To many today the Ottoman Empire is just an historical footnote but in the Venetian Republic of the 16th century it was a very real threat. This was the empire that controlled most of the Balkans and had even laid siege to Vienna. It was the empire that had taken many of Venice’s overseas territories, including the island of Cyprus. Consequently, the threat of an Ottoman invasion of the Italian peninsula either by sea, across the Adriatic, or by land was very real. The danger to Venice was adjudged to be overland and to protect their eastern border the republic decided to build a fortified city.
The construction of Palmanova commenced in 1593 and the project was overseen by Marcantonio Barbaro, a Venetian nobleman famous for the villa built for him and his brother by Palladio. The architect was another famous Venetian, Vicenzo Scamozzi. The exterior fortifications were planned to counteract cannon fire by using massive earth walls to absorb the energy of the cannon balls. The nine-pointed star plan meant that defenders were always able to have a line of fire against any attacking force.
The interior gave Scamozzi the rare opportunity to put the Renaissance theories of the ideal city into practice. Many of these ideas revolved around a chequerboard pattern that was clearly impractical given the necessity of the fortifications. The origins of the chosen concentric plan can be traced back to an earlier design for a town called Sforzinda, named after the Duke of Milan.
With such illustrious pedigrees one would think that success was guaranteed but, as with so many utopian undertakings, it met with public resistance and in the end Venice could only populate Palmanova by offering pardoned criminals free plots and building materials.