Founded in 1593 by Venice to strengthen the defences in Friuli, the small town of Palmanova is today a jewel of Friuli Venezia Giulia just 18 kilometres frrom Udine. Also called the “star-shaped city” as it is effectively in the shape of nine-pointed star, it has recently become part of the Unesco World Heritage Site, after 6 years of progress from its candidacy in 2011. It has been awarded the patrimony of humanity since it represents together with other 5 cities, including Bergamo and Peschiera del Garda, in Italy, Zadar and Sibenik in Croatia and the small Cattaro in Montenegro, one of the best examples of defensive system of the ancient Republic of Venice. But while Bergamo and Peschiera del Garda were existing cities that were fortified, Palmanova was purpose built as a city-fortress.
Despite having little more than 5 thousand inhabitants indeed, the municipality is very popular in Italy as it was thought of as a real "war machine", with a perfect oddly geometric shape: a nine-pointed star, with a perfectly hexagonal square in the center, from which the six main streets, placed in a radial pattern, depart.
There are three monumental gates giving access to the town: Porta Udine, Porta Cividale and Porta Aquileia. They are the only buildings visible from the outside of the Fortress and still retain some of their original architectural features. Entering the walls, you will come to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, also known as Piazza Grande, the hexagonal heart enhancing this starred Renaissance town. You are here surrounded by a series of colourful noble palaces on one side, while on the other stands the imposing Duomo Dogale of Palmanova, whose façade is of white Istrian stone. At the centre of the square, there is a tall pole for the town’s standard. Facing the square, there are numerous cafés and bars constituting the meeting place for citizens and tourists. It was considered the most impregnable city in Europe, with its walls camouflaged by vegetation, almost invisible because it was built under the horizon, and with cutting-edge defensive systems. In my opinion, this is a must-see location for lovers of history.
The best moment to visit this particular city is surely on the first weekend of September, when Palmanova comes alive with the great historical re-enactment “AD 1615: Palma alle armi”: over eight hundred reenactors in 17th century costume will bring you back to the beginning of the war of the Uscocchi between Habsburg Austria and the Republic of Venice, to which Palmanova belonged until the fall of Venice (the “Serenissima”) to Napoleon in 1797. Duels and military actions are skilfully performed by the city historical group and by many Italian and foreign groups from England, Poland, Spain, Finland, Holland, Germany and other countries. The military encampment host 250 wall tents, the historical market, the Hostaria in Piazza Grande with historical dishes, many historical games and live entertainments, drums and flag wavers..an experience don’t be missed!!
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