Restoring the Walls of Ferrara

Written by  Giuseppe Grazzini
"... although it's true that wars are ever with us, it's good TO think that a city can still defend itself behind its walls."
In 1986 Italia Nostra sponsored a mobile exhibition on the city walls of Ferrara, which attracted enormous public interest wherever it went in Italy and abroad. Unusually, even politicians were agreed about the urgent need to restore the seriously threatened 9-kilometre-long XVth century ramparts; even more unusually the State seemed disposed to contribute almost 50 million dollars to finance the work.

At the time there were many who thought that this represented an excessive investment for what seemed an anachronism at worst and little more than a picturesque background for tourists' snapshots at best. But Paolo Ravenna, a tireless campaigner for the restoration of the city's ancient fortifications, had a broader view of their importance.


By saving the colossal engineering feat that girds its circumference the city of Ferrara could conserve its particular urban identity, where virtually all other cities were condemned to lose theirs in a sprawl of faceless and squalid suburbs: the walls could therefore come to play a role analogous to that of the canals of Venice - a clear line of demarcation from which one departs in the search for the treasures of art and history guarded within.
Once underway, work continued for 50 months and workmen alone racked up 160,000 man hours of work, not to mention the efforts of architects, engineers, surveyors, historians, and archaeologists. More than a million original bricks were uplifted and replaced, while only 10% of new material was used during a rigorous restoration plan that unearthed 263 artillery positions and the foundations of five towers.

Today, the walls, once undermined and almost smothered by millions of plants, form a neat red line faced by the green of the unspoiled countryside around the city. No car cemeteries, no gypsy encampments, no shanty towns disturb the land that was once the private hunting ground of the Estense Dukes.
Now that same land is for everyone and, although it's true that wars are ever with us, it's good to think that a city can still defend itself behind its walls.