Architect, Landscape Architect, Urban Designer, Land Use Planner, Environmental Observer

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Italian Hilltown That I Didn't Visit ...

I was extremely fortunate to spend my fourth year of architecture school in Florence, Italy. For the weekends, I would take a bus or train to some of the great hill towns of Tuscany and Umbria. There was one amazing town I would pass on the way to Siena but never visited -


Siena transformed Monteriggioni into the imposing fortress you see, for the protection of its northern boundary in the wars against the enemy - Florence. Inside Monteriggioni in the fourteenth century were 150 families with about 600 inhabitants.

The circle of walls, dating from the thirteenth century is the largest of its kind in Tuscany to have survived practically intact. There is a main street which crosses the village, joining the two gates in the walls. A few houses and a pretty Romanesque church face onto the piazza, and other houses surround a small public garden. Inside the walls are other private gardens.

The walls were built from 1213 (see the headstone on the Romea Gate) until 1219 and then they were strengthened in various years (1260, 1279) until 1545. The walls of Monteriggioni are over 500 meters long, twenty meters tall and surrounded with 14 towers.

Monteriggioni is mentioned by Dante:

Divina Commedia. Inferno, xxxi. 41-44

'...come in su la cerchia londa Monteriggioni di torri si corona'

What is the attraction of these towns?

Here's a comparision to the communities of today by BuildLLC -


1. After a napkin-sketch analysis; the density of the tract housing development would be equal to approximately 5,352 dwellings per square mile, whereas the density of the hilltown would be equal to approximately 16,500 dwellings per square mile, more than 3 times as many dwellings within the same area.

2. The hilltown seems to have grown into the landscape whereas the tract housing has situated itself with disregard to the landscape.

3. Internal and private gardens exist at random within the hilltown whereas green space (the yard) is equally distributed in the tract housing.

4. There are many more anomalies amongst dwellings in the hilltown, whereas the tract housing is much more regular in form.

5. There is a messiness about the hilltown that the tract housing lacks.

6. There is greater articulation and more penetrations in the tract housing – more doors and windows. The walls of the dwellings in the hilltown are more solid and massive.

7. There appears to be variations of zoning in the hilltown as church steeples mix in with the dwellings. The tract housing allows for one type of use.

8. The streets of the tract housing are much more generous indicating that the automobile is more prominent. The hilltown seems to be calibrated for pedestrians and bicycles.

9. The volumes of tract houses are much larger in plan view than the volumes of the hilltown dwellings.

10. The hilltowns have occurred over decades and generations whereas the tract home developments were probably built from start to finish in less than two years.


But, I am also reminded of the lessons from

"Chamber of A Memory Palace", by Charles Moore and Donlyn Lyndon -

. . .

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  • - Chambers for a Memory Palace