Urban planning in nineteenth century Ferrara

Written by  Erika Alberghini
The protection of the city's architectural and historical heritage as the primary inspiration for planning
During the nineteenth century Ferrara underwent an urban transformation dictated by the political and social developments introduced to Italy under Napoleonic rule.

However, the outlines of Ferrara of the 1800s were still defined by the expansion of the city walls by Ercole I, and these changes had to be managed differently there.

There is evidence of a debate during the years up to 1807 on the changing the use of the city walls, and projects for the city gates were also under consideration during the same period.

The construction of the public way to the Montagna was one element in these moves to redevelop the defensive wall into a public promenade, a place for socialising and an aesthetic improvement to the city.

Work on the city gates was considered necessary to bring order and usability to an obsolete road system, and to transform the city in line with nineteenth century aesthetic principles, with spacious squares giving onto to straight roads that offered dramatic views and lent a spectacular aspect to the city.

The city architect and engineer Giovanni Tosi produced such projects for Porta Reno, Porta Po and Porta Romana. These papers reveal a wish to make changes to Ferrara to bring order and function to those disorderly areas built to serve long-outlived defensive purposes.

Tosi's proposal for the redevelopment of the Porta Po area, where the engineer hoped to construct a large square with three roads leading from it, was symbolic.

Tosi intended this to follow the common European custom of building gates at the entrance to the city, an architectural structure which would have provided a monumental entrance with sightlines down the three roads to the gates: the straight stretch of the San Benedetto road down to Porta Mare; the straight road running along the Panfilio Canal to the Giovecca and its prospect; and finally a third road to the south.

There was also a interesting proposal for Porta Paola (now Porta Reno) to regularize the square just within the gate and the two roads leading from it to the piazza San Crispino: Corso Porta Reno and the Via del Travaglio (now Via San Romano).

The engineer believed that this operation was urgent because the area lacked respectability. He suggested a scheme which respected the existing urban landscape, which he considered constrained the scheme at the point where the two roads in need of alteration came out into the Piazza di San Crispino level with the walls of the Palazzo della Ragione.

It was thus not possible to envisage a straight road perfectly in line with Porta Paola that would join it to the Piazza di San Crispino, "in order not to cut through the new Palazzo della Ragione".

During the unification years, the city authority decided to act in the Porta Paola area, with the idea of clearing Via del Travaglio to create a straight stretch of road that would create a grandiose entrance to the southern part of the city.

The opposition of architects and engineers who wanted to pursue an urban policy that respected the existing fabric prevented this scheme from going ahead. Nineteenth century urban development in Ferrara was distinguished by an acute awareness of the existing fabric of the city.