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It was early in the morning when the earth shook Ferrara awake. Nature has no regard for history, for architecture or for heritage. The planet is bigger than them all and it strikes indiscriminately.
The day after the earthquake struck Italy’s Emilia Romagna region, at 5.9 on the richter scale, I visited the city. Cracks were on the walls, small piles of rubble still on the ground, and barricades erected by emergency services around buildings in danger.
Thankfully the damage was minimal, with only minor structural damage. Thankfully, because Ferrara is known worldwide as one of the finest examples of city planning. In its streets, quite literally, is the inspiration for many modern cities today.
Ferrara was the first planned city of the renaissance and the first in Italy not to follow the traditional Roman principles. It had two major perpendicular avenues the design was based around, wide roads to accommodate traffic and an advanced sewer system. For 1492, it was well ahead of its time.
It was supposed to be the ‘ideal city’, a humanist concept where the priority was the citizens. In its forward thinking, the city managed to attract and cultivated some of the greatest minds of the Renaissance period. At one point there was a feeling it could be a future capital city, but that clearly never came to pass.
These days there’s a lot of modern development in the city but the historic centre has been well-preserved and is relatively free of traffic. An old Italian wine bar (it claims to be the oldest in the world) lies down on street but it’s hard to find with no advertising or promotion. It fits with the understated character of the place.
With this kind of planning and attitude, Ferrara was designed to withstand the test of time. Earthquakes weren’t taken into consideration but it’s nice to see it withstands those kinds of pressures as well. Let’s hope it’s around for another 500 years.