Montagnana: Town walls kept Italian village safe for centuries
Stars and Stripes October 4, 2012
Montagnana, Italy, wasn’t such a friendly place a thousand or so years ago. The walls surrounding the small city provide proof.
Two kilometers of walls, said to be the best preserved in Italy’s Veneto region, surround the city’s historical center. Parts date to the 13th century and might be even older.
In 1242, an army under Ezzelino III da Romano, the imperial viceroy of Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick II, burned the place down, only to rebuild it. Officials named the tower in the San Zeno castle, which makes up part of the southeastern city walls, after him.
Today, visitors can climb almost 200 steps of a modern stairway to the top of the tower. Along the way, displays of medieval armor or weapons decorate pit stops. On a clear day, it’s possible not only to look down on the rest of the walled city but also to gaze at the mountains several miles away.
Montagnana, like the larger and better-known cities of Verona, Vicenza, Ferrara, Mantova and Padova, dates to at least the time of the Romans, who quickly fortified the city, along with a succession of others, because of its centralized location to major cities for trade.
The city came under the influence of Venice in the 1400s and lost much of its military significance.
History of an era commemorating the uniting of Italy is on display in the main square, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II — named for one of the founders (and first king) of modern Italy. But besides a statue of the king, there’s not much to see in the square itself. Even on market days (Thursday), there’s a wide open area in the square center that affords good views of the Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta, the city’s cathedral.
Much of the cathedral’s ceiling and interior are fairly bare. But remnants of frescoes decorate spots along the walls. And several areas — including around the altar and both transepts — feature impressive frescoes, paintings or marble work.
Unlike the towns of Lucca and Cittadella, it’s not possible to walk on the walls that surround the city. But the city center is compact, and it only takes a few minutes to walk from San Zeno castle through the square and farther northwest to the Porto Legnago, the most heavily fortified section of the walls. It originally featured a series of battlements, gates and other barriers to send a message to unwelcome visitors from the direction of Verona that it’s better to call ahead for an invitation.
In a sign of more hospitable times, a youth hostel — currently under renovation — occupies the fortification today.