Evolution of the importance and daily use of Italian Piazzas

Evolution of the importance and daily use of Italian Piazzas

La Piazza é Mia. (n.d.)

Alena Anderson

A piazza can be defined as an open space that the public can access to perform various activities such as walking, driving, shopping, socializing, and playing. Roman nobles, the Italian government, Christian churches, and wealthy merchants influenced the construction of public spaces within cities, and since, piazzas have been incorporated into Italian cities. The development of piazzas created multiple versions of piazzas that have unique characteristics and purposes. The evolution of piazzas impacted Italian culture and values, making them an important component of Italian nationality. The utilization of Italian piazzas is continuously changing. As the world is becoming more modern and implementing advanced technology, the development of piazzas has been impacted, harmfully or beneficially; however, Italians still deeply value the significance of piazzas that is incorporated into their cities and nation.

The origin of piazzas began with the Roman Forums being inspired by the Greek Agora. The Roman Forums likely borrowed the Greek Agora design, a small quadrangular center with crossing streets in Etruscan settlements in northern and central Italy. The Roman Forums reinstated that idea and designed central rectangular public squares with two main crossing streets. This design influenced the development of the Roman grid pattern (Fusch, 1994).

At the height of the Roman Empire, the Roman Forum’s public square design became symbolic and central and was highly popularized to practice education, politics, religion, and recreation. However, after the 5th century A.D., the empire witnessed an economic decline that broke the rationality of the Italian city’s order. The outcome of this occurrence led to the Christian church dominating the public space and eventually began the Christian church’s influence on the early medieval cities’ designs. The Roman grid had to be reoriented to relocate Christian churches, as they were previously located near the edge of town due to nobles not wanting religious influence in the city, to connect to the public spaces by popularly used streets. Furthermore, markets, public gatherings, and religious ceremonies took place in the public spaces in front of churches. This began a shift of residents moving into towns from the countryside. The nobles did not favor this new change and started placing limiting access to their homes and compounds. As the nobles came together to regain domination in certain parts of the city, the streets once again realigned to accommodate the nobles’ compound walls, stating their political power, and giving shape to the Roman grid. As this continued, the original patterns of the Roman city disappeared (Fusch, 1994).

The 11th century was critical for the establishment of piazzas as a new class was being formed: merchants who gained enough wealth, from the guild system, to be considered equal to the nobility and the church. In the 13th century, the Italian government and the wealthy merchant-artisan guild began funding the construction of churches, designed public spaces, and architecture that preceded the Renaissance era. Wealth merchants influenced the institution of piazzas as an integral part of Italian urban design (Fusch, 1994).

After 1100, self-governing city-states reclaimed public streets and open spaces, allowing cathedral churches and city council offices to be constructed near piazzas to let citizens practice their religious activities. As piazzas continued in popularity, the design of the public spaces either rehabilitated the original Roman plan, utilized the medieval plan, or was systematically planned. As time progressed, a piazza’s components continued to develop. In the 13th century, piazzas would contain a main church, city hall, and administrative offices. A change occurred in the 14th century when piazzas were occupied for ceremonies and public assemblies, reserved by the Florentine government (Fusch, 1994).

Due to the extensive history of piazzas, Italians deeply value the space’s intention and influence on their lifestyle. “Umanesimo” defines a system that focuses on humans’ values, capacities, and worth based on cultural, social, and artistic revolution. “Umanesimo” is associated with the ‘ideal city’ concept. From an Italian perspective, the ‘ideal city’ is an accessible, symmetrical, and harmonic town where citizens can maximize their interactions and happiness (Google, n.d.). Italian architecture is ingrained into Italian values and has become the center of urban life. This concept became the aspiration of how Italians want to live.

Throughout time, multiple types of piazzas were created, eventually leading to the establishment of six types of piazzas: Relic, monumental, mercantile, neighborhood market, vehicular, and neighborhood park. Each piazza has unique qualities as well as sharing similar characteristics. Each piazza’s features have a function. The location of a pizza changes its role, whether it is located near an older or newer section can have different roles socially, economically, or politically. Additionally, a piazza positioned near a residential area or main street changes its daily purpose (Fusch, 1994). Piazzas also incorporate patterns inserted into the pavement to give the illusion that the space is always occupied. The enclosure of a piazza is intentional to create a sense of being in the moment and separates the city from the piazza (Lien, n.d.).

As piazzas are continuously changing their function, they can lose their primary purpose and value. Piazzas were initially built to have the intention of bringing people together and creating a greater community. However, technology has changed how people are connecting. With the use of technology, piazzas can be easily accessed via the Internet for people to see the specific activities taking place or to learn about its history. The implementation of modernized technology into older societies evolves the piazza designs and its role, whether benefiting or harming the space. The use of transportation brings in the benefit of allowing convenient access to the piazza. However, the increase in self-owned vehicles negatively impacts the function of a piazza. As traffic increases due to the use of automobiles, piazzas are being used as parking lots, reducing the aesthetic appeal, and decreasing the space for socialization purposes. Reducing the piazza space can harm the social and economic purposes that create a sense of community in the public space. Changes in the piazza’s roles are having people perceive that they are pointless and a waste of a city’s space and taxpayer’s money. A piazza’s success is not measured by the number of people that are frequently utilizing the space; it depends on the people’s incentives to visit piazzas, mainly driven by its location, activities, and services (Lien, n.d.). As the implementation of modern society has brought more people to appreciate piazzas, the increase in transportation, mainly self-owned, has damaged the fundamental function of piazzas (Fusch, 1994).

Describing the piazza’s history and purpose has a limit to fully comprehending its importance to Italian nationality. Using the concepts that I have researched, I am analyzing three different piazzas to observe their functions and characteristics. Figure 1 is an image of Piazza Maggiore located in Bologna. Piazza Maggiore is one of the oldest and biggest squares created in Italy. It holds San Petronio, one of the largest Christian churches in the world, and a local government building (Donati, 2020). Figure 1 shows the piazza being utilized by many people performing different activities. In the bottom right-hand corner, there seems to be a group of people; they could be a tourist group visiting and learning about the piazza’s history. Other activities that I have noticed are people passing through the piazza, people sitting down, people eating at a restaurant, and people entering San Petronio. The piazza looks big enough to hold a large open-aired market. Piazza Maggiore’s designs include a pattern embedded in the cement to make the illusion that the piazza is continuously bustling. Furthermore, the piazza is surrounded by buildings that have arched openings to connect the indoor space with the piazza. This piazza contains multiple roles such as containing a monumental church, holding outdoor markets, and is used to provide space for outside seating.

Figure 1: Image of Piazza Maggiore (Piazza Maggiore, n.d.)Piazza delle Erbe Padua, n.d.)

Figure 2 is an image of Piazza delle Erbe Padua located in Veneto. Piazza delle Erbe Padua is a neighborhood market piazza whose main function is to provide a space for open markets. Additionally, the piazza has been known to hold traditional festivals such as Corsa del Palio (Piazza delle Erbe Padua, 2021). In the background, it is apparent that the market is filled with different vendors selling food, clothing, and accessories. Figure 2 also shows a fountain in the image; this element adds to the piazza’s design by persuading people to either use the fountain for a seat or to cool down. Similarly to Figure 1, Piazza delle Erbe Pauda is surrounded by buildings that have open arches to have the same effect.

Figure 2: Image of Piazza delle Erbe Padua (Piazza delle Erbe Padua, n.d.)

Lastly, Figure 3 is an image of Piazza Giotto in Vicchio. While this image does not show any people using the piazza, I can observe the piazza’s design more intricately. Similarly to Figure 1, Piazza Giotto has a pattern embedded into the cement to give the illusion that the piazza is occupied. This architectural innovation does seem to work as this piazza is empty, it is perceived to be busy. A statue of an important figure is located in the middle of the piazza. There are a few benches in the middle and to the side for people to sit and unwind. The enclosure of Piazza Giotto makes it feel more intimate and smaller, unlike the two previous piazzas. While this piazza seems smaller, it seems to hold many people to do any type of activity.

Figure 3: Image of Piazza Giotto (Piazza Giotto, n.d.)

As Italian piazza’s history, design, and purpose is embedded into Italian history and is still a widely utilized public area, it demonstrates that pizzas are an important aspect of Italy’s nation and the people’s values. The evolution of piazzas throughout Italian history established multiple functions and characteristics, making each piazza unique and suitable for each city. While implementing technological innovations can help older cities be part of the modern world, it can harm the older values and traditions of these historically significant ancient societies. Analyzing different types of piazzas helped me understand how each piazza uses similar functions by having the space either look entirely different or use the function alternatively. Piazzas are important in Italian people’s cultures by creating the concept of an ‘ideal city’ and forming harmony and connectivity between the people and their city’s architecture. Piazzas have constructed a sense of national identity that Italians cherish and value, impacting Italian culture.


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Lien, B. (n.d.). The role of pavement in the perceived integration of plazas: An analysis of the paving designs of four Italian piazzas. Research Exchange . Retrieved from https://rex.libraries.wsu.edu/esploro/outputs/graduate/The-role-of-pavement-in-the/99900524807501842#files_and_links

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Piazza Giotto. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.travelandleisure.com/thmb/jDXJdeVpYIe_iswGqpBAryBUjVo=/1500×0/filters:no_upscale():max_bytes(150000):strip_icc()/stodistante-social-distance-plaza-PLAZA0520-31db13c2d7b14e14a1b8f04f71216014.jpg.

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