide arrow-shaped bank of earth enclosed in a stone or brick wall. Cavaliere : a higher bank of earth at the end of each curtain. Cortina or Curtain : a straight bank of earth, with a stone or brick wall, linking two ramparts. And even Rivellini or Counter-Gates; The counter-gates in front of the gates, were built in the second half of 1600, and determined a new way to enter the fortress.

On the two sides, between these fortifications and the ditch, two counter-gates were built for different purposes. The first defended the covered path which ran around the rivellino, the second was used for the passage of charts and people, therefore it had a wider roadway.

Throughout its entire history Palmanova was besieged only three times up to 1850. Perhaps its shape was an excellent deterrent! Though the town was heavily bombed during WWII.

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I lived the most part of my life in Washington DC, now in Italy getting to know again my country. Plenty of surprises, for good and bad, and lots of nostalgia for DC.

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