Ferrara, already an important fluvial trade centre during the Middle Ages, reached the peak of its splendour throughout the Renaissance, under the Este family. To this golden age refers the inclusion of the city in the World Heritage List by Unesco, which took place in two subsequent stages: initially in 1995, then in 1999.
In 1995 it was added to the list as a “site of outstanding universal value, being a Renaissance city, remarkably planned, which has retained its urban fabric virtually intact. The developments in town planning expressed in Ferrara were to have a profound influence on the development of urban design throughout the succeeding centuries”. The inclusion regarded the city centre, enclosed within its monumental walls, with its still surviving inner grounds and gardens. In 1999 the Committee for World Heritage extended its recognition stating that the Este ducal residences illustrate the influence of Renaissance culture on the natural landscape in an exceptional manner; the Po Delta is an outstanding planned cultural landscape which retains its original form to a remarkable extent.
As requested by the Italian State, the Committee has consequently decided to change the name of the inscribed property to “Ferrara, City of the Renaissance and its Po Delta”, including therefore a much wider area, and emphasizing the continuity between the city and its territory.
The site is a cultural landscape that encompasses the historic centre of Ferrara and the vast area around the ancient Po delta. The border is not a continuous line and encircles the areas that best represent the territory which saw great change during the Renaissance period. During this time, the ruling Este family instigated urban, architectural and artistic development to both the city and the surrounding countryside with the drainage of huge swathes of swampland, the introduction of “castalderie” and the construction of a network of noble residences known as the “Delizie Estensi”.
The UNESCO site in Ferrara extends to the ring of defensive walls that surround the city. Over time, this ring was gradually enlarged to accommodate new urban extensions. The layout of the city comes from changes implemented in Mediaeval and later times especially as regards the Renaissance expansion designed by Biagio Rossetti. His design included a system of perspective axes that make the city unique, and that are still perfectly preserved and are easily understood by visitors.
The centre of Ferrara, the historic and artistic core of the surrounding territory, is located at the heart of a planned cultural landscape – a green area ranging from the city limits and running along the Po river to the Adriatic sea. Beyond the perfectly preserved city walls, in the rural area outside the boundaries of town, the cultural landscape retains indeed the human marks left on the natural environment throughout the centuries by the incessant shaping action of man. The landscape is studded with monumental buildings, churches, fortresses and castles but also with parks and natural reserves from the inland to the coastline, where the plane meets the sea.
Unesco recognition underlines this very aspect of cultural landscape, and points out a new way of understanding cultural assets, reading them not only as episodic instances or individual monuments but, where possible, as part of a significant and coherent context.