Symbolic Townhalls of Italy and Northern Europe

Ancient town halls expressed the prestige and wealth of the cities they represented with many works of art.

In the past, the citizens of the various nations of Europe wished to express their prestige by building public edifices with a merely secular function and on a more reasonable mode than for cathedrals and churches. The stately Palazzo Communale in Verona,was erected just before 1200 but most of Northern Italy townhalls date back to one century later. These buildings are characterized by a grand room on the ground floor that can be reached via a majestic flight of stairs. The tower is another symbol of urban pride. The most striking examples certainly are the townhalls of Florence and Siena, built around 1310 with their exceptional heights of 94 and 120 meters and extraordinary works of art. A large squareisalways often found in front.At Siena, Lorenzetti painted the frescoes of "The Good and Bad Governments" so that the visitors had no doubt about the aspirations of the magistrates. Since then, no one ever contested the overwhelming power of these towns.

The other area of European urbanization at the end of Middle-Ages was the Netherlands where the civilian power expressed itself in massive stone buildings remarkable for their length, width and especially height. In the Flanders and Brabant, textile centers, Cloth Halls reached proportions that matched with the importance of this activity. A typical example is the clock tower, independent from any church, built in the form of a belfry and close to municipal edifices. Bells were rung to indicate the beginning and the end of the working day. These towers were equally used as a safe to keep valuable documents belonging to the city. They naturally also were usedas watchtowers. Whatever its function, the clock tower reflected the city's prestige. In the XIIIth century,the town of Ypres in Belgium,built a Cloth Hall.The construction offered a 132 m long façade and a 70 m high belfry overlooking surrounding houses. Ypresonce was a large industrial town that sold her products allover Europe.This huge public edifice, one of the largest in Europe, proved the superiority of the town to hundreds of foreign merchants who attended the yearly fairs. In Bruges also was created a massive Cloth Hall and a belfry, independent from the townhall. On the same square another market was constructed on the other side of the canal, and specifically for loading and unloading ships. Monumental townhalls in the Brabant Region, especially in Louvain and Brussels were the very first in the Gothic Style. In Brussels, the bell tower was higher than those of the main church and Duke's Palace, although they were upon a hill.Sometimes, the belfry is an independent structure, like in Gand,symbolizing the right to autonomy and self-defence of a free town. It is characteristic of all cities of the Flanders, Artois and Picardy.

Urban pride was also evident in Hanseatic towns of Northern Germany which were, in a large extent, independent from the emperor and locallords. The wealth of these towns came from maritime trade and they exerted their activities from Russia to England, the Flanders and the Atlantic Coast of France. Like anywhere else, this prosperity was reflected in various types of constructions:large churches, massive gates, townhalls where decisions were made as to thecommercial policies, mansions of rich patricians owning several floors to store their goods. In the plain of Northern Europe where no natural hard stone was found, clay was widely used to make bricks. The architecture of Northern Sea and Baltic Coasts adopted a very particular style that in terms of colors could not stand comparisonwith Italian marble. But using delicate and subtle differencesin relief or uncommon brick arrangements, the architects succeeded in obtaining marvellously animated façades.

Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/17/458SienaPalPubblico.JPG

Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/99/512SienaCappellaPiazza.JPG

Allegory of Good and bad Governements, Ambroglio Lorenzetti. Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e8/Ambrogio_Lorenzetti_002.jpg

Kodros, King of Athens, Domenico Beccafumi. Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a9/Domenico_Beccafumi_004.jpg

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dc/Firenze.PalVecchio05.JPG

First Courtyard at Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. Putto with Dolphin by Verrocchio.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cd/Firenze.Palvecchio.basin.JPG

Genio della Vittoria by Michelangelo. Palazzo Pubblico, florence.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/Firenze.Palvecchio.500.Michelangelo.JPG

Frescoes in the Hall of Lillies. Palazzo Pubblico, Florence.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7e/Firenze.Palvecchio.HallLilies.JPG

Cloth Hall at Ypres, Belgium.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/01/Belgie_ieper_lakenhal_nacht.jpg

Belfry of Bruges, Belgium.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7b/Belfort_Brugge.jpg

Louvain Gothic Townhall, Belgium.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/fr/1/1b/HoteldevilleLouvain.JPG

Belfry at Gand, Belgium.

image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f4/BelfortGent.jpg

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