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Vila Viçosa, Renaissance ducal town

Date of Submission: 31/01/2017
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Portugal to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Alentejo, Vila Viçosa
Coordinates: N38 46 44.25 E7 25 4.37
Ref.: 6214
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

The property includes:

  • The historic town centre of Vila Viçosa;
  • The hunting reserve known as Tapada Real (which extends into the municipalities of Vila Viçosa, Borba and Elvas).

A buffer zone has also been drawn up, including rural areas and recent urban areas, in order to protect the property.

Vila Viçosa is inseparably connected to the House of Braganza, the royal and noble Portuguese dynasty founded in 1442. The town was associated with the power built up by Dom Afonso (1377-1461), the 1st Duke, who was succeeded by Dom Fernando, and it became part of one of the two most powerful houses in the Portuguese kingdom. A frontier land, its strategic position would justify Dom Fernando being created Marquis of Vila Viçosa in 1455. Dom Fernando was to become responsible for protecting Portugal against any raids from Castile and became Duke of Braganza, Marquis of Vila Viçosa and Count of Arraiolos.

Favouring the town with his presence, Dom Fernando (1403-1478), the 2nd Duke of Braganza, chose the town to begin to build the seat of the great House he had inherited. This explains why Vila Viçosa then developed a Court that revolved around this great dynastic House. When he died there, Dom Fernando had sown the seeds for the development of Vila Viçosa as the seat of a ducal court of the House of Braganza.

After several setbacks, Dom Manuel I (1469-1521) granted Vila Viçosa a new Charter in 1512 and it never again lost its brilliance as the seat of the Ducal House, with urban growth notable for grand houses and their gardens. Likewise, churches and monasteries were built and the local Misericórdia, a Portuguese charitable foundation originally set up in Lisbon in 1498 by Queen Leonor, was founded. Testimonies of those buildings have survived until the present day. The same can be said of its strengthening as a military fort.

Indeed, the indelible marks left by the House of Braganza, resulting from the systematic nature of the ducal presence, are still clearly visible in Vila Viçosa today and were the driving force for its social and spatial organisation, resulting in a situation that is quite exceptional in the Portuguese context. The town achieved an unprecedented status in the second half of the 16th century, which continued during the Dual Monarchy (1580-1640) and changed the everyday life of the people of Vila Viçosa. The House and “State” of Braganza were undoubtedly one of the most important places in the kingdom in the 16th century and a centre of projection of power. All these reasons make the metaphorical description of this Alentejo town as a “ducal town” in fact the true reflection of a situation that has lasted over the years. Indeed, this link between Vila Viçosa and the history of Portugal only increased, due to the decisive role that it played in the restoration of Portuguese independence in 1640.

Most of the buildings in the town have two storeys, the ground floor generally used for services or trade. In general, the upper storey is exclusively for residential use. Situated in a region of recognised geological importance, the extraction and use of marble over many hundreds of years brought about the most visible and profoundest technological, social and artistic transformations in the municipality of Vila Viçosa, creating a specific artistic language laboriously moulded over the years. With the widespread use of marble, adorning interiors and exteriors of buildings and covering streets and squares, Vila Viçosa gained individual and unique features. The composition and creativity of the architecture, the originality of the construction and the whole urban layout of Vila Viçosa, a veritable “city of marble”, indubitably reflect this valuable, unique and irreproducible geological substratum that can be experienced today, constituting a living catalogue of the application of marble. Marble from Vila Viçosa, in its many different shades, has been taken to every continent, creating an impressive international museum, without borders.

The Tapada Real of Vila Viçosa is situated north-east of the town. This is a former royal hunting ground that originally consisted of the Herdade do Mato, between the Borba and Asseca streams, and was greatly expanded by various heads of the House of Braganza. It currently covers an area of more than 1500 hectares, with lands in the municipalities of Vila Viçosa, Borba and Elvas (namely in the parish of Terrugem). There are six gates in the high wall that surrounds the Tapada. With a rich and varied fauna and flora, the Tapada Real has always been populated by game species - red deer, fallow deer and wild boar -, delighting the monarchs of the Braganza dynasty and royal retinues. A “famous place of delights”, as it was called, more than three hundred years ago, by Lorenzo Magalotti, chronicler of Cosimo III de’ Medici’s visit to Portugal, in 1669, the Tapada Real also has three chapels - dedicated to St Eustace, St Jerome and Our Lady of Bethlehem - and a hunting lodge built by Dom Teodósio I, in 1540, on the banks of Borba stream.

In 1502, with the construction of the Reguengo palace outside the town walls, on an agricultural area adjoining the original urban core, following the return from exile of the 4th Duke, Dom Jaime (1479-1532), and the consequent change in understanding of the family residence and of urban perception, the strategy to affirm the ostentation of the ducal house was implemented by this means. In the territorial context, a need was felt to define the Tapada, which was then delimited with rammed earth walls, around the Mato estates, in order to establish the hunting reserve, this being a common practice in Iberian seigniorial domains. Today, the Tapada of Vila Viçosa is considered the largest game hunting reserve in Europe.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Urban expansion in Vila Viçosa in the 16th century represents (alongside European cities such as Ferrara and Urbino in Italy, inscribed on the World Heritage List) one of the first examples of the implementation of Renaissance urban ideals that progressively expanded to other regions of the world (such as Mazagan or El-Jadida, in Morocco, and the Island of Mozambique, in Mozambique).

Two significant and singular features of Vila Viçosa also make it unique in the world: the intensive use of marble in its buildings, streets and squares and the historical and landscape heritage of the Tapada Real, a large hunting reserve, the integrity of which has resisted the passage of time.

Criterion (ii:) The different urban layouts of Vila Viçosa unequivocally illustrate the town-planning culture of each of its five major phases of growth:

a) The original walled urban core, of medieval foundation and characteristics, but with a grid plan from the late 13th century, which has survived in part;
b) The first expansion outside the walls during the 14th and 15th century, still of medieval origin and on narrow stretches along the road from Alandroal to Estremoz;
c) 16th-century urban expansion, which changed the character of the town, opening two squares with differentiated functions, one of which, the Praça do Paço Ducal, of greater symbolic importance and representative of seigniorial political power (early 16th century); and another, at the southern edge of the grid, on the axis of the alcáçova (fort) and the so-called Porta de Évora gate;
d) The fortification work in the 17th century, with construction of bastions, which led to various modifications in the surrounding urban fabric that did not however destroy the essential characteristics of the urban pattern consolidated in the previous century;

An erudite knowledge of town planning is apparent in all these phases listed above. Nevertheless, it is above all the construction of the medieval urban core within the alcáçova, on a grid, representative of the family of planned medieval cities of the 13th century, and the early 16th-century expansion that we currently recognise as testimonies of architectural and town-planing trends of international importance.

Criterion (iv): Vila Viçosa constitutes an example of a historic town centre outstanding for its town-planning and architectural conceptions and illustrates several periods of human history, notably in its pioneering Renaissance features, articulated with its medieval legacy.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity
Vila Viçosa is a rare example of a town where we can still appreciate, in all its authenticity, a singular town-planning project that reconciles a Renaissance model of the urbe with a pre-existing medieval urban core, generated around the alcáçova palace. The authenticity of Vila Viçosa and the values currently associated with it are not restricted to that historical moment. They go beyond it to include all stages of the town’s growth, as well as the close surrounding geographic environment.

Also notable are aspects such as the fusion between erudite values arising from the singular 16th-century town-planning project and traditional values, deriving from popular known-how and the use of the forms and materials most easily available in the region, particularly marble; the articulation between the town and its geographic setting; the persistence of physical traces of the assumptions underlying each period of its history; the form and design of the most important buildings and their location in the urban fabric; the form and traditional materials used in residential buildings and still found today.

Intergrity
The area which is the subject of this nomination maintains with a high degree of integrity all the elements necessary to express universal value, particularly with regard to Renaissance town planning:
i) The urban form defined by the layout of the streets and by the parcelling of land. The relationships between the different urban spaces, particularly the location of the squares and the articulation with the medieval urban structure;
ii) The more important buildings;
iii) The form and appearance of buildings, the volumes, scales, use of marble and whitewash and, in many cases, the decoration remaining intact;
iv) The articulation with the external environment on various fronts, the relationship with the Tapada Real remaining intact;
v) The defensive system, the artillery castle and various bastions remaining intact.

Comparison with other similar properties

The 16th-century expansion plan for Vila Viçosa reflected the most erudite theories of its time with regard to town planning and it is currently recognised that this innovative form of town-planning was also used in cities built by the Portuguese, currently inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Angra do Heroísmo (Azores, Portugal) - Angra was first settled in the second half of the 15th century and was consolidated in terms of its town-plan in the second half of the 16th century. During that century, the centre grew from a small settlement on the top of a hill to a consolidated Renaissance layout that associates geometrically regular and hierarchical streets with squares on which the most important buildings can be found, delimiting the civic centre.

Salvador da Bahia (Brazil) - The upper town of Salvador da Bahia, founded in 1549, with a regular layout adapted to the characteristics of the terrain, very similar to Portuguese towns and cities, with several squares and a structuring street network.

Mazagan, or El Jadida (Morocco) - The city of Mazagan, built in the 16th century, is an example of Renaissance town planning and military fortification. The Italian military architect Benedetto da Ravenna worked on it (together with Diogo de Torralva and João de Castilho, in addition to the Arruda brothers), some Portuguese authors also naming him as a possible designer of or contributor to the overall Renaissance design in Vila Viçosa.

Island of Mozambique (Mozambique) - The fortified city, founded in the 16th century by the Portuguese, presents a Renaissance layout and corresponds to the expansion of a prototype established in Portugal that subsequently spread to territories marked by Portuguese settlements and presence.

It is also important to understand the value of Vila Viçosa, when compared with European cities currently considered outstanding examples of Renaissance town planning, in particular:

Ferrara (Italy) - The city and literary court of the Este presents a district with a Renaissance layout induced by the construction of the Palazzo dei Diamanti (c. 1493-1505), designed by the architect Biaggio Rossetti for Duke Ercole d’Este, as an innovative experiment based on the principles of Filarete’s Treatise on Architecture (c. 1460), in which he reflected on urban integration. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List, due to its proposal of innovation in terms of its architecture, town planning (based on the cardus and the decumanus), street layout and territorial layout, for having maintained a high degree of integrity, despite the passage of time.

Urbino (Italy) - The historic centre of Urbino, dominated by the ducal palace and by the cathedral, has been classified as World Heritage by UNESCO since 1998. An urban and architectural programme sponsored by the Duke of Urbino, Frederico da Montefeltro (1445), who proposed a renewal of its medieval urban structure and of its image through the construction of his palace deriving from an objective demonstration of Alberti’s relationship between house and city. This same principle can be found in Vila Viçosa - the palace in the form of a city, or a city in the form of a palace, where one can find the appropriate scale for receiving the great humanist and literary court that gathered here, as in Urbino, in accordance with the principles of Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (1528).

Lerma (Burgos, Spain) - The town of Lerma is noted by many historians as a Spanish example of the Renaissance ducal town (its lord, the 1st Duke of Lerma was the influential minister of Philip II (Philip III of Portugal - 1578-1621). Its layout, designed by Juan Gomes de Mora, who may have worked on the royal residence on Terreiro do Paço, in Lisbon, can be affiliated with the type defined by Juan de Herrera, in what is considered the Philippine trend in architectural Mannerism. The designs in the town of Lerma, slightly later than Vila Viçosa, date from the early 17th century and their scale and consistency cannot be compared to those of the Portuguese ducal town.