When Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793) visited Palmanova, the “star-shaped city” that is now in the province of Udine still belonged to Venice.
In describing the town in his “Memoirs”, the great Italian playwright stated, “It is one of Europe’s most solid and noteworthy fortresses, and a stronghold against Germany”. He then added, “The fortifications are so well made and ordered that foreigners come to visit out of curiosity, to admire them as a masterpiece of military architecture.”
Built by the Republic of Venice in 1593, right at the border with the enemies of the House of Habsburg, Palmanova was designed by a team of military architects under Giulio Savorgnan. It remained part of the Serenissima until a few years after Goldoni’s death.
In 1797 it was taken over by the Austrians, and often changed hands in the following years: it went to France in 1805, back to the Habsburgs in 1814, returned to independence in 1848, and finally became part of the Italian Kingdom in 1866.
Palmanova, with its nine-pointed star shape, is one of the most famous “ideal cities” built during the Renaissance, when growing an urban reality out of abstract, philosophical ideals seemed possible. In this case, however, the town was born out of fear for an enemy that was too close for comfort.
After all, as Italo Calvino wrote,
Cities, like dreams, are built of desires and fears.