Before we departed for this Camino I had a casual look at our route across Italy on our mapping app.  Zooming into one of the many undulations on the track, I was surprised to see a perfectly symmetrical nine pointed star.  This is the town of Palmanova, which we passed through this morning.

Palmanova has an interesting history.  It is a city fortress founded by Venice in 1593.  At the time Renaissance ideals were in ascendancy, and Thomas More’s “Utopia”, and similar books were influential.  Palmanova was constructed as a peripheral defence against the Ottomans.  The shape comes from military engineering principles of the time, but the civil structure was based on utopian ideals.  As has often been said, utopias are unworkable, coercive and boring, and Palmanova was not an exception.  Few people wanted to live there.  By 1622 Venice was pardoning criminals and offering them free building lots if they would live in Palmanova.

More recent history has been kinder to Palmanova.  It has UNESCO status (Venetian defensive structures of the 15th to 17th century).  It is also on the official list of the most beautiful towns in Italy.  There was a major bike race underway when we passed through.  I think they were cycling in the area between the outer and middle walls, which is a beautiful green space providing wildlife habitat.

On entering the city I noticed that there were two names for the town: Palmanova and Palme.  We have seen two names on many highway signs since we entered Italy.  In the border area with Slovenia the second name was in Slovenian, but I just learned that the second language in this area is Friulian.  It is related to Italian, but there are significant differences in vocabulary and pronunciation.  The language is spoken by 600,000 people in this area, and taught in some of the schools.  Ruth and I are struggling enough we Italian, so I think we’ll leave Friulian lessons for another trip.

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