Prato della Valle

Padua, Italy

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.

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    Founded: 1636
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    Pembroke Castle

    Pembroke Castle is a Norman castle, founded in 1093. It survived many changes of ownership and is now the largest privately owned castle in Wales. It was the birthplace of Henry Tudor (later Henry VII of England) in 1457.

    Pembroke Castle stands on a site that has been occupied at least since the Roman period. Roger de Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury founded the first castle here in the 11th century. Although only made from earth and wood, Pembroke Castle resisted several Welsh attacks and sieges over the next 30 years. The castle was established at the heart of the Norman-controlled lands of southwest Wales.

    When William Rufus died, Arnulf de Montgomery joined his elder brother, Robert of Bellême, in rebellion against Henry I, William's brother and successor as king; when the rebellion failed, he was forced to forfeit all his British lands and titles. Henry appointed his castellan, but when the chosen ally turned out to be incompetent, the King reappointed Gerald in 1102. By 1138 King Stephen had given Pembroke Castle to Gilbert de Clare who used it as an important base in the Norman invasion of Ireland.

    In August 1189 Richard I arranged the marriage of Isabel, de Clare's granddaughter, to William Marshal who received both the castle and the title, Earl of Pembroke. He had the castle rebuilt in stone and established the great keep at the same time. Marshal was succeeded in turn by each of his five sons. His third son, Gilbert Marshal, was responsible for enlarging and further strengthening the castle between 1234 and 1241.

    Later de Valence family held Pembroke for 70 years. During this time, the town was fortified with defensive walls, three main gates and a postern. Pembroke Castle became de Valence's military base for fighting the Welsh princes during the conquest of North Wales by Edward I between 1277 and 1295.

    Pembroke Castle then reverted to the crown. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the castle was a place of peace until the outbreak of the English Civil War. Although most of South Wales sided with the King, Pembroke declared for Parliament. It was besieged by Royalist troops but was saved after Parliamentary reinforcements arrived by sea from nearby Milford Haven. Parliamentary forces then went on to capture the Royalist castles of Tenby, Haverfordwest and Carew.

    In 1648, at the beginning of the Second Civil War, Pembroke's commander Colonel John Poyer led a Royalist uprising. Oliver Cromwell came to Pembroke on 24 May 1648 and took the castle after a seven-week siege. Its three leaders were found guilty of treason and Cromwell ordered the castle to be destroyed. Townspeople were even encouraged to disassemble the fortress and re-use its stone for their purposes.

    The castle was then abandoned and allowed to decay. It remained in ruins until 1880, when a three-year restoration project was undertaken. Nothing further was done until 1928, when Major-General Sir Ivor Philipps acquired the castle and began an extensive restoration of the castle's walls, gatehouses, and towers. After his death, a trust was set up for the castle, jointly managed by the Philipps family and Pembroke town council.

    Architecture

    The castle is sited on a strategic rocky promontory by the Milford Haven Waterway. The first fortification on the site was a Norman motte-and-bailey. It had earthen ramparts and a timber palisade.

    In 1189, Pembroke Castle was acquired by William Marshal. He soon became Lord Marshal of England, and set about turning the earth and wood fort into an impressive Norman stone castle. The inner ward, which was constructed first, contains the huge round keep with its domed roof. Its original first-floor entrance was through an external stairwell. Inside, a spiral staircase connected its four stories. The keep's domed roof also has several putlog holes that supported a wooden fighting-platform. If the castle was attacked, the hoarding allowed defenders to go out beyond the keep's massive walls above the heads of the attackers.

    The inner ward's curtain wall had a large horseshoe-shaped gateway. But only a thin wall was required along the promontory. This section of the wall has a small observation turret and a square stone platform. Domestic buildings including William Marshal's Great Hall and private apartments were within the inner ward. The 13th century keep is 23 metres tall with walls up to 6 metres thick at its base.

    In the late 13th century, additional buildings were added to the inner ward, including a new Great Hall. A 55-step spiral staircase was also created that led down to a large limestone cave, known as Wogan Cavern, beneath the castle. The cave, which was created by natural water erosion, was fortified with a wall, a barred gateway and arrowslits. It may have served as a boathouse or a sallyport to the river where cargo or people could have been transferred.

    The outer ward was defended by a large twin-towered gatehouse, a barbican and several round towers. The outer wall is 5 metres thick in places and constructed from Siltstone ashlar.

    Although Pembroke Castle is a Norman-style enclosure castle with great keep, it can be more accurately described as a linear fortification because, like the later 13th-century castles at Caernarfon and Conwy, it was built on a rocky promontory surrounded by water. This meant that attacking forces could only assault on a narrow front. Architecturally, Pembroke's thickest walls and towers are all concentrated on its landward side facing the town, with Pembroke River providing a natural defense around the rest of its perimeter.