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The ‘Cities and Culture’ module provided me with a massive opportunity to visit Italy for the first time. Before the arrival, the great intention was to experience what many consider as ‘the Cradle of Italian Renaissance’, namely the city of Florence. As a great admirer of the classic architecture and urban planning of the said era, it was also interesting to revisit Camillo Sitte and his admiration for medieval urban model[1], in terms of public square treatment, and explore their conflict with modern urban models the author argued about[2].

Arrivando a Firenze

Basilica di Santa Maria Novella was the starting point of the day-long journey (Figure 1). While entering the piazza, the Basilica and Loggia di San Paolo, supported by the rejuvenated medieval houses truly created a spiritually monumental atmosphere to the place (Figures 2 to 4). Similar in appearance and structure, medieval houses only distinguished in external colouring, which was enough to pleasantly interact with the monuments, generating a holistic image of the piazza. The flow of people in the area was not significant, although the green public space next to the basilica attracted parents with their children.

Figure 1: Basilica di Santa Maria Novella[3]
Figure 2: Piazza di Santa Maria Novella[4]         Figure 3: View to Via dei Banchi[5]                   Figure 4: Loggia di San Paolo[6]

Temporale e Spirituale

…Via Ricasoli provided a grandiose view to the complex of Santa Maria del Fiore, Campanile di Giotto and Battistero di San Giovanni, where Piazza del Duomo appeared too crowded in the afternoon (Figures 5 to 7). However, it created a lively public atmosphere and different public interactions were witnessed, namely tourists observing and visiting the monumental structures, painters selling their paintings, restaurant and café personnel installing tables and chairs outside, locals taking lunch breaks and the police controlling the area. It is safe to say that the artistic nature of the Renaissance architecture, namely the level of detail on both external and internal finishings of the cathedral, the campanile and the baptistery, reinforces the piazza’s spiritual atmosphere[7].

Figure 5: View from Via Ricasoli [8]                       Figure 6: Santa Maria del Fiore[9]                        Figure 7: Piazza del Duomo[10]
Sitte described that the public squares, bounded by a cathedral and a campanile, represent the centres of spiritual power, while the ones with a town hall (Signoria) and a covered exterior gallery (Loggia) represent the centres of temporal power[11]. The next destination, namely Piazza della Signoria, which encompasses Palazzo Vecchio, Loggia dei Lanzi and Fontana del Nettuno, reproduced the similar public interactions from Piazza del Duomo, however, it managed to create a different, more politically monumental atmosphere to the place[12]. This is evident by different finishings of the structures, in this case, Palazzo Vecchio being embellished with heraldry of Florence, and by establishment of sculptures in the piazza, which, I believe, further enrich the regulatory and administrative essence of the surrounding environment (Figures 8 to 10).

Figure 8: Piazza/Palazzo della Signoria[13]     Figure 9: Fontana del Nettuno[14]      Figure 10: Sculpture in Loggia dei Lanzi[15]
Partendo da Firenze

In terms of comparing both ancient and modern treatment of public squares, I am prone to agree with the author’s argument. Florence allowed me to witness a monumental character that I could not encounter during my visits in modern areas of Hong Kong, Macau and Rotterdam, for instance. The city’s piazzas not only allowed multiple interactions among the public, but also positively forced the public to interact with the history and urban lifestyle of Renaissance era. The planning of Florentine piazzas urges the visitor to also interact with small alleyways, which further lead to other significant piazzas and monuments, creating an infinite historical tour around the city.


[Featured Image] Zeynalov, A. (2020) Florence Cathedral.

[1]Sitte, C. (1979) The art of building cities: city building according to its artistic fundamentals. 2nd edn. Westport, Connecticut: Hyperion Press.

[2]Collins, G., Sitte, C. and Collins, C. (2006) Camillo Sitte: the birth of modern city planning. 3rd edn. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover.

[3]Zeynalov, A. (2020) [Image] Basilica di Santa Maria Novella.

[4]Zeynalov, A. (2020) [Image] Piazza di Santa Maria Novella.

[5]Zeynalov, A. (2020) [Image] View to Via dei Banchi.

[6]Zeynalov, A. (2020) [Image] Loggia di San Paolo.

[7]LeGates, R. and Stout, F. (2011) The City Reader. 5th edn, Abingdon. Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, p. 476.

[8]Zeynalov, A. (2020) [Image] View from Via Ricasoli.

[9]Zeynalov, A. (2020) [Image] Santa Maria del Fiore.

[10]Zeynalov, A. (2020) [Image] Piazza del Duomo.

[11]LeGates, R. and Stout, F. (2011) The City Reader. 5th edn. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, p. 478.

[12]LeGates, R. and Stout, F. (2011) The City Reader. 5th edn. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, p. 480.

[13]Zeynalov, A. (2020) [Image] Piazza/Palazzo della Signoria.

[14]Zeynalov, A. (2020) [Image] Fontana del Nettuno.

[15]Zeynalov, A. (2020) [Image] Sculpture in Loggia dei Lanzi.

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