The Villa Contarini complex is one of the most impressive examples of “Venetian Villas”, that is to say of a building conceived to respond to the needs of the Venetian aristocracy at a time in which, with the establishment of the Stato da Terra, had extended in staggering amounts its land ownership in the Veneto and Friuli hinterland.
In particular the Villas on one hand had to serve as “administrative” and organizational centres for these vast estates (for this purpose therefore there were colonnades, warehouses, housing for the farmers, stables and other rural annexes), and on the other hand a prestigious location for recreation and amusement.
It follows that, owing to the firmness of these requirements, a recurrence of certain typical elements that by large are also found in Piazzola sul Brenta: the Villas, by rule, were built in the centre of the estates, very often re-adapting accordingly to new architectural standards – that called for the presence of an imposing central body and vast wings – pre-existing buildings that had fallen into abandon (generally castles), were provided with an ample gardens with fountains, mazes and water features.
Obviously, beyond these typical elements there exist some peculiarities and Villa Contarini – apart from the necessary restructuring through the centuries – is no exception.
The first nucleus of the Villa (which today represents the central body) most likely existed on the old castle and according to archived documents, it had been subject to development during the fourth decade of the 16th century according to a plan that, probably, is attributed to the young Andrea Palladio.
In any case these operations, dating back to the 17th century, according to a new project devised by Marco Contarini (only partially completed by the way) would turn the Villa into an unicum (unique) in the panorama of the Venetian Villas: apart from the impressive wings, we must also take note of the building of the corridore, an imposing building perpendicular to the east wing which runs towards the overlooking piazza. The piazza in turn, is distinguished by an imposing semi cycle (the “loggie palladiane”) that closes it off, with 31 arches, on the east side, and that housed, on its upper level, the guest rooms; from these the guests could look onto the piazza which clearly (especially if the planned west semi cycle was to be have been completed), served as an impressive place of entertainment for the illustrious guests and at the same time as a majestic stage for the festivities that were conducted in the Villa.
It is once more important to note how Villa Contarini is inseparable from the piazza and from the architectural complex that rest on the loggia. The loggia, in the past, were quite different from how they appear today. they included together with the surviving Loco delle Vergini and the Tempio del Temanza (see below), the demolished Grande Teatro, The Piccolo Teatro, the church of Music (or the Church of St. Mark) as well as a print shop and annexed factory works.
Going back to the Villa, we cannot, in the end, not mention the refurbishment and works of completion taken on by Paolo Camerini in the 1920's at the end of which the Villa took on the appearance as we see today; in particular the refurbishment of the whole of the west wing which still preserved the appearance of a warehouse with a gabled roof, and of the demolition of the guest houses on the east wing.
TEMPIETTO DEL TEMANZA
Built on the wishes of Paolina Contarini, it takes the name of Tommaso Temanza (1705-89), a well known Venetian architect and engineer to which the building is attributed. The small temple, plainly inspired by Palladio, is accessed through an arcade that measures nearly 15 meters in length that serves as an atrium: the inside is cylindrical and is distinguished by the light guaranteed by the four small windowed arches and by the same number of windows and by the vertical souring lines of the 16 semipilasters.
A small apse and, on both sides, the two small sacristies embellish the small temple. And finally, of note, the ingenious and elegant pseudo-facade with its fake wooden door which distinguishes the north side, the only side visible from the outside.
LOCO DELLE VERGINI
This structure, which can be accessed from the piazza through a small arcade, was allocated to host the Female College established by Marco Contarini for the care of orphan girls or girls in need, who were then educated into the arts of song, dance, embroidery, etc., that is to say in activities in preparation for the festivities that were performed in the Villa and in line therefore with the concept of the Villa as a “place of music”.
Architecturally the Loco delle Vergini reflects the form of a cloister and answers perfectly to its functionality as outlined above. On the four sides facing the internal courtyard, at ground level as on the upper levels, there were located all the workshops mentioned above that represented therefore the “operational” heart of the Contarini complex.
Stylistically the Loco is distinguished by the linearity of the shapes (as seen in particular by the colonnade) and the elegance of the cross vaults. The result is a “clean” looking structure in which a distinguishing feature is an exquisite stairway (now privately owned) that leads to the first floor, embellished by the large fresco depicting “Apollo and Diana sending thunder to the children of Niobe”
EX JUTIFICIO ( EX JUTE WORKS)
Worthy of note is also the area of the ex textile works, a building dedicated to the production of jute built progressively starting from the last decade of the 19th century as part of the ambitious “Camerini plan”. Camerini aspired to wholly transform Piazzola sul Brenta from an essentially agricultural centre (even though it was a location for a few proto-industries) into an industrial centre, an “ideal town” for employment in which production requirements and quality of life of its citizens/workers had to proceed hand in hand.
Built with a typically functional plant, the factory remained productive right up to 1978, the year in which all production came to a close; after this date the many buildings that were part of the complex went into quick decay which made it necessary, at the beginning of this millennium, for an intense work of renovation with a contextual change of use from industrial to residential and commercial.
The present day site is highlighted by it permanence (such as the tower, the imposing chimney, the vast covered spinning factory floor, the piazza in which the materials used recall its preceding industrial use) and the novelties (on all the new buildings whose geometric volumes redefine in a modern key the town's landscape). It is quite enjoyable, therefore, to enter the area following the path that runs along the canal whose waters, up to a few decades ago, powered the plant's machinery.
DUOMO AND EX CASA DEL FASCIO
Another place of interest is represented by the Duomo (Cathedral) of Piazzola and by the overlooking Ex Casa del Fascio.
The Duomo, distinguished externally by the imposing facade and its neo-gothic pinnacles was built between 1914 and 1926 and opened for service in 1926. Inside, of note, are the frescoes by Andreoli and Castagna, the polychromatic windows and in particular the wooden furnishings, of which the pulpit constructed by Luigi Strazzabosco stands out.
The Casa del Fascio was built in front of the Duomo, as if to ratify the climate of harmony between civil and religious spheres typical of the years following the religious compromise, between the end of the 30's and the start of the 40's, The building, designed by the architect Quirino de Giorgio who was very active in the Padova area, clearly recaptures the standards of fascist architecture: functional/rational in its forms, it tends at times to exceed in its monumentality as can be clearly seen by massive columns that distinguish the north face and especially the west face. Transformed into a local cinema during the second postwar, the Casa del Fascio has also been the object of important renovation by the local authorities and at present it is the site of the library and cultural centre dedicated to A.Mantegna.
Villa Trieste is located in Vaccarino and takes its name from the family that acquired it in 1808 from the noble Venetian family Savonarola.
The Villa, as we see it today, is the result of renovation carried out in 1789 by Gaetano Savonarola; it was though the Trieste family that commissioned Giuseppe Jappelli for the design of the beautiful romantic garden, characterised by cozy and shadowed areas, flowing water, statues, etc, as opposed to the English garden model.
And the tie with nature as one of the prominent features of Villa Trieste is underlined by its orientation, with its facade looking towards the River Brenta and the Tavello area (a protected nature area recognized as a Site of Community Interest) and its back towards the town centre. It is an ideal starting point for nature excursions.
Villa Paccagnella is located in Isola Mantegna, and it is another worthy example of Venetian Villa, designed in pure Palladian style up to the point that, in this case also, it has been speculated that the celebrated architect from Vicenza himself may have contributed, at least at the initial design and construction phase.
Many elements give weight to this theory and in particular the front steps, the pediment, and the gable which very closely resemble other well known Palladian works.
Alas the building already put to the test during the second world war (it was used as a military hospital by German troops, who painted over many of the frescoes), is now in a very bad state of repair so much so that the Regional Institute of Venetian Villas has carried out safety measures standing in for the defaulting proprietor.
A final note of interest goes to the small village of Isola Mantegna (once known as Isola di Carturo), the area where the aforementioned Villa Paccagnella and Villa Ramina (known as La Columbina) are located, that is famous for being the birthplace of the famous painter Andrea Mantegna.
The little information available describes him as of humble origins and that probably, with the help of his brother, a tailor in Padova in Contrada Santa Lucia, he was able to enter into the workshop of the Squarcione where he remained for about six years during which time he served his artistic apprenticeship. This period of training in Padova was also of essential importance insomuch that it allowed him to be inspired by the humanistic ideals so much in vogue at the time and to also bring himself up to date on the latest national and international trends. After his first big commission where he was employed to decorate the Ovetari Chapel in the Eremitani Church in Padova, he extended his range of activities to the whole Italian peninsula (Verona, Mantua, Rome), painting masterpieces that allowed him by rights to be considered as one of the great masters of the Renaissance.
Alas, nothing has remained in Isola Mantegna of his natal home and the numerous theories that point to this or that exact place where the artist was born are non supported by sufficient elements of proof.