When you write about Italy, you are usually dealing with superlatives. Oldest this, tiniest that. As I was doing research on the squares (piazze) of Italy for my #30dayphotochallenge project, I came across a photo I had taken while in Prato della Valle in Padua. I didn’t have to delve too far to discover that this is Italy’s largest piazza — even bigger than Piazza del Plebiscito in Naples and Piazza del Popolo in Rome.
Prato della Valle measures 90,000 sq meters, making it not only the largest square in Italy but one of the largest in Europe. Its name means “meadow of the valley” and it is an elliptical square that surrounds a grassy island known as l’Isola Memmia. It was named for Andrea Memmo, who helped claim the land for the city of Padua. Four bridges cross over to the island leading to its central fountain.
What is particularly charming about the Prato della Valle is the perfectly symmetrical arrangement of 78 statues and obelisks — originally 88 — around the square, both on the outer circle and on the edge of the island. The 44th statue, the last statue on the outer circle, is that of Andrea Memmo. Other statues of note include Petrarch (35), Galileo (36), Roman historian Livy (48), and artists Andrea Mantegna and Antonio Canova (21 and 68, respectively). Many of the other statues are those of church figures, Venetian doges, and various noblemen. Napoleon’s forces destroyed five of the statues in 1797.