Via Emilia: the rationalist turning point

Reggio Emilia State Record Office, corso Cairoli n. 6

4 December 2017 - 28 February 2018 - Exhibitions

Via Emilia_Locandina



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With the fall of the ducal Ancien Régime and the rise of the Napoleonic Republics, the enlightenment which was already quite present in Reggio in the second half of the 18th century was able to openly manifest itself, subjecting all the inherited structures to careful and implacable criticism, both political and social, including the urban layout which, with its temporal stratifications, had made Reggio the city it was.Palazzo della Finanza

The stretch of Via Emilia at Porta San Pietro featured porticoes on the northern side. This type of construction had developed over the centuries and had housed shops, palaces and modest homes; in short, it was determined according to the needs of the social fabric.

This type of development lacking any organicity and planning was attacked, bringing the inevitable consequences: an irrational urban layout lacking functionality and aspects relating to the population’s hygiene. Chiesa di s. Paolo

This entirely negative evaluation of the structure and its artistic and stylistic layout from the past led to the solution of "rationalising" the city’s main artery by demolishing at least the porticoes and the entire existing building on the northern side, thus widening and rectifying the layout of the street and giving stylistic unity to the whole with new façades for the buildings designed according to the criteria of simplicity and symmetry, eliminating any tinsel, and drawing inspiration from the classical architecture that had also been affirmed in other cities. Thus, for example, in the stretch between the Church of San Pietro and the gate of the same name consisting entirely of very modest houses, the architect Marchelli designed a single façade which was symmetrical to a central axis represented by the arch that still opens up Via del Follo today. Arco del Follo

It is important to not overlook the public and social motives that prompted the Decorations Commission to decide on the implementation of a similar design: with these huge public works, the greatest possible number of employees chosen from amongst the poor of the city were employed in the construction industry, well before this mass of marginalised people gave rise to dangerous unrest in the political and administrative structures that had just been established.Casa Bongiovanni

Of course, all traces of the previous urban layout were removed, and the only documentation that offers an indication of the appearance of the houses overlooking Via Emilia at the end of the eighteenth century is the drawings by the municipal architect Domenico Marchelli, who was entrusted with the entire operation and was actually its skilful creator.

The work began in 1797 and was carried out according to his designs first in the stretch between Porta San Pietro and the church of the same name, and later from this to the convent of St. Thomas; it ended in 1821.Casa Gradellini


It is worth adding that in the restyling of the buildings overlooking all of Via Emilia, in order to confer a quality of classical solemnity and decoration to them, the same was continued beyond the middle of the nineteenth century by Domenico Marchelli’s son, the architect Pietro.

Gabella s. Stefano


- Giuliano Cervi, Walter Baricchi, L'abbattimento dei portici di San Pietro, in «Reggio storia», n. 6 set/dic. 1979. Reggio Emilia, Tipolitografia Emiliana; pp. 30-33.

 - Vittorio Nironi, Le case di Reggio nell'Emilia nel Settecento. Reggio Emilia, Bizzocchi, 1978.


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