The beauties of FVG
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PALMANOVA

Palmanova, the starry city

Translating the perfection of the idea into reality: few urban planners and architects were able to fully realize the project of an ideal city, traced on paper following the only imperative of achieving perfection. Vitruvius drew the plan of an ideal city, an octagon with a round square in the centre. Filarete imagined Sforzinda, architects and painters, in the sixteenth century, designed cities that responded to the canons of symmetry and reason.

Drawings, ideas, projects that in the vast majority of cases remained on paper, daring thoughts that necessarily had to come to terms with reality and come to terms with the topography of the places, the funds available, the interference of the clients.

And so Palmanova, a fortress-city that stretches with its nine points in the green of the Friulian plain, is truly a rare and emblematic case.

How to deal with the threat of new techniques of war and firearms? No longer with the high towers of the past, but with ramparts. Not bastions lined up, but ramparts that pushed with daring spikes towards the outside of the fortress, so as to hit the enemies on the flank as well.

An impregnable fortress in the shape of a star with nine points, perfect in its architectural symmetry and in its warlike efficiency: this was the idea around which Palmanova's project was born, an idea that took shape in 19 years, thanks to the intense work of the workers, who sometimes worked in shifts of more than four thousand workers.

The unmistakable starry plan was designed by Giulio Savorgnan, superintendent of the Venice Fortifications Office, and Vincenzo Scamozzi (one of the most illustrious architects of the sixteenth century) designed the bastions and the three monumental gates at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

Its construction, instead, bears the signature of a man of action, Marcantonio Barbaro, one of the five Provveditori Generali sent by the Serenissima in Friuli to try to identify the most suitable place to build a fortress to defend the eastern borders of the territory of the Republic of Venice. It was the autumn of 1593, and two were the problems that most plagued the Serenissima Senate: the ever-present danger of the expansionist aims of the Hapsburg Empire (with which Friuli was divided, at the end of a hard struggle triggered by the death of Leonardo, the last Count of Gorizia) and the threat of the fearsome Turks, who had sacked the Friulian plain at the end of the 15th century, and against whom the Venetian militias had no power.

The Venetian Proveditors, after having examined far and wide the Friulian plain, found the place they were looking for among the three small villages of Ronchis, San Lorenzo and Palmada, just over ten miles south of Udine, on the left of the river Torre. Marcantonio Marinega drew the main lines of the map on the ground, but the work was followed by Marcantonio Barbaro, to whom the Citadel owes its name: it was he who named it "Palma", in reference to the universal symbol of victory.

Surrounded by a triple circle of fortifications, with a ditch almost four kilometres long and at certain points over 30 metres wide, Palmanova still retains its original topographical layout, with streets that converge from the walls and ramparts in the large central square, in the shape of a hexagon, overlooked by the 17th century Cathedral. To access it, today as in the past, there are three gates, imposing and monumental, beyond the moat, once full of water: Porta Aquileia, Porta Cividale and Porta Udine. History took paths that the Venetians, when Palmanova was founded, could not foresee and therefore the town had a much quieter life than the one that, on paper, had been destined to it. Except for a brief period in the Napoleonic Era, in fact, Palmanova did not assume the defensive role for which it had been built. On the other hand, more and more soldiers than civilians lived there: except for particular episodes (as during the war against the Uskoks, when it hosted about ten thousand soldiers), its population was around two or three thousand people, mostly infantrymen, artillerymen, two cavalry companies and one of "cappelletti" on horseback (a kind of police) plus their families.

Its fame, however, crossed the borders of the Serenissima and, for two centuries, the starry city was considered the most fierce fortress in Europe. Now, well preserved, it represents a masterpiece of military engineering that boasts few equals at international level.