Medieval Pavia’s urban landscape evolved to reflect an ever changing leadership, inhabitants, religion, and regional position. Two major factors that shaped its identity and thus urban landscape, were its location at the confluence of the rivers Po and Ticino and its walls. The rivers made the city an important stop along the trading and communication route from the Alps to Ravenna (Morse). And the walls helped the city become a military bastion and created a limit for new development, which led to a layered history of land politics and reused space. Pavia was frequently reinventing itself and constantly demolishing and replacing earlier versions. While this destroyed a lot of the evidence of medieval urban landscapes, it also created an interesting record of winners in land disputes. The three most prominent changes in Pavia’s urban landscape coincide with major leadership changes, thus we will cover in order: Roman Pavia (Ticinensis), Ostrogothic Pavia, Lombard Pavia, and Carolingian Pavia.

Roman Ticinensis (dates)
Pavia was created on a Roman-style rectilinear street plan. It differed in appearance from a modern-day grid plan as buildings were not always constructed to face or align with the streets (Bullough, 1966, p. 106). The street system did, however, line up with a very extensive sewer system that, due to Pavia’s location on a sloped border of the river Ticino, was continuously flushed with groundwater (Morse).

Architecturally, Pavia was a very grand city. In Wickham words, “If not modelled on Constantinople, it was certainly modelled on a conception of it, or more directly, on Ravenna”. The city had bathhouses and an amphitheater.

Changes Under Ostrogothic Rule (c.489- )
Under the rule of Theodoric, Pavia continued patronage of public works, a practice which had largely ended elsewhere in the region by the fifth century. Rather than winding down, large construction projects in Pavia were just picking up. Theodoric undertook building and refurbishing campaigns of the amphitheatre, royal baths, and the royal palace (palatium). It is debated whether Theodoric constructed the palace or heavily remodeled an existing public office. Repurposing an existing building would not be incongruent with Theodoric’s ideology and he is reported in the Variae as having encouraged the use of “spolia” (Ward-Perkins). But he may also have demolished existing structures in order to make space for a much larger building. It was a prominent and radical structure, as indicated by the writings of a visiting bishop Agnellus of Ravenna and by the apparent disruption of the grid plan where it stood. However, since the palace was burned down by the residents of Pavia in 1024, and no archeological record of the design remains.

The Lombard Capital (c.572 – )
Despite the importance of Pavia as the capital of Lombard Italy, the architectural contributions of the Lombard leading class were less extravagant than their Roman predecessors. Single-family homes were referred to as “casa” and likely made out of wood. A “solarium” was a particular type of two-story house with the primary living space on the second floor or a single-story building with an internal balcony (Bullough, 1966, p. 107). In the pattern of many cities in the region, Pavia began to transition settlement land for agricultural purposes during the Lombard reign. However, in Pavia, this transition was coupled with building higher and more densely in adjacent areas so the population is not believed to have changed significantly. Some of the streets closest to the wall became repurposed as building space. This likely was a public decision as streets were still under royal control and generally respected as a public right of way (Morse).

The conversion of the Lombards from Arianism to Catholicism in the second half of the seventh century began a period of new church building including San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro (723) and San Nazario E Celso. San Pietro was later moved to a more central site in the city under a later bishop. The city landscape was dominated by a uniquely high portion of monasteries and cathedrals (Morse).

Carolingian (c. 774- )
Charlemagne took control of Pavia in 774. During the Carolingian period the seat of power transitioned to Ravenna and Milan, but Lothar I and Louis II maintained residences as did several widowed queens (known for sponsoring monastery construction) (Morse).

The palace remained a royal residence, and seat of justice, as well as a warehouse and workshop center. Pavia was becoming home to increasingly wealthy judges and ecclesiastical officials. Its river port was a thriving hub for traders and merchants could also lease small “stationes” inside town to negotiate from (Bullough). Evidence from these leases can be found in church documents, since the episcopal church was still one of the primary land owners in Pavia (Wickham, Bullough).

The fifty years after Louis II death were an unstable period in Pavia, and the urban landscape changed as the city sought to better fortify itself (Morse). In 915 private houses were demolished to rebuild sections of the wall to better protect from the Magyars (Bullough). In 924, the Magyars successfully burned most of the city (Forty-four churches were reportedly destroyed)…

Bullough, David. Urban Change in Early Medieval Italy: The Example of Pavia. Papers of the British School of Rome, Vol 34. 1966. p 82-130
Morse, Victoria. “Pavia” in Medieval Italy; an encyclopedia, 2004, p 862
Ward-Perkins, Bryan. From Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press. 1984
Wickham, Chris. Early Medieval Italy: Central Power and Local Society, 400-1000.

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