Prato della Valle is a 90,000 square meter elliptical square in Padua. It is the largest square in Italy, and one of the largest in Europe. Today, the square is a large space with a green island at the center, l'Isola Memmia, surrounded by a small canal bordered by two rings of statues.
Prior to 1635, the area was largely a featureless expanse of partially swampy terrain just south of the old city walls of Padova. In 1636 a group of Venetian and Veneto notables financed the construction there of a temporary but lavishly appointed theater as a venue for mock battles on horseback. The musical entertainment which served as prologue to the jousting is considered to be the immediate predecessor of the first public opera performances in Venice which began the following year.
In 1767 the square, which belonged to the monks of Santa Giustina became the public property of the city of Padua. In 1775 Andrea Memmo, whose statue is in the square, decided to reclaim and restructure the entire area. The entire project, which was never fully completed, is represented in a famous copper engraving by Francesco Piranesi from 1785. It seems that Memmo had commissioned this and other representations and kept them on exhibition at the Palazzo Venezia, the headquarters of the Embassy of the Republic in Rome. He did this in order to entice other important figures into financing the construction of statues to decorate the square. The project was approved by Domenico Cerato, professor of architecture at Vicenza and Padua.
Of particular interest are the benedictine Abbey of Santa Giustina, the neoclassical style Loggia Amulea, and the many interesting palazzi constructed between the 14th and the 18th centuries that surround the square.
Prato della Valle has, from the very beginning, taken its place in the hearts of Padovans who frequently refer to it as Il Prato. At various times it was also known as valley without grass because the number of trees prevented much grass from growing there. Today, however, it is completely covered with grass, and many small trees.
During the summer, the square is alive with large numbers of visitors who skate, stroll or study while tanning themselves in the sun. Summer evenings are marked by the presence of teenagers and young adults who chat until the early hours of the morning.
Today there are 78 statues (40 in the exterior ring and 38 statues in the inner ring), following the original plan there had been 88 statues. They were made from stone of Vicenza between 1775 and 1883 by various artists.References:
Les Invalides is a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building"s original purpose. The buildings house the Musée de l"Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and the Musée d"Histoire Contemporaine, as well as the burial site for some of France"s war heroes, notably Napoleon Bonaparte.
Louis XIV initiated the project in 1670, as a home and hospital for aged and unwell soldiers: the name is a shortened form of hôpital des invalides. The architect of Les Invalides was Libéral Bruant. The enlarged project was completed in 1676, the river front measured 196 metres and the complex had fifteen courtyards. Jules Hardouin Mansart assisted the aged Bruant, and the chapel was finished in 1679 to Bruant"s designs after the elder architect"s death.
Shortly after the veterans" chapel was completed, Louis XIV commissioned Mansart to construct a separate private royal chapel referred to as the Église du Dôme from its most striking feature. Inspired by St. Peter"s Basilica in Rome, the original for all Baroque domes, it is one of the triumphs of French Baroque architecture. The domed chapel is centrally placed to dominate the court of honour. It was finished in 1708.
Because of its location and significance, the Invalides served as the scene for several key events in French history. On 14 July 1789 it was stormed by Parisian rioters who seized the cannons and muskets stored in its cellars to use against the Bastille later the same day. Napoleon was entombed under the dome of the Invalides with great ceremony in 1840. In December 1894 the degradation of Captain Alfred Dreyfus was held before the main building, while his subsequent rehabilitation ceremony took place in a courtyard of the complex in 1906.
The building retained its primary function of a retirement home and hospital for military veterans until the early twentieth century. In 1872 the musée d"artillerie (Artillery Museum) was located within the building to be joined by the Historical Museum of the Armies in 1896. The two institutions were merged to form the present musée de l"armée in 1905. At the same time the veterans in residence were dispersed to smaller centres outside Paris. The reason was that the adoption of a mainly conscript army, after 1872, meant a substantial reduction in the numbers of veterans having the twenty or more years of military service formerly required to enter the Hôpital des Invalides. The building accordingly became too large for its original purpose. The modern complex does however still include the facilities detailed below for about a hundred elderly or incapacitated former soldiers.