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Terre nuove

Terra  nuova like Terra murata (fortified hamlet), castle or borgo franco (free town) refers to a practice, extending all over medieval Europe, of the founding  of towns  by private citizens or public  institutions to act as military headquarters, to encourage the population of the countryside,  promote farming  and  trade. The Terre nuove can be recognised by their neat layout based on a grid of streets and refer especially to the new Florentine lands.

As towns built from scratch, the Terre nuove had an urban layout derived from the Roman system used when founding its colonies; the layout is in fact generally quadrangular  (square or rectangular), co-ordinated with the inner grid of streets. On the main roads which the town is built around are the gates which open onto the town walls made from stone or brick and provided with main and secondary towers, chemin de ronde, battlements and projecting parts (machicolations) for its defence. Within the walls the buildings occupy the perimeters of blocks of land so as to leave a free space inside (between the backs of the buildings) used for growing vegetables. Vegetable plots were also envisaged around the edges of the town beside the walls so as to permit the survival of the population in the case of a siege and at the same time leave potential assailants who had reached the top of the walls without any where to climb down and occupy the town. Buildings were two or three storeys high and could accommodate workshops or shops on the ground floor.

The founding of Terre nuove was initially and for a long time the privilege of the higher ranking nobles of the area (in Liguria Del Carretto, Doria; in Tuscany Alberti, Aldobrandeschi, Guidi) but between the end of the XII and the beginning of the XIII century this practice became the prerogative of the cities and the foundation of Terre nuove came to be seen as an anti-feudal and anti-noble expression of the power of the commune (at least in central and northern Italy).

In Italy the phenomenon of founding towns went hand in hand with the growing power of the communes (in northern Italy alone about 200 new centres can be counted), and the conquest of the neighbouring territory: the names Villanuova, Terra nuova, Borgonuovo, Castelnuovo are revealing

The Florentine Terre nuove or Terre murate met the contemporary need to supervise the territory, encourage its population and control the roads and economy in an anti-noble, anti-feudal policy. The foundation of the Terre nuove affected the Valdarno (upstream and downstream of Florence) and Mugello, an area of transit through the passes to and from Romagna and the Po valley. A first group included the Terre nuove of Valdarno: comprising S. Croce and Castelfranco di Sotto ( 1250-60), S. Giovanni ( 1296-99), Castelfranco di Sopra ( 1299), Terranuova ( 1337);  a second group  consisted of the Terre nuove north of Florence on the routes through the Apennines of the Mugello  and included Castel San Barnaba ( Scarperia) ( 1306) and Firenzuola (1306/1332); Terre nuove were planned but not built  in Plano de Asentio and Giglio. The basic town plan consisted of a square layout with a piazza at the intersection of the main axes, or rectangular layout with a main longitudinal thoroughfare and piazza occupying the entire width of the town, included inside the walls.

The criteria adopted and the regularity of the Florentine Terre nuove were thought to be a possible anticipation of the research into the shape of cities developed in fifteenth century treaties but are more likely an expression of a mature town planning practice in line with the custom of Western Europe.


V. Franchetti Pardo, Un fenomeno territoriale declinante: la fondazione di nuovi centri, in Id.,  Storia  dell’Urbanistica. Dal Trecento al Quattrocento, Bari 1982, pp. 43-79;

D. Friedman, Terre Nuove. La creazione delle città fiorentine nel tardo medioevo, Torino 1996;

E. Guidoni, Arte e urbanistica in Toscana 1000-1315, Roma 1970;

E. Guidoni ( a cura di), Arnolfo di Cambio urbanista, Roma 2003;

E. Guidoni ( a cura di), Città nuove medievali: San Giovanni Valdarno, la Toscana  e  l’Europa, Roma 2008;

I. Moretti, Le “terre nuove” del contado fiorentino, Firenze 1979;

M. Morini, Atlante di storia dell’Urbanistica, Milano 1963, pp. 119-121

P. Pirillo, Creare comunità, Roma 2007

M. Richter, Die <<terra murata>> in Florentinischen Gebiet, in <<Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institut in Florenz>>, vol. V, fasc. VI, 1940, pp. 351-386