Roccaforte (Fortress) di Santa Maria a Monte, a village in the Lower Valdarno, was for a long time a formidable military system.
From there a strategic part of Tuscany was controlled: the territory between the western offshoots of the Cerbaie hills and the course of the Arno river.
The fourteenth-century Florentine historian, Giovanni Villani, described it as the “strongest castle in Tuscany and the best equipped“.
The hilly position in fact ensured control of an area that is fundamental for the geopolitics of the region. It was therefore disputed by the interested powers: essentially Lucca, Pisa and Florence.
For this reason, the village of Santa Maria a Monte, which includes many traces of its millenary history, displays important medieval testimonies, in some ways unique, to those who visit it.
What makes it interesting is in the first place its helical urban structure, on whose originality many scholars have expressed themselves. Some have even told of Leonardo da Vinci’s interest in this spiral conformation of the town’s urban layout.
This condition allowed the village to develop a subsequent and original urban layout, giving rise to “miniaturized” living and working spaces.
This is how visitors can understand this evolution through a series of structures, but above all of a square that from the end of the second half of the nineteenth century was named after Venice. As befits the most classic tradition of naming of Italian towns (toponymy).
This title refers to important spaces, witnesses of large gatherings and meetings. So when we talk about the square, road or street named after the beautiful city, everyone figures them to be of particular grandeur.
This is certainly not the case with “Piazza Venezia” in Santa Maria a Monte, which is indeed a candidate to be recognized as “the smallest square in the world”.
This alleged primacy is not the result of a tourist promotion operation, but the result of an urban development, in fact.
In fact, in the beginning, the urban fabric of the village consisted of “courtyard houses”, most likely dating back to the early Middle Ages.
As Giovanni Giusti explains, in his publication ” Santa Maria a Monte. Origins and evolutions of the urban structure ” in 1999. These peculiarities ”are the product of a transformation of original courtyards subdivided and clogged with building types of increasingly smaller dimensions and without any areas of relevance.”
For our Piazza Venezia we are talking about a space wedged between houses and officially accredited by urban signs, with the name of Piazza Venezia, in fact.
It covers an area of about 30 (thirty!) square meters.
Dimensions therefore of a mini apartment, with the main access to three houses.
We are probably facing a record: Piazza Venezia in Santa Maria a Monte is the smallest square in the world. It has reached these dimensions for the use of tourists, not for a delimitation designed at a table, but for an urban phenomenon.
If we were to contextualize this corner of Santa Maria a Monte in a miniature reality, we would probably already be in the required order of magnitude.
As we have said, in this “micro-square” three houses have their access. In short, there are those who really live in miniature Italy, or in the smallest square in the world.
Other locations claim this record. In fact, we have news of other micro-squares such as “Piazza Padella” in Barbara (in the province of Ancona), Piazzetta Beata Vergine degli Angeli in Turin and Calleja del Panuelo, (Handkerchief Alley) in Cordoba, Spain.
As we have been able to document, there is often a tendency to qualify spaces with incomplete requirements as urban planning entities (street, square, course, etc.). In our opinion, that of Santa Maria a Monte has history, structures and functions that qualify its nature as a square.
However, there is a need for some sort of official certification that can define and then certify the requirements with which to assign the title.
In this regard, we would like to make a proposal: why not set up a board that evaluates the applications and defines the compliance of the candidates with the requirements that allow for the award of the title?
In fact, it seems to us a way to get to know and re-connect with the territories, enhancing their characteristics.
In this regard, we would like to predict the primacy of Piazza Venezia in Santa Maria a Monte: it is the result, not of a promotional initiative, but of two phenomena: tabernization and insolization (possibly architectural terms that translate from ‘tabernizzazione e l’insulizzazione’ where ‘tabernization’ may mean ‘formation of the internal dividing lines complementary to the centering axis’ and ‘insolization’ – ?).
But that is another story …