CARRARA – THE CENTRE
There is no documentary evidence to show that the historic centre of Carrara was included in the urban development known to have taken place in the Carrara valley in Roman times. Some scholars believe the Roman settlement extended to cover the area now delimited by via del Plebiscito, Porta del Bozzo, piazza del Mercato and piazza Accademia. Others restrict the scope of pre-medieval development to the area now occupied by the quarters of Vezzala and, partly, Cafaggio – where in fact the only Roman ruins discovered in the upper valley have come to light.
Since neither hypothesis can be confirmed, we can only take as our starting point the early defensive walls built around the medieval village in the years immediately after 1212. This wall enclosed the area occupied by Porta del Bozzo, the left bank of the Carrione as far as the start of the modern via Ghibellina, the east side of piazza Alberica, via dell’Arancio and Porta del Bozzo.
It was within this perimeter, whose focal points were the church and castle, that medieval Carrara grew. The early town was rapidly demarcated by trade and function, with its commercial and artisan activities concentrated along the axis of Ponte di Caina-Ponte della Bugia. After this the upper reaches of the town were developed, between Ponte della Bugia and Ponte Baroncino.
While the initial development of Carrara was funded almost exclusively by the Curia (one Bishop Enrico boasts in his autobiography of having spent two hundred imperial lire on the construction of houses in Vezzala), the second phase of expansion was left to individual enterprise, although development was subject to strict regulations. These regulations, gathered in a legal corpus (the Pelavicino Codex) from 1206, constituted a kind of town planning charter ante litteram: they included the systematic parcelling and development of the “Cafadium” – i.e. the modern Cafaggio – and established maximum and minimum dimensions for the houses built there. To encourage expansion, in 1260 it was even stipulated that whoever already possessed a house in the town should assist, with donations of money and materials, those who wished to build a house there. Among the other incentives to building was the permission to occupy, during the construction period, public roads and squares with the necessary materials: it was in this period that piazza di Carrara, i.e. piazza del Duomo in the heart of the town, came into being.
While the Duomo, town hall (later Casa Repetti), castle, via S. Maria and Porta del Bozzo gradually articulated the structure of the town enclosed within the walls, development continued apace beyond the walls until in the 16th century this extramural portion of the town was itself enclosed within a new wall. The first stone of the outer wall was laid on 10 May 1557. By the time of its completion in 1637, this new wall enclosed an area three times larger than the early wall. Piazza Alberica became symbol and centre of the new, expanded town. It was in the period ranging from the 16th century to the first half of the 19th century that the religious and civil buildings which now characterize the post-medieval town were built: the church (existing churches were extensively remodelled), palaces, the roads around piazza Alberica, via Alberica, and la Carriona in the heart of the town, etc. This long and sustained period of growth reached its cultural and architectural peak in the first half of the 19th century with the construction of the Teatro degli Animosi.