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Fortress Town of Palmanova

Date of Submission: 01/06/2006
Criteria: (i)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities
State, Province or Region:

Region: Friuli Venezia Giulia - Province: Udine

Coordinates: Region: Friuli Venezia Giulia - Province: Udine
Ref.: 1154
Cultural landscapes
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The fortress town of Palmanova, among the more important and better preserved examples of late Renaissance military architecture, was built by order of the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia in 1593. A better understanding of the reasons that induced the Venetians to erect Palma and to choose the site can be obtained by going back to the policy and culture of the previous century, both in Friuli and in Venice, and by taking into account the situation in Europe in relation to aspects concerning diplomacy, military technique and strategy as well as philosophic culture and catholic doctrine after the Council of Trent.

Between 1470 and 1499 the region of Friuli, under Venetian rule since 1420, had endured no less than seven Turkish raids from the Balkans. Apart from the fortress of Gradisca, the most important stronghold in Friuli as of 1479, Venetian defence works were obsolete and insufficient. In the event of a raid, only the walled city of Udine could give refuge to the population  and provide shelter for the harvest and military equipment; it was also the only defence against Turkish hordes wishing to continue towards Venice.

In 1500, in order to deal with the ever present threat of Saracen raids, the Venetians sent Leonardo da Vinci to Friuli and asked him to study the defence works on the river Isonzo and at Gradisca.

It was only when the Venetian senators got wind of  a Turkish plan for the invasion of the Imperial or Venetian plains that they decided to erect a real fortress, large enough to give refuge to a great number of people with their belongings.

Furthermore, when the conflict between Venice and Austria  reopened in 1500, the fortress of Gradisca had been taken over by the  Austrians; since then the Venetian eastern boundaries on the coast were exposed not only to the dangers of Turkish raids but also to the Austrian Empire's expansionist designs. These boundaries had become discontinuous with Venetian territories enclosed, leopard-skin wise, within Austrian territories and vice versa. Venice, therefore, decided to build a fortress ex novo, in a particularly strategic position of the Friulian plains: the junction between via  Julia Augusta and the strada Ungaresca (Stradalta). The fortress was named Palma to celebrate the twenty-second anniversary of Venice's victory against the Turks at Lepanto.

The project was established by a team of engineers, treatisers and knowledgeable military architects from Venice's fortifications department, among them the architect Giulio Savorgnan. Works began on October 7th 1593 and the Senate appointed Marc'Antonio Barbaro, first superintendent, or Provveditore Genrerale, of the fortress.     

Palma remained under Venetian rule for over 200 years (1593-1797), until it was conquered by Napoleon. Following the Treaty of Campoformio, it came under Austrian influence (1798 - 1805) and was then conquered and annexed to the Kingdom of Italy (1806 - 1814). After Napoleon's fall  Palmanova remained part of the heterogeneous Hapsburg Empire up to 1866, with only the brief  parenthesis of an uprising in 1848 when the fortress was besieged by Austrian troops. It was definitely united to the Kingdom of Italy as a result of  the plebiscite in 1866.

Palmanova, with its nine-pointed star structure, was conceived as an inexpugnable defensive system; it features three defence lines, the first two erected in Venetian times, the third one under Napoleon. The city maintains to this day the fortifications devised in the course of centuries as the  science of fortifications progressively developed innovative systems to deal with new requirements arising from the evolution of armaments.

Towards the end of the XVI century, the use of artillery determined the need for wide, low and  strong ramparts to protect the city within the walls. The designers conceived a first defence circle, surrounded by a moat, with nine arrow-shaped ramparts, (baluardi) supported by a wall in rock or brickwork, connected one to the other by nine straight ramparts (cortine), also supported by a wall, that gave the fortress its shape.  Essential were the guns, varying in size and range, positioned along the walls.

In mid 1600, the Serenissima further improved the fortifications by building another 9 ramparts or  rivellini, on the outside of the moat, in front of the straight ramparts of the first circle enclosing the city. The first rivellini, triangular ramparts supported by a wall, were erected opposite the city's gates, ever the weakest point of any fortress.

Finally, in 1806, Napoleon decided to modernize this "war machine" and one of the first measures taken to "bring Palmanova up to date" was to raze the three neighbouring  villages,  Ronchis, San Lorenzo e Palmata: the buildings, apart form providing a possible refuge for the enemy, also obstructed the field of vision and gun fire from the  stronghold. Then, under Chasseloup's supervision, work began on the third defence circle. Nine  lunettes, surrounded by a dry ditch, were erected further outwards, opposite the Venetian baluardi, to keep enemy artillery, with even the longest range, away from the city and military edifices. The lunettes, equipped with pillboxes, casemates and underground galleries (mine), could be accessed both from an external road and from a gallery running along the covered way near the ditch. 

The city surrounded by these three defence circles, presents an orderly, perfectly geometrical structure  around a large hexagonal piazza with, at the centre, a three-curbed well bearing the city banner.. All the city's main buildings overlook the piazza, in particular  the Palazzo del Provveditore Generale, built in 1598 for the Serenissima's delegate, highest civilian and military authority, that later housed a succession of generals, commandants and podestà. Six roads branch out from the piazza; three of them  (Borgo Udine, Cividale e Aquileia), lead to the city gates, the other three lead to the defence ramparts. These radial roads are intersected by four ring roads; the outermost one, Strada delle Milizie, runs along the city walls. The structure is conceived so as to allow the garrison to move rapidly from the hexagonal drill ground to any point along the city walls, wherever the need for additional defence may arise.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


Palmanova fulfils the criteria of authenticity as regards both the conception of  its urban structure and the defence works whose elements are perfectly identifiable.

The fortress town was classified as a  "National Monument" in 1960 by decree of the President of the Republic. All the fortifications and the whole urban area come under the protection of the national legislation concerning cultural heritage, (Decree n. 42/2004)

Comparison with other similar properties

Although there are  other star-shaped fortress towns in Europe, namely Hamins (Finland), Coevorden e Naarden (The Netherlands) and Neuf-Brisach (France),  Palmanova with its 7 km-long fortifications can be considered a  "unicum" in Europe also on account of the state of conservation of the town's structure and defences.