With 88,620 square meters, Prato della Valle is the largest square in Europe and one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. The current configuration dates back to the late 18th century and is characterized by a central elliptical island, called Memmia island, surrounded by a canal on whose banks is a double ring of statues, with an outer circumference of 1450 meters.
In the Roman times, the area was known as Campo Marzio, named after Mars, the god of war, because it was used as a place for military meetings.
Since the 12th century, various shows and games have been documented in Prato. From 1257, horse races are held here to commemorate the liberation from the tyranny of Ezzelino III da Romano.
In 1310 a more extensive intervention in the area was carried out under the guidance of Fra Giovanni Eremitano. Between the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th century, the town’s forgery was built near the Prato.
During the 15th century, an imposing palace was built on the northern corner of Prato, as the residence of Cardinal Bessarione, now known as Palazzo Angeli.
In 1498, the old Basilica of Santa Giustina was demolished and the building of the new one, in a Renaissance style, started.
On the supervision of Andrea Moroni, former architect of the new basilica, Palazzo Zacco al Prà was built between 1556 and 1557.
In 1767, Prato della Valle changed ownership, passing from the Monastery of Santa Giustina to the city administration.
Andrea Memmo, an Italian diplomat, was the real architect of the Prato. During his stay in Padua, at the end of the 18th century, the square was transformed in what is today.
The transformation of the Prato was characterized by the creation of a central island, named Memmia Island in honor of its creator, surrounded by an artificial channel of elliptical shape, with a double ring of statues on its banks.
In 1926, the fountain was inaugurated in the middle of the island which, although included in the Memmo project, had never been realized until then.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
The statues from Prato della Valle are currently 78 (40 along the outer ring and 38 along the inner one), but according to the original design they should have been 88. Today’s arrangement derives mainly from the destruction of six statues depicting Venetian doges, demolished by the Napoleonic army in 1797 and the repositioning of several other statues.
The rules for the realization of the statues were: the people could not be portrayed in life, no saint will be portrayed and all the characters must have had a link with the city.
The statues depict all male personalities, with one exception – the bust of the poet Gaspara Stampa, placed at the foot of the statue dedicated to Andrea Briosco.
HOW TO GET THERE
Prato della Valle is about 2.4 kilometers away from the Padua Train Station. If you want to use the public transport, you must know there are over 20 buses and trams that you can take from any corner of Padua to get you there. If you prefer to move on foot and need a map, you can rely on the one below.