Prato della Valle
Square in Padova
Prato della Valle is a 90,000-square-meter elliptical square in Padova, Italy. Prato della Valle is Italy’s largest square and one of Padua’s main sights. Today, the square is a large space with a green island at the center, l’Isola Memmia, surrounded by a small canal bordered by two rings of statues. Prato della Valle is where many of Padua’s main events and festivals take part. Markets selling fresh produce, vintage items, and bric-a-brac are regularly held here, too.
History of Prato della Valle
Prior to 1635, the area which would come to be known as the “Prato della valle” was largely a featureless expanse of partially swampy terrain just south of the old city walls of Padova. In 1636 a group of Venetian and Veneto notables financed the construction there of a temporary but lavishly appointed theater as a venue for mock battles on horseback. The musical entertainment which served as prologue to the jousting is considered to be the immediate predecessor of the first public opera performances in Venice which began the following year.
In 1767 the square, which belonged to the monks of Santa Giustina became the public property of the city of Padua. In 1775 Andrea Memmo, whose statue is in the square, decided to reclaim and restructure the entire area. The entire project, which was never fully completed, is represented in a famous copper engraving by Francesco Piranesi from 1785. It seems that Memmo had commissioned this and other representations and kept them on exhibition at the Palazzo Venezia, the headquarters of the Embassy of the Republic in Rome. He did this in order to entice other important figures into financing the construction of statues to decorate the square. The project was approved by Domenico Cerato, professor of architecture at Vicenza and Padova.
The preliminary excavations done to install the plumbing system and reclaim the area were directed by Simone Stratico. These excavations brought to light the remains of an ancient Roman theater. These findings conferred a sense of historical dignity to the initiative, and transformed it into a project of reclamation for its natural public use. Andrea Memmo resided at Palazzo Angeli, constructed in the 15th century and located in Prato della Valle at an angle with the avenue Umberto I. Today, the monumental palazzo, the property of the city of Padova, hosts the Museum of Precinema, Minici Zotti Collection.
Of particular interest are the benedictine Abbey of Santa Giustina, the neoclassical style Loggia Amulea, and the many interesting palazzi constructed between the 14th and the 18th centuries that surround the square.
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Visiting Prato della Valle