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The Venetian Works of defence between 15th and 17th centuries

Date of Submission: 25/11/2013
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia
Ref.: 5846
Other States Parties participating
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The system composed by the Venetian Works of defence between 15th and 17th centuries is the proposed nomination of a serial transnational site to the World Heritage List; it is representative of the more complex defensive system, designed and built by the Serenissima Republic of Venice in order to control its territories and the commercial routes leading to the East.

The site extends for more than 1.000 km from the Pre Alps of Lombardy to the Eastern coast of the Adriatic, in the area between the western outpost (Bergamo, Italy) and the Bay of Kotor (Montenegro). Between the Stato di Terra (State of Land: Lombard-Venetian) and the Stato di Mare (State of Sea: Croatia, Montenegro), this unique and ancient enclave bears nowadays significant examples of the Venetian fortifications, important testimony of the interaction among peoples and, more in general, of the culture expressed by Venice in the world. 

The components of the nominated property summarize the most representative expression of the defensive system –still evident at present- conceived as a real network, where any fortified element played a precise role within a wide and unitary project. The Serenissima Republic of Venice, in fact, tests and completes in a vast territory a new defensive system – technically recognized as “alla moderna” (“modern style”)- characterizing the period of time between XV and XVII century.

During the first phase, that can be considered as “transitional”, Venice undertakes a series of interventions and experiments, revealing the evolution from the medieval warfare techniques to the new and modern defensive systems (end of XV century). But it is in XVI century that the most advanced Venetian military structures see their maximum diffusion as they were to resist the newly invented firearms. Finally the XVII century is characterized by the completion of the previously started works and by the improvement of the defensive techniques, which represent as a whole outstanding examples of the new military architecture.

The site is composed by a series of complex fortified systems (Bergamo), forts (Fort of Sant’Andrea in Venice), and fortified cities designed ex novo (Palmanova), or based on the reconstruction of existing structures (Peschiera del Garda). These structures are still highly connoting the urban and geo-morphological context they are in.

This extraordinary operation conducted by Venice at a such vast territorial scale was carried out thanks to an impressive circulation of professionals, the fortifications’ architects themselves and of a consistent heritage of treaties; at the same time, regulations, social models and new type of governance led Venetian culture to merge with the cultures from the Eastern Adriatic sea and from here, by land, to the East: all territories where numerous and various material and immaterial evidences of the Venetian centuries-old presence remain.

Because of this variety of aspects, the nomination proposal is representative of a system formed by a series of components which are interdependent from one another and, at the same time, constitute systems with their own precise and recognizable connotation.

Name(s) of the component part(s)

Defence system of Zadar, Zadar County N44 6 55.26 E15 13 30.62

Defence system o Šibenik, Šibenik-Knin County N43 44 14.91 E15 53 22.65

Fortified city of Korčula, Dubrovnik County, N42 57 41.13 E17 8 9.86

Description of the component part(s)

In order to achieve the most complete representativeness of the site, the selection of the Croatian and Montenegrian components with Zadar, Šibenik, Korčula and Kotor is representative of the most significant fortifications in the State of Sea, represents the connection between the mainland and the State of Land, here represented by the components of Croatia.

-    Defence system of Zadar;

-    Defence system of Šibenik;

-    Fortified city of Korčula


Due to its central geographical location in the Adriatic Sea, Zadar was the most important naval base of Serenissima outside the lagoons, the role it acquired after Venice purchased Dalmatia in 1409, and retained during the entire period of her dominance. Besides being a very suitable centre for loading commodities and goods and maritime trade, Zadar was also the seat of the governor-general, which made it the administrative centre of the Adriatic exceeded in significance only by Venice herself. Fundamental military and administrative functions were performed there. A medieval city, with a preserved Roman urban matrix, necessarily had to be protected by the new general defence plan and a project that engaged the best Venetian military engineers and architects (Beglione, Sanmicheli, Lorini, Sforza Pallavicino).

Basically, the latest Venetian architectural and military techniques were employed to separate Zadar’s historical peninsula from the mainland (1472) in order to ensure the protection of the urban centre. The line of fortifications facing the port was strengthened by three bastions (Moro, St. Roch and St. Demetrius), another one at the port entrance, and one on the position of the old citadel, after which it was named, Citadel Bastion or Chains Bastion (after the chains in the sea which were used to close the port). On the front side of the city towards the open sea, the two bastions were built (St. Francis’ and St. George’s) with lower wall height, because this part of defence system also included “porporelas”- stone barriers built in the sea. The southern city prospect was expanded to the east and west by the construction of two new narrow and protruding bastions (the bastion of St. Nicholas and Citadel because it built the remains of this medieval structure into its interior) with the crescent-shaped layout (mezza luna).

The landward face of the town is marked by the strong Grimani bastion or “pontoon” (behind which there is still the citadel tower of the Great Captain). In the curtain wall under the bastion there is Landward Gate or “Porta Terraferma” the masterpiece of M. Sanmicheli, which was used as the town’s main entrance from the land and was accessed (until 1870) over the drawbridge above the moat (“fossa”, a name which still lives on in the local expression “foša”).

On the landward side of the moat a vast Fortress named Forte, designed by Sforza Pallavicino, was erected replacing demolished suburb of St. Martin. On the plateau in the front of the fortress, a bulwark was made in the spirit of new technologies and war techniques. The military development of Zadar ends in the eighteenth century with the building of the Great Arsenal, a building supplementary to the military workmanship of the time, and of significant importance to Venetian economy because of all kinds of services rendered to the fleet in the harbour.


City of Šibenik was built in an extraordinary landscape and geomorphological context. A large inner bay, to which it is oriented, receives waters of the river Krka, while St. Nicholas’ channel connects it with the open sea.

The city has been under Venetian rule for a long period of time (1412-1797). In a significant way Šibenik represents military architectural development on land and sea by architectural features accomplished by architects and military engineers throughout three successive stages:

  • starting from the mid-fifteenth century, the medieval walls were reinforced, first by new towers on the landward side and the renewal of the Old citadel (St. Michel or St. Ana) at the north-western end, and then, in the seventeenth century, by constructing St. Catherine’s Baluardo and the Battery at their eastern end;

  • in the mid-sixteenth century the fort of St. Nicholas (1540-1547) was built, designed by Gian Girolamo Sanmicheli on the island of the same in St. Anthony’s channel as a defensive barrier from the sea;

  • in the mid-seventeenth century the Fort of St. John and the Fort Barone (1646) were built, on isolated hill tops above the city.

The forts outside the city are superbly preserved, both on hills and at sea. A part of medieval city walls is visible on north-western side, e.g. the Old Citadel.

Intervention at places most exposed to attacks, was planned in the closing stages, and presented in the project of Vincenzo Cappella (1553) as perfectly effective defence system and a central point of the Venetian defence system in the eastern Adriatic. 


Built on the peninsula by the sea channel, City of Korčula is well protected from the north by the mainland of Pelješac peninsula. The peripheral defensive walls, of medieval origin, fully enclose the historical city, both on the seaward and the landward side, fitting strikingly well in its urban historic core.

A defensive model adopted from Venice symbolically represents the architecture of the transition period of the late fifteenth century and actually significantly reinforces the existing ring by a series of precisely targeted alterations:

  • on the landward prospect, in the existing walls two large round towers were strengthened – in the eastern part Tower of all Saints (Torrione Capello), in the western part Duke Tower (Torrione Balbi) and between them the tower of the Great Revelin protecting the landward city gate (Porta di Terraferma);
  • on the seaward side a series of towers were built that stretch along the entire ring: the square tower of the sea gate (Porta di Mare), two semi-circular towers – Kanavelič and Zakerjan (Barbarigo and Tiepolo), and two small square towers on the east.

Both in Korčula as well as in Zadar, alterations were not limited strictly to defence system; in the southern part, between the Tower of all Saints and the Landward Gate, the Great Arsenal was built, a very prominent building even today, which was used for storing ship’s equipment, weapon and ammunition.

Venetian influence can be find today even in urban intangible heritage. A traditional sword dance Moreška that is performed during summer months, symbolizes the battle of Christians and Muslims in the memory of the naval battle between venetians and Arabs.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Venetian works of defence between 15th and 17th centuries represent an exceptional and unique example of defensive and unitary project (at a transnational scale today) realized and managed in a period of time and in a geographical area, the Republic of Venice’s territories, highly characterized by a certain lively way of think and action, that was able to elaborate and spread its culture with its own personal language.

The site shows, through its fortifications, designed and built by the most famous architects and military engineers of the time, the exceptional and enormous economic and design effort of the Venetian Republic, giving the vastness of the territory and the different morphological and functional conditions of each domain. These aspects made necessary to develop many typological solutions –whose most representative examples form the serial site- which constitute the diversified scenery of isolated forts, defensive systems and fortified cities, by the sea and on land.

These material evidences are closely connected to commerce, wars, strategic politic alliances and, above all, to the high management skill that allowed the Serenissima to assert itself as a big power in the Mediterranean for a long time (XI-XVIII centuries) and to have a leading power in the geo-political scenery between the West and the East.

During the first half of 1400, Venice was a great power with important terrestrial and maritime domains: it controlled the maritime and terrestrial routes that linked the Adriatic to the core of Europe, it dominated a big part of the Mediterranean, creating one of the widest Italian State, in which ancient Rome’s, Greek and Byzantine cultural models were taken as inspiration. Venice in fact, asserted itself as “the new and true Rome” and “the alternative to Byzantium”. Also arts and literature helped to support the myth and the image of Venice as an essential authority, recognized by the western and the eastern world.

As the conflicts encouraged by the emerging European powers and the Ottoman Empire increased, the sites vital to preserve and control the commerce on land and the maritime routes and to assure the wellbeing of the Republic, became vulnerable.

For all these reasons a big project on vast scale was put in place in order to assure the growth and the socio-cultural development of the Venetian settlements and it took the Republic all the following century to complete it. Therefore it was very important to guarantee the safety of the territories: the first experiments by architects and engineers designated by the Serenissima to create a “new art of fortifications”, involving both the military architecture and the very own structure of the cities themselves, which remoulded urban layouts and existing buildings.

The application of these new methodologies and techniques made Venice a dominant figure in the cultural debate concerning “modern style” fortifications, theoretically discussed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini in his famous Renaissance treaties and by Leonardo da Vinci: their relationship with Venice is well documented by many historical sources.

The skills and the building techniques were exported from the mainland territories to the maritime domains. Designers, materials and professionals, moved from the Republic of Venice and went working in the Venetian properties in the Adriatic.

The new unified vision of the defensive system based on the modernization of the fortification techniques, had Venice as its “heart and soul”, the domains on the inland as its ramparts and the coastal cities as the nodal points of a communication network to sustain the territorial and commercial policies of the Republic.

Criterion (ii): the complex of the venetian defensive works is an outstanding example of the interchange of influences and values between Venice and the diverse civilizations located along the Adriatic sea from the Middle Age and more intensively between XVI and XVII century. The exceptional administrative and managerial skills of the Republic of Venice allowed to spread the most advanced knowledge about fortifications, arts and, more in general, social models. This was channeled by a number of workers, operative tools, construction materials and arts in general and it is finds its more tangible and more complete testimony in the proposed defensive works. 

Criterion (iii): the site is representative of a varied heritage that testifies the Venetian cultural tradition and had its core in the Adriatic “Gulf”, mainly between XV and XVII century. The defensive structures and the landscape around them -carefully designed by the architects of the Serenissima- have kept their integrity or are still legible in their layouts, characterizing the facies of the proposed sites. Moreover the uniqueness and the outstanding value of the Venetian culture is testified by the rich publishing production with its worldwide known treaties, the presence in this area of cultural heritage objects referring to the city Capital and the numerous letters bearing witness of the communication between Venice and its faraway domains. All these written documents, conserved in many archives and collections, allow to retrace in details the fortunes of Venice. Beyond all the architectural and archive heritage, an endless and peculiar documental heritage, still perfectly conserved, contribute to assert the outstanding nature of the Venetian defensive system. 

Criterion (iv): the site is an outstanding example of defensive system generated by a unitary project and conceived to guarantee the safety of the maritime commerce and to protect the domains from invasions. Since the Venetian sites were particularly desirable, a branched communication network had to be established over a wide transnational territory. The generating element of the whole project was the use of the new fortification techniques experimented by the Venetian professionals after the widespread introduction of gunpowder and firearms: these advanced results became outstanding examples of "modern style" (“alla moderna”) fortifications, as exemplar models for next realizations.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The authenticity of the serial system is guaranteed as every element has conserved visible, in different shapes resulting from different typologies, the architectural, planning and landscape choices connected to the defense project wanted by the Serenissima. The structural features of the architectures have maintained their integrity, in the shapes and in the materials, although with a different function. Moreover one of the widest archive heritage in Europe testifies these extraordinary realizations.

In fact the documental sources, both written and cartography, perfectly match with the real places and significantly validate the influence of the Republic of Venice in the culture of the Adriatic sea between XV and XVII century.

The ensemble of the defensive works is a system, which includes the most significant examples of the different defensive typology connected by terrestrial and maritime routes along which commerce flourished, in a unitary territory comprising the State of Land and the State of Sea of the Republic of Venice.

Justification of the selection of the component part(s) in relation to the future nomination as a whole

Defence system of Zadar is the central most powerful defence system on the east coast of the Adriatic, built using the latest sixteenth century military building technologies. Geomorphic features of the protruding peninsula were used in an extraordinary way to protect the second most important port on the Adriatic, after Venice. It was the seat of the governor general and therefore the capital of Stato da Mar.

Defence system of Šibenik uses morphologic features both on land and at sea in the best possible way by building a new island fortress of St. Nicholas. In the city on land, the new fortification architecture is incorporated skilfully, transforming the inherited system. The fortresses on the surrounding hills complete the image of a heavily fortified town.

Fortified city of Korčula acquired its fortified aspect already in its medieval urban morphology. Alterations of Venetian administration purposefully complements the existing state and masterfully articulate a new appearance of the city as a blend of the medieval and the early modern architecture. Korčula is the most important and best preserved Venetian historical urban complex on the Adriatic islands.

Comparison with other similar properties

In order to underline the outstanding values expressed by The Venetian Forts of Defence between 15th and 17th centuries in the Eastern Mediterranean a comparative analysis with other sites already inscribed on the World Heritage List and similar in theme and characteristics was carried out.

The main features of the nomination proposal were taken as criteria for comparison, classified in a hierarchic order (as shown below by Figure 1.) which allowed to progressively restrict the selection and highlight the uniqueness of the Venetian works of defence.

As further verification, the previous results were confronted with the selection of sites obtained from a criteria comparison. Finally, among the sites already on the WHL for the criteria (ii) (iii) (iv), the serial ones concerning defensive works were chosen.

The comparison showed three sites that could be confronted with the Venetian works of defence: Kunta Kinteh Island and Related Sites (Gambia), Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions (Ghana), Fortifications of Vauban (France).

Theme and seriality: each case has a variety of fortified structures, realized to guarantee the defense of the territories of particular economic interests. The Venetian works are the most significant and numerous “modern style” fortifications, spread all over the Mediterranean basin.

System and/or route: the African sites are representative of a route along which the cultural interchange among different geographical realities developed. Except the Fortifications of Vauban (which are not located along a waterway)- Ghana, Gambia and Venice exploited a waterway –river or lake- as a generator element of each route (the river Gambia, the Gulf of Guinea, the Mediterranean).

Unlike the others, the Serenissima Republic of Venice built its cultural, economic and territorial primacy on the sea, controlling for centuries the Mediterranean basin.

Unitary project: the sites of Ghana and Gambia give a partial vision of the more spread phenomenon of the slavery, which involved more civilizations (Portuguese, English, Dutch, …), more Countries at an international level and many other navigation routes.

In fact the Gambia nomination presents an inhomogeneous design, testified by military and civil architectures, converted in time; the Ghana site shows a higher level of typological uniformity of the fortifications, which are however all located along the Guinea Gulf. As for the French site, it can be stated that the fortification of Vauban are not located along an itinerary, as for the previous cases. Whereas the completeness in the representation of the series and so in the unitary project which generated it, can be underlined in the proposed Venetian defensive works. 

The wide and articulated route in which the Venetian works have been selected, even in the complexity of the historical events, is highly representative of the Venetian culture and the defensive project of the Serenissima only.

In conclusion, the nomination proposal for The Venetian works of Defence between 15th and 17th centuries is very dissimilar from the abovementioned sites, because it is representative of the domination of a single civilization, the Venetian, spread in a multitude of Countries, all represented here, where its exceptional design and constructive knowledge was declined following the local language and habits and developed along a single route.

The uniqueness of the Venetian system is also shown by the typological variety of the military architecture; in fact the selection of sites means to underline the excellencies of the “modern style”, that are all those artifacts built between XV and XVII century by the main experts of the time. Each work (fortifications, walls, fortified city, …) played a precise role within the overall system, with a typology that followed the morphologic context. All these aspects concur to create a rich palimpsest of typological solutions, not found in other sites.

The state of conservation of the Venetian site still guarantees the legibility of the system at a macro and micro scale, not so visible in the Gambia and Ghana sites. In this sense represent an exception the fortification of Vauban, which are perfectly conserved and with a high typological and settlement variety.

The architectural typology conceived by Vauban represents a fundamental moment in the European military engineering, already experimented by the technicians of the Serenissima in the Mediterranean basin, where the Venetian culture’s spread involved not only the defensive apparatus, but more in general the socio-economic and settlement development.

To synthesize, from the comparison with the other sites on the WHL, emerges the outstanding values born by the Venetian defensive works, given their international scope, their seriality and the unitary project, which is deeply represented by the site. 

From the comparison with the other sites on the World Heritage List, emerges the outstanding character of the Venetian defensive works, given the international scale, the seriality and a unitary planning completely represented by the site.