Historic Centre of Parma

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

Region: Emilia Romagna - Province: Parma

Ref.: 1148
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Parma is a city of noble cultural traditions; its innumerable works of art are a testimony of its long history and glorious past as a major European capital city.

The city is situated halfway between the Po River and the last slopes of the Apennine Mountains, along the Roman Via Emilia built in the first century BC to connect Milan to Rimini, in an area that has always been a crossroads and an interface between the peoples of the Po Valley and other Italian and transalpine peoples.

Parma was a Roman colony founded in 183 BC by the consul Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. After the fall of the Roman Empire it passed under Byzantine rule and was conquered, in 570 by the Lombards, who developed their settlement in the South-Eastern area.

In the 11th century, the Bishops took over from the Count Palatines.

Parma was then at the centre of harsh conflicts between the followers of the Holy Roman Empire and those faithful to the Papacy; in the end the Ghibelline fringes prevailed with the Bishop Cadalus and Guiberto, native of Parma and Archbishop of Ravenna.. These two Bishops had been Chancellors of the Holy Roman Empire and were proclaimed Antipopes by pro-Imperial Episcopal councils. During these forceful political clashes, Cadalus, Antipope Honorius II (1064) ordered the reconstruction of the episcopal see and then of the Cathedral itself, which acquired great symbolic value as papal see in opposition to the successors of St. Peter in Rome.

Following the act of submission, at Canossa, of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, to Pope Gregory VII who had excommunicated him, the most symbolic and expressive episode of the conflict between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy, Parma returned to the Guelphs. 

The construction of the Cathedral and of Palazzo Vescovile transformed the ancient episcopal citadel: no longer just an extension of the Early Medieval city but an urban structure with its own formal identity. Once Parma had become a free commune in 1106, a commercial square was added to the ecclesiastic square; it was created for the civil authorities on the site of the city's ancient Roman forum.

The Cathedral was begun in 1046 and rebuilt after an earthquake in 1117; it is among the more significant achievements of Romanesque architecture in the Po Valley. It was built on a Latin cross plan, with nave and two aisles ending in apses, a projecting transept and a raised presbytery above the crypt. The cupola, at the centre of the transept, features the celebrated fresco by Antonio Allegri da Correggio, Assumption of Mary (1536-30) which marks the peak of this artist's illusionist studies and became a model for all subsequent Baroque decorations.

Towards the end of the 12th century, a particularly prosperous period for Parma as the city was entertaining profitable economical and cultural exchanges with the more vivacious European cities, the free Commune, supported by the Episcopal authorities, began the construction of another symbolic building: the  Baptistery. It was designed by Benedetto Antelami (1196 -1216) and built between 1196 and 1307 in the shape of an octagonal prism, using blocks of pink and white  marble. The external decorations, representing  moral and devotional events and doctrines, are the most significant Italian Romanesque sculptures.

Between the 11th and 12th centuries. The city developed beyond its Roman perimeter and progressively acquired its characteristic spindle-like aspect following the course of the ancient Via Emilia. New city walls were built in the 13th century enclosing these successive extensions

During this lapse of time, after the prosperity of the free commune period and a succession of seignories, Parma passed under the dominion of the Visconti from Milan (1346) and later of the Sforza up to 1500.

In 1545, Pope Paul III gave Parma as a Duchy to his illegitimate son Pier Luigi Farnese. Under Farnese rule, which lasted for quite some time, until the family became extinct, the city went through another period of intense cultural and artistic activity and innumerable art treasures made it ever more magnificent. Urban and artistic works include Palazzo Ducale and its park, the stronghold, the renovation of the University and of Palazzo Pilotta, the construction of Palazzo Farnese, begun in 1583 and never completed, which today houses the Museo dell'Antichità and the outstanding Galleria. The palazzo includes Teatro Farnese built in 1619 and rebuilt after World War II.

In 1749, the Duchy of Parma was given to the House of Bourbon. Several monuments further enriched the city; they were all erected under the supervision of an architect from Lion, Ennemond-Alexandre Petitot, and clearly show a French touch.

In 1802 Parma was conquered by Napoleon and in 1814 by decision of the Congress of Vienna, it was given to Napoleon's wife, Marie Loiuse of Austria. Several public works were accomplished during her reign (1814-1847), including the construction of the celebrated neoclassical Teatro Regio (1829); she also re-opened the Accademia delle Belle Arti, created the Biblioteca Palatina and the Museo dell'Antichità. With the unification of Italy, Parma became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The historic centre of Parma fulfils the criteria of authenticity as regards both its Roman (and then Medieval) structure and the architectural conception, planimetry,  building materials, mostly brick and terracotta, of the more important buildings and monumental complexes.

The historic centre as a whole and single monuments come under the protection of the national and municipal legislation concerning cultural heritage, respectively Decree n. 42/2004 (Codice per i beni culturali ed il paesaggio) and the Town Planning - Municipal Plan of Operation. which clearly establishes the historic centre's perimeter and guarantees the conservation of historic and artistic features of all monuments.

Comparison with other similar properties

The historic centre of Parma stands out among all other cities in the Po Valley having similar characteristics on account of the particular significance of its Medieval, Renaissance, Mannerist and Neoclassical monuments and of several masterpieces that are important examples of artistic schools that will indisputably influence subsequent developments in painting and monumental art.

Parma therefore represents a privileged observatory for the study of the cultural context that lead to a revival of classical principles in Western Europe.