Summer brings visitors to the beaches in droves, while they head into the mountains for skiing in the winter. Nicer weather also means trips into the mountains and lakes to explore the region’s parks and enjoy the many outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking and mountain/rock climbing. There are water sports on the coast, including sailing and wind-surfing.

The larger cities and towns include Trieste, Udine, Gorizia and Pordenone, with one of the most extraordinary being Palmanova, a star fort of the Late Renaissance, built up by the Venetian Republic from 1593. Palmanova’s nine-pointed star structure was conceived as an impregnable defensive system and features three defence lines, the first two erected in Venetian times, the third one under Napoleon.

The Venetian empire was then a major centre of trade, and Palmanova was conceived to prevent attacks from Austrian and Turkish forces. After its founding in 1593, construction took about a century to complete. The concentric star formation was considered close to ideal for defence according to the military thinking of the day.

The entire town is enclosed in a circular area with a circumference of seven kilometres. This is surrounded by a moat, and nine arrow-shaped inter-connected ramparts protruded out of the town so that the points could defend each other. Entrance to the town was allowed through three guarded gates.

Palmanova remained under Venetian rule for over 200 years (1593-1797), until it was conquered by Napoleon. Following the Treaty of Campoformio, it came under Austrian influence (1798-1805) and was then conquered and annexed to the Kingdom of Italy (1806-1814). After Napoleon's fall, the town remained part of the heterogeneous Hapsburg Empire up to 1866, with only the brief parenthesis of an uprising in 1848 when the fortress was besieged by Austrian troops. It was united to the Kingdom of Italy as a result of a plebiscite in 1866.

The town maintains to this day the fortifications devised in the course of centuries as the science of fortifications progressively developed innovative systems to deal with new requirements arising from the evolution of armaments.

The design presents an orderly, perfectly geometrical structure around a large hexagonal piazza, the Piazza Grande, with, at the centre, a three-curbed well bearing the city banner. All the city's main buildings overlook the piazza, in particular the Palazzo del Provveditore Generale, built in 1598 for the Serenissima's delegate, the highest civilian and military authority, and it later housed a succession of generals, commandants and podestà (high officials).

The square is also flanked by the cathedral, where there are a number of works of interest, and the Civic History Museum, containing arms, historical items and documents illustrating the history of the fortress town from its origins to the Second World War.

Six roads branch out from the piazza; three of them (Borgo Udine, Cividale and Aquileia) lead to the city gates, the other three lead to the defence ramparts. These radial roads are intersected by four ring roads; the outermost one, Strada delle Milizie, runs along the city walls. The layout was to allow the garrison to move rapidly from the hexagonal drill ground to any point along the city walls, wherever the need for additional defence might arise.

The fortress town was classified as a National Monument in 1960 by decree of the President of the Republic. All the fortifications and the whole urban area come under the protection of the national legislation concerning cultural heritage. The fortifications together with five other Venetian wall structures in Italy and along the Adriatic Sea are included in UNESCO's World Heritage Site list as part of Venetian Works of Defence between the 15th and 17th centuries.

Palmanova has a population of only about 5000. It is 20 kilometres south of Udine and 55 kilometres north-west of Trieste, near the junction of the motorways A23 and A4.

Although there are other star-shaped fortress towns in Europe, namely Hamins in Finland, Coevorden e Naarden in The Netherlands and Neuf-Brisach in France, Palmanova with its seven kilometre fortifications can be considered a "unicum" in Europe also on account of the state of conservation of the town's structure and defences.

A fortress it may have been but Palmanova never saw a battle and despite its apparently impenetrable defence was captured twice – first by Napoleon and then back by the Kingdom of Italy.

Loading Conversation

The news that made headlines

The Brief History of the Week

Geschrieben von BT

Presenting in one concise package the week’s most important and fascinating national stories,…

ComiX Coffee in District V

Inmates running the asylum?

Geschrieben von Attila Leitner

Briton Ben Innes became the very definition of cool on Tuesday. In case you missed this, the…

Protests, no apologies as government-teachers dispute widens

Fight of the roundtables

Geschrieben von BT

The civil public education platform representing the teachers’ movement, which calls itself an…