Palmanova: Star Among Towns in Italy

Like a time capsule, Palmanova remains almost unchanged since the time of Napoleon. Founded by Venice as the ideal of a Renaissance town, it was intended to keep the Turks and Austrians alike from getting a hold on the Friuli. 



October 7th 1593, the Grandees of Venice decided to build the town Palma from scratch based on the newest military science. The date was chosen with care as the Turks had been defeated by a European alliance at Lepanto on that day in 1571. In the church calendar this date is St. Justin’s Day who was made patron saint of the new town accordingly.

The town was designed as a nine-pointed star with broad roads running from the central plaza straight to the battlements allowing for fast troop movement to any required point. The design reflected the fact that the square walls of existing towns proved to be too weak for modern bombardment.

Palma was designed for 20,000 inhabitants but never even reached 6,000. Its sterile planning and building made it highly unpopular for Venetians to move there, and the Doge had to recruit criminals with further inducements over their freedom to settle there. Being sent there by your superior meant that you had botched your career or were just highly unpopular with your superior.

Ironically, the only time Palma saw itself directly involved in any war was when the formal surrender of the Republic of Venice was signed there in 1797. Napoleon ceded Palma to the Austrians shortly after, before taking it back to integrate it in the new Italian Kingdom of 1805. The town became his headquarters and was renamed Palmanova. He added modern military buildings and a further star formed wall even further out from town to keep out bombardments of modern artillery. He also levelled three villages situated in the surrounding plain to prevent sneak attacks.

After the dissolution of the (French) Italian Kingdom, the town fell back to the Habsburg Empire until it was annexed into modern Italy in 1866. After Napoleon, the town lost all strategic importance and went back to sleep. It became a major staging area for the Italian army during the Great War. But it remained a time capsule and was designated a historic site of major importance by the Italian government in 1960.

Palmanova is situated only 20 kilometres (13 miles) from Udine near the Slovenian border. The town is well worth a visit to get the feeling for what life was like in the past centuries. It has, besides the overall completeness, several beautiful buildings like the cathedral with its enormous coloured glass window showing the lion of Saint Mark (as a political statement, not a sign of piety). The cathedral has an extremely low tower, a further sign of the military character of the town, so as not to give away the town centre to the enemy. There are several Venetian style palaces from the time of its inception as well.


Further reading
San Marino: The World's Oldest Republic
Cosmati Mosaics: Recycled Art
Independent Corsica