Saturday, 3 March 2007

Piazza, Palazzo, Padua

From the northern Italian city of Padua, the complex of the Palazzo della Ragione, standing between the Piazza dell’ Erbe and the Piazza della Frutta, presents an early example of the genre of the communal palace in a process of transformation towards a recognisable type. Morphologically it has an unusual trapezoidal form straddling across a roughly rectangular space divided into the two tapering piazze. The pragmatic nature of this form is entirely appropriate since the structure originated in the booths of the markets which still operate on the site. Constructed as a series of stone cells, they formed the base of a great hall, il Salone, where justice was dispensed. The multi - level arcaded nature of the hall, facing on its two long sides towards the market squares was surmounted by a great barrel vaulted roof which defines the uninterrupted central space, behind the layers of arcades and market stalls. There is therefore an incremental intensification of the functional relationship from the space of the market to the space of the hall, and a direct continuity between the daily life of the city, the higher functions of civil society and the sense of the city’s own history through the reuse of earlier structures. The Salone was begun in 1218-19 which places it in the very early phase of this process of urban self- representation, when other communes were building less substantial civic palaces. The Paduans modified the extent of their ambition by tying the new structure to the mundane world of the market. However, by the time the great hall was cleared of internal divisions and the roof raised in 1306-09 there could be no concealing the status the civic authorities sought for themselves, despite the additional layers of arcades added in 1318 over the external staircases.

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