The evolution of Sarnano’s Castrum

The original core of the historical town centre of Sarnano consists of public buildings located in Piazza Alta; the Church of Santa Maria; the Palazzo del Popolo and the Palazzo del Podestà; the Palazzo dei Priori; and the private houses right below. The population of the Castrum increased within a few years, however, as it welcomed more and more people from the surrounding countryside. This meant that it became necessary to expand the village. Despite this, as can be seen from the sketches below (made by architect Giuseppe Gentili), the urban development did not affect the original shape, which is almost intact.

The second city wall

The first construction dates back to 1304, just twenty years after the completion of the first ring of the city wall, when a second became necessary to be able to encompass the small hamlet that was growing just outside the “Porta Brunforte” gate. In fact, it was possible to access the castrum through different gates or “Porte”. Each of them led towards the grounds of the different castles that had been added to the village from which they take their name: Porta Poggio, Porta Brunforte, Porta Castelvecchio and Porta Bisio. The latter was built soon after the construction of the second city wall, as the inhabitants of Contrada Bisio did not participate immediately in establishing the Comune. The Piobbico district does not have a gate, even though the Cathedral of Santa Maria at the top of the village was considered an extension of the Abbazia of the Benedectine monks in Piobbico.
The buildings of the castrum are all constructed from ochre brick and are probably the result of work by master builders from Northern Italy. The only exception is the cantilevered houses, visible in some streets, which have a raised wooden platform that projects outwards: a type of architecture that is typical of Northern Italy and that bears witness to the presence of a community originating from that area.
For the remainder of the houses, the municipal laws required that they were built according to specific heights so that the outer circles would not block the light to the inner ones. The architecture is simple and uniform: noble palaces are entirely absent, proof of the fact that Sarnano never accepted the presence of great noble families by virtue of the popular and independent spirit of its founders. The same Brunforte family, once urbanised in the castrum of Sarnano, were granted a space of sixty feet for the construction of a house, provided it was no higher than a floor and did not overlook the public square, reserved for representative buildings.

Medieval village of Sarnano - Analysis of urban development (Arch. G. Gentile)

Later expansion

The third city wall dates back to the first half of the sixteenth century and includes the new settlement of houses just outside Porta Castelvecchio, including the Monte di Pietà and the Jewish ghetto. The third ringed wall also incorporated the construction of the Porta della Pesa, nowadays incorrectly known as the Arco del Trecento.
The fourth and final ringed wall dates back to the end of the sixteenth century and was built to incorporate the new “borgo” near the area of Poggio.
The extension of the walls also meant that the doors had to be rebuilt, many of which had a precarious life, especially after the death of Pope Sixtus V, when the phenomenon of brigandage became more intense and the need to make the villages safer forced citizens to reduce the number of accesses.
As a matter of fact, year after year, more and more gates in Sarnano were bricked up until only the gate of Brunforte remained. This gate now forms a symbolic connection between the fortified area and modern Sarnano.

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