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The Italian Piazza Transformed

Parma in the Communal Age

Areli Marina

Publication Year: 2012

During the long thirteenth century, the cities of northern Italy engendered a vital and distinctive civic culture despite constant political upheaval. In The Italian Piazza Transformed, Areli Marina examines the radical transformation of Parma’s urban center in this tumultuous period by reconstructing the city’s two most significant public spaces: its cathedral and communal squares. Treating the space of these piazzas as attentively as the buildings that shape their perimeters, she documents and discusses the evolution of each site from 1196, tracing their construction by opposing political factions within the city’s ruling elite. By the early fourteenth century, Parma’s patrons and builders had imposed strict geometric order on formerly inchoate sites, achieving a formal coherence attained by few other cities. Moreover, Marina establishes that the piazzas’ orderly contours, dramatic open spaces, and monumental buildings were more than grand backdrops to civic ritual. Parma’s squares were also agents in the production of the city-state’s mechanisms of control. They deployed brick, marble, and mortar according to both ancient Roman and contemporary courtly modes to create a physical embodiment of the modern, syncretic authority of the city’s leaders. By weaving together traditional formal and iconographic approaches with newer concepts of the symbolic, social, and political meanings of urban space, Marina reframes the complex relationship between late medieval Italy’s civic culture and the carefully crafted piazzas from which it emerged.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Table of Contents

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pp. vi-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. xv-xvii

The first kernel of this study sprouted in Marvin Trachtenberg’s seminar on public space in Italy. For his enduring inspiration and support through the project’s long maturation, my gratitude to him remains immeasurable. Juergen Schulz’s groundbreaking work on Parma’s communal buildings contributed to this project’s launch. I remember with appreciation his kind words as I prepared to set off for my first research...

List Abbreviations

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pp. xviii-xviii

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About the Reconstruction Diagrams

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pp. xix-xix

The reconstruction diagrams of Parma’s Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Garibaldi are based on a 2005 laser-assisted survey of the sites conducted by architects Michela Rossi (formerly professor of architectural drawing and historical documentation at the Dipartimento di Ingegneria Civile, dell’Ambiente, del Territorio, e di...

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pp. xx-21

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, cities dispersed across Italy’s Lombard plain achieved political independence and transformed their urban centers in rapid succession (fig. 1).1 In Parma, a midsized city sited in the plain’s heartland, between superpowers Milan and Bologna, the ruling elites created two magnificent civic squares framed by nine imposing new...

Part 1: The Production of Order

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Chapter 1: (Re)constructing the Piazza del Duomo

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pp. 25-59

Of Parma’s two great medieval piazzas, the Piazza del Duomo has historical precedence (figs. 3 and 10).1 In 1149, when the site that was to become the Piazza Comunale functioned as little more than a busy intersection, Parma’s episcopal precinct already comprised a bishop’s palace, a cathedral, and a chapter house. It had served as the seat of emperors, popes, bishops, counts, and...

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Chapter 2: (Re)constructing the Communal Piazza

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pp. 60-103

While the Piazza del Duomo is now at the margins of modern Parma’s political and economic life, the site of the communal piazza remains its center (figs. 4 and 47). The town hall, most local and regional government offices, the most important banks, the city’s greatest concentration of cafes, its primary commercial artery, and its chicest promenade...

Part 2: The Piazza and Public Life

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Chapter 3: The Legislation of Order

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pp. 106-113

The last two chapters have demonstrated how Parma’s administrators and builders transformed two heterogeneous, fragmented sites at the heart of the city into monumental, geometrically ordered squares. The desire for order evinced by the construction of the episcopal and communal piazzas was not limited to these two projects...

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Chapter 4: The Eloquent Piazza

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pp. 114-136

Jacques Le Goff has identified two basic approaches to the study of Europe’s urban elites: investigation of their political history and analysis of what he calls the urban imaginary. As Le Goff defines it, the urban imaginary comprises all the fields of “symbolic” production, including literature and the visual arts. (Although imperfect, Le Goff’s conception is...

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Epilogue: Parma’s Spatial Practice Compared

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pp. 137-139

The panoptic quality of Parma’s aesthetic differentiates it substantially from the betterknown urbanistic aesthetics of Pisa, Siena, and Florence. In these Tuscan cities, piazza spaces act as buffers between individual monuments and the remaining city fabric and as stage sets framing the monument for the viewer. Even when close formal relationships between...

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Appendix I: On Measurement, Module, and Geometry in Medieval Parma

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pp. 140-143

The prevalent unit of measure usually adopted by scholars of Parma’s historic architecture has been a 54.52-centimeter Parmesan braccio da muro, a dimension codified in the early nineteenth century. However, when I applied this unit of measure to the city’s best-preserved medieval structures and spaces—the Piazza del...

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Appendix II: The Communal Buildings of Parma: Evidence and Interpretation

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pp. 144-153

This appendix comprises one entry for each of the major communal buildings on the communal square, listed in chronological order, plus a combined entry on the piazza’s minor communal structures. Every entry presents a summary of my conclusions regarding each building’s identity and chronology, followed by the...

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Appendix III: Salimbene de Adam’s Account of Parma’s Late Thirteenth-Century Architectural Projects

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pp. 154-154

The Franciscan friar Salimbene de Adam, a Parmesan native, compiled a chronicle in the late 1280s. While not particularly attentive to works of art in general, he repeatedly comments with pride on the architectural and urbanistic projects of Parma. Toward the end of the chronicle, he provides this summary of the...


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pp. 155-174


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pp. 175-188


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pp. 189-198

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271053974
E-ISBN-10: 0271053976
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271050706
Print-ISBN-10: 0271050705

Page Count: 192
Illustrations: 102 color/7 b&w illustrations
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 785940949
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Italian Piazza Transformed

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Architecture, Medieval -- Italy -- Parma.
  • Piazza del Duomo (Parma, Italy).
  • Piazza Garibaldi (Parma, Italy).
  • Architecture and society -- Italy -- Parma.
  • Parma (Italy) -- Buildings, structures, etc.
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