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City history

Faenza is located very favourably. The Via Emilia, an ancient Roman main road that connects the Adriatic and the Thyrrenian coast, linking Ravenna to Tuscany, crosses the town and has always played an important role in Faenza's relationships with various cities in Romagna and with Florence and the surrounding towns. During the High Middle Ages, Faenza maintained a strong relationship with Ravenna; later, it established important commercial and cultural exchanges with Florence, that reached their peak during the Manfredi family rule. In the 18th century, the town became a very important cultural centre in Romagna, both culturally and economically.
lts urban history, as that of many other towns in Emilia-Romagna, is a continuous transformation of the originai Roman structure, which has been partially altered but can stili be recognised in the geometrica! street-plan of today's Faenza.
The construction of the Via Emilia (187 b.C.) gave origin to Roman Faventia, founded on a site that had been inhabited since prehistoric times. After its foundation, the countryside was divided according to the typical Roman "centuries". The most important area was the one on the eastern side of the Via Emilia, that became the town's rural and urban pivot.
Medieval Faenza was stili based on the Roman division, that was centred on the "cardo" and "decumano". Archaeological findings show that the town developed especially during the 1st and 2nd century; as a matter of fact, at this time the town could take advantage of the measures that favoured agriculture promoted by the Roman Empire, allowing the construction of many villas in the surrounding countryside and of a large number of domus (rich town houses). Some of the most important industries of this period were ceramics, bricks and linen.
In the 2nd century, the town began losing power and importance, obviously a consequence of the decadence of the Roman Empire. Thanks to Faenza's commercial relationship with the harbour of Classe and with Ravenna it was able to reduce the damaging effects to the economy. The harbour of Classe was in fact in constant need of food and timber far its naval building yards. This caused the partial deforestation of the central Apennines and, in particular, of the river Lamone valley, which was crossed by the main road linking Ravenna to the Etruscan area. Faenza lived through its most difficult phase during the Byzantine domination, when it became an unimportant peripheral centre of Ravenna exarchate.
The only artistic examples of this period still surviving are the church of S. Maria ad Nives (or S. Maria Vecchia), the oldest Christian basilica in town, located south of the Via Emilia and originally built outside the ancient town borders in the 6th and 7th century, and the crypt located under the church of SS. lppolito and Lorenzo, built in the 7th and 12th - 13th century.
By the end of the 8th century, Faenza's lords decided to fortify the town and to build the Pieve (church) di San Pietro in the town centre. The fortification was preserved until the 13th century. During the 1Oth and 11th century there were some important additions to Faenza's architectural history: the construction of the popular octagonal tower bell of the S. Maria ad Nives Basilica and of many parish churches, and the foundation of the Borgo Durbecco, the first town district to be built outside the borders of the river Lamone.
The first significant enlargement of the urban core dates back to the first quarter of the 13th century. The town was extended out to the area of Via Fiera and Via Pascoli and many religious orders decided to build their monasteries in the area between Via Pascoli and the surrounding canals. After the siege led by Federico II in 1240 the fortifications were destroyed and replaced by the fortress located in Via Bondiolo.
By the second half of the 13th century, many new civil and religious buildings were constructed, including the churches of San Bartolomeo, San Giacomo della Penna, S. Maria Maddalena, Commenda (still existing) and many others that do not exist anymore.
The remains of the San Giovanni Battista monastery cloister and some ogee arches made of terracotta bricks belonging to the churches of S. Francesco and S. Agostino also date back to this period. As far as civil architecture is concerned, we note the increased fortification and major development of the central town area, combined with the building of the Palazzo del Podestà and the Palazzo del Popolo. The Palazzo del Popolo was meant to be the residence of the Manfredi family, who also built the Cathedral and the Episcopal residence, thus starting to give to the main square its modern shape. Francesco Manfredi, who become the lord of the town in 1313, completed the Ponte delle Torri, the most peculiar urban medieval building that Faenza has ever had. This bridge linked the town centre and the Borgo Durbecco and was destroyed by a flood in 1842. Francesco also founded the Zecca (the Mint), the church called Dei Servi and the big sturdy tower built on the same site as today's clock tower.
In 1373, the fortress built by Federico Il was destroyed and replaced by a new more imposing fortress commissioned by Cardinal Egidio d'Aibornoz on the site now occupied by the hospital.
Between 1392 and 1395, the town centre was again modified by Astorgio I Manfredi, who commissioned the portico in front of the Palazzo della Signoria; it was made of stone columns and extended from the Via Emilia up to the Voltone della Molinella, the small passage leading to "Piazza Nenni".
After 1455, under the rule of Astorgio Il and Carlo Il Manfredi, Faenza became politically stable and many new churches and palaces were built. This period of stability encouraged a strong relationship between the cultura! and artistic worlds of Faenza and Florence. Astorgio II also gave birth to Faenza's Renaissance, encouraged by the relationship between the Manfredi and the Medici family, who dominated Florence. Some examples of this Tuscan influence are: the presence in town at the time of Giuliano and Benedetto da Maiano and Biagio d'Antonio, three architects who had been working in Florence, the foundation of the Libreria Manfrediana (the actual library), and the acquisition of some masterpieces by Donatello, Rossellino and Andrea and Luca della Robbia.
Carlo II designed the project for the renewal of the town centre, inspired by the town model of Leon Battista Alberti, the famous Tuscan Renaissance architect. The project included the renovation of the four main roads (the so-called "corsi") and of the main square, bordered by porticoes like that designed by Vitruvio, the renowned Roman architect. The Duomo (cathedral) was built in accordance with the design by Giuliano da Maiano, who started the works in 1474, thanks to the support of bishop Federico Manfredi, brother of Carlo. Together with the Duomo, the church of S. Stefano Vetere (with its round pian), the fortifications and the enlarged garden of the Palazzo della Signoria are the best examples of Faenza's Renaissaince art.
At the beginning of the 16th century, the town was besieged by Cesare Borgia, a clear sign of the local government crisis. Nevertheless, thanks to the Venetian administration, who encouraged an artistic and economic recovery, the Cathedral was at last finished. In 1509, the town was annexed to the Papal States, whose domination lasted until 1797.
Some important buildings were constructed within the first quarter of the 17th century: the Loggiato degli Orefici (goldsmiths' portico), opposite the Cathedral, the public fountain and the clock tower. In the same period, the western portico of the main square was also completed. The baroque church of S. Maria Nuova, designed by the Roman architect Girolamo Rainaldi, was built in 1621.
The noble family of the Spada commissioned the main altar, one of the first examples of local baroque architecture built by Virgilio Spada and Francesco Borromini. During the second half of the 17th century many palaces belonging to aristocratic families were built (such as palazzo Mazzolani and palazzo Ferniani) and many churches were restored.
During the 18th century, the religious and civil leaders carried out more renovations and new construction works, thanks to the great sums of money that came from harsh agricultural agreements. The numerous churches and buildings dating back to this time were mainly built by local master builders. As far as sacred architecture is concerned, there are S. Agostino (1720-21), S. Umiltà (1741), S. Francesco (1746-54), S. Domenico (1761-65) and S. lppolito (1771-75), whereas some examples of noble palaces are palazzo Zanelli (1745), palazzo Bertoni (1745), palazzo Severoli (1780) and palazzo Ferniani (1750).
In the last quarter of the 18th century, a group of culturally well informed nobles who were ideologically very close to French revolutionary ideas encouraged Faenza's Neoclassical avant-garde (the architects Giuseppe Pistocchi and Giovanni Antonio Antolini, the painter Felice Giani and the modeller Antonio Trentanove) to reflect and express the new artistic and cultura! trends and the egalitarian aspirations of the middle class. The first examples of this renovated cultural climate are the church of S. Domenico, built according to the criteria of the renowned architect Andrea Palladio, palazzo Laderchi (1781), by Francesco Tadolini and the Municipal Theatre (1781), by G. Pistacchi. Additional examples of local Neoclassical buildings made by G. Pistocchi are palazzo Gessi (1786), palazzo Conti (1786), casa Pistocchi (1787), palazzo Morri (181O), Galleria della Molinella (1785), the rear addition to the palazzo Bandini Spada (1780) and palazzo Milzetti (1795-1802), the most outstanding and complete example of Faenza's Neoclassical art. The ltalian artists G.A. Antolini, F. Giani, A. Trentanove and the Ballanti Graziani brothers also contributed to this project.
In the 19th century, Neoclassical ideas and artistic criteria continued to influence the artistic world of Faenza, even though they developed their formal aspects. In this period, many civil buildings were constructed, thus giving Faenza its modern appearance, characterised by typically simple but accurate elements. The end of the Neoclassical influence in Faenza corresponds to the conclusion of its most original artistic period. The town structure did not change much during the 20th century and was preserved almost unaltered until the end of the Second World War.
Today, some peripheral residential areas have been added to its originai nucleus, but Faenza is stili centred on its historical core, an elegant, sober but also lively meeting point for the town inhabitants and visitors.