The search for the ideal city in Renaissance Italy testifies not only to a strong interaction between the planning of an urban space and its socio political institutions, but also to a lively dialogue between architectural treatises and utopian texts.
On the one hand, utopian cities present features which recur in various Italian regions, on the other, theoretical treatises address fundamental utopian issues, since they aim at healing the dis-functions of real historical towns. Clearly enough, while in the ideal cities conjured up and described in literary utopias the social structure appears to be of primary concern and the urban arrangement of secondary importance, in the ideal city theorised in architectural treatises the reverse is true. In many cases, projects of ideal towns become tools through which the Prince’s hegemony is exerted and the power of the Italian Signorie, the lords of the towns, is ennobled.
The archetype of the utopian city is Utopia (1516) by Thomas More: while learning about the “fifty-four splendid towns on the island, all with the same language, laws, customs and institutions ”, the reader realizes that the rational geometry of More’s urban planning mirrors his egalitarian and communist political views: the towns are all built on the same plan, and so far as the site will allow, they all look exactly alike. Clearly enough, the physical shape of the urban environment, where social life takes place, is deeply connected with its social organization and the behaviour of its citizens. The correspondence between the planimetry of the city and the customs and ethics of its inhabitants, a major point in More’s communist views, is derived from the thought of classical texts – from Plato’s philosophical writings to Vitruvius’s De Architectura – whom European humanists re-read and re-interpreted according to new epistemological paradigms.
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