Thursday, April 12, 2012

Italy : Ferrara, City of the Renaissance, and its Po Delta (1995)

Ferrara, which grew up around a ford over the River Po, became an intellectual and artistic centre that attracted the greatest minds of the Italian Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries. Here, Piero della Francesca, Jacopo Bellini and Andrea Mantegna decorated the palaces of the House of Este. The humanist concept of the 'ideal city' came to life here in the neighbourhoods built from 1492 onwards by Biagio Rossetti according to the new principles of perspective. The completion of this project marked the birth of modern town planning and influenced its subsequent development.

At one time the lands Of Ferrara were crossed by the unstable water network of the Po and its meanders. The bed of the river that traversed the city moved several kilometres away in the 12th century, leaving behind no more than a modest stream, which disappeared In its turn in the 17th century.
Ferrara grew up along the banks of the Po on the Roman road leading to Padua round a ford. When threatened by the Huns, the Bishop of Voghenza moved his episcopal see to the right bank of the river and, to ensure his protection the exarchs of Ravenna built a fort on the opposite bank in the 8th century. A river port grew up on both banks round the fort and the bishop's establishment.
The Pope granted jurisdiction over the city to Tebaldo de Canossa in the 10th century and built the Castel Tebaldo on the left bank, to the west of the Byzantine fort. It spread between these two poles, along a street parallel to the river (the present-day Via delle Volte and via Ripagrande). At the beginning of the 12th century the city was in full growth and the commercial axis moved to the north, along a new highway (present-day Via Garibaldi and Via Mazzini), an ancient defensive line, to which new suburbs became attached.
This bipolar system of development was abandoned in the 12th century in favour of a single centre of which the cathedral was the pivot. The centre of communal power (Palazzo Communale, the Tower of the Lions which preceded the castle, and the quarter inhabited by the ruling class) collected around this monument, which was linked to the river by a network of perpendicular streets. Guglielmo II degli Adelardi organized the defences to the north of the town, an earthen bank protected by a ditch and eighteen towers, whilst to the south the river continued to provide natural protection. The city went on developing along both banks of the river until the House of Este came to power.
This family first came to prominence in the communal government of Ferrara at the end of the 12th century, but another century was to elapse before it became the arbiter of the city's fate. The pope appointed the family to rule the City in 1332, first as a marquisate and then as a duchy, a title retained until 1598. The Este family gave Ferrara a place among the states, both large and small, in Italy.
Niccolo II d'Este succeeded in consolidating the institutions of the domain, making it into a true principality. He gave special attention to matters relating to planning and in 1386 undertook the first of a series of extensions to the city (addizioni), all following the same lines. He enlarged the city by pushing the walls further away to the north. The open area created in this way became a quarter through the construction of a longitudinal axis street with streets opening out of it at right-angles and so linking with the existing street pattern. Niccolo invited his loyal supporters to move into this Quarter, which became centre of the city's elite.
During the difficult period for the Italian states at the beginning of the 15th century Niccolo III d'Este (1393-1441) followed a skillful policy. He received the popes John XXII and Martin v and hosted the Ecumenical Council of 1438. The arrival at the court of the Veronese humanist Guarino Guarini conferred prestige upon Ferrara. He was made responsible for the education of the young Leonello, destined to succeed Niccolo III as Duke (1441-50>. The new impetus that he gave to the university, founded in 1391, attracted many men Of letters and scientists, who gave form to the Renaissance culture of Ferrara.
Borso d'Este (1450-71), Leonello's younger brother, modernized the administrative structure of the state; he was made Duke of Modena and Reggio, and followed in Leonello's footsteps in cultural matters. He repeated Niccolo II's experiment by creating the second addizione on the same lines (1450>, reserving this Quarter in the south-east of the city for merchants.
The long alliance between Ferrara and the Venetian Republic was brought to an end by Ercole I (1433- 1505), who moved closer to France. His wife, Eleanora of Aragon, and their daughters Isabella and Beatrice played an important part in the political life of the Duchy and its relations with Naples and the neighbouring Duchies of Mantua and Milan. In 1492 he began the largest and most famous addizione in Ferrara as protection against venice. The work was carried out by the architect Biagio Rossetti, assisted by Pellegrino Prisciani. Working with Alessandro Biondo he extended the defensive walls on the north of the city, whose area was doubled. In this enormous new area he applied the plan that had already been tried in the earlier addizioni. However, Biagio Rossetti used perspective in defining urban space. The main street, which linked the castle with the villas and parks to the north continued to be a private road for the princely family, along which faithful supporters built their palazzi.
Conflict with Venice continued under Alfonso I (1476-1534), along with a dispute with Pope Julius II, who wanted to govern the Papal States directly. Relations with the Papacy became more complicated under Alfonso II, whose mother, Renee of France, protected persecuted Calvinists. In 1557 he began to introduce the principle of bastions into the city's fortifications. On his death in 1597 the Este family left Ferrara for Modena, and pope Clement VIII took back possession of the City, which became a distant province of the Papal States. The economic situation of the city deteriorated, with the walls being attacked by flooding from time to time and the countryside becoming impoverished. Nevertheless, a pentagonal fortress was built in 1608 to the south-east of the city (it was demolished after 1869).
Attempts to relaunch the economy Of Ferrara in the 18th century by creating a canal to link up with the PO and a new port did not have the effects anticipated. In 1796 the city was occupied by the French, who made it part of the Cisalpine Republic. Ferrara was occupied again by the French in the 19th century, and then by the Austrians. When it became part ofthe Kingdom of Italy in 1859 major reclamation works began on the marshlands, the city's gates were enlarged, and new infrastructure was added (railway, hospitals, etc). Damage during World War II was limited.
In the 15th-16th centuries the Este court was one of the main centres for the development and practical application of the new humanism in Italy. From the end of the reign of Niccolo III (1393-1441) it became an artistic centre where the greatest artists of the day were invited to decorate the palazzi and villa (delizie) of the Este family, both in the city itself and in the neighborhood - artists SUCh as Piero della Francesca (1499), Jacopo Bellini (1441), Mantegna (1449), and Roger van der Weyden (who brought the Flemish technique in 1449). Cosme Tura (1430-95), whose style was developed by Francesco del Cossa and Ercole de' Roberti, founded the Ferrara school of painting.
Ferrara also played host to great humanists such as Pietro Bombo (1470-1547), who dedicated Gli Asolani to Lucrezia Borgia, wife of Alfonso I, and poets such as 80iardo (1441-94), Ariosto (1474-1533), and Tasso (1544-95), the creators of a new form of Italian poetry, the epic and the commedia dell'arte. The poetic dreams of Ariosto were given material form in the development of the concept of the Italian Renaissance garden. The Barco, the hunting reserve Of the Este family to the north of the town, which was divided into several sectors according to function (zoological garden, giardino dei semplici or herb garden, ancestor of the botanical garden), was a model for the Villa d'Este at Tivoli and the Villa Taranto on Lake Maggiore.
The university, founded in 1391, was the scene of important scientific developments. Copernicus (1473) and Paracelsus (1493-1541) were among the famous scientists who studied or taught there.

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