INTRODUCTION The history of Palazzo Zabarella is parallel to that of Padua, from VIII century B. C. up to now. Many years of history that blend into the texture of an architectural structure which is still now perfect synthesis between past and present. This continuous settlement is showed by the use of Roman bricks to build the contemporary front entrance but also by the medieval building characterized by the tower and by the distribution of the inner space.
Over the centuries the building changes his structure according to the styles of the time but it never loses the bond with past. You can still see the legacy with the past on the medieval tower – house; the Renaissance changes the structure of the front of building and during twentieth century the distribution of interior space and decoration was modified. During twentieth century Palazzo Zabarella becomes the main place of a bank and then a private circle; in 1996 it backs to life after nearly ten years of archeological excavation and restoration and it takes back its medieval functions: the palace as a representation place, and the environs as business locations. In 1986 Federico Bano buys the building which becomes the official place of Fondazione Bano and an exhibition center designed to host art expositions and cultural events.
The restoration of Palazzo Zabarella in the early nineties presents also the opportunity to study and analyze its history. Archaeological excavation, supervised by the Soprintendenza Archeologica per il Veneto (the regional board of the ministry of cultural heritage and environmental conservation), interested about 300 square meters on the inner courtyard and about 3,50 meters on deepness and concerned 1500 years of history.
PREROMAN AGE During excavations a limited exploration involved the oldest levels of protohistoric settlement located on Brenta’s river port, known today as Riviera dei Ponti Romani. This area was populated since eighth century B.C. and before since the Bronze Age.
The first housing unit developed during eighth century B.C. and the area was occupied until Roman age. The excavation, over the oldest reclamation’s land, discovered in fact many levels (perhaps shack’s floors) that we can date until sixth century B. C. An important renovation of the settlement followed at this first stage and led to a new urban planning that remained unchanged throughout centuries. On the second half of the sixth century B. C. this space was divided into three different living areas entirely occupied by new houses. These rectangular houses had clay floors, walls made by mud and a perishable roof made by straw, branches or reeds. In the basic building structure there were a “kitchen” with a fireplace, probably a bedroom and an exterior space designed to metalworking. The flimsy wooden frame forced inhabitants to dismantle and rebuild houses periodically. There was later a change in the functional destination of this urban area: houses were not rebuilt, the subdivision of the land into many lots was preserved and the two areas were yet assigned to metalworking activity. Near these new structures there were however some houses.
ROMAN AGE Between second and first century B. C. the housing estate, realized in that period with resistant building material, is similar to a workroom and is probably the home of a craftsman. The former structure was replaced by a new building with one floor. Fresco paintings on the walls and mosaic floors show the enrichment of the commissioners in this period. However, the workroom reaches its peak at the beginning of the Imperial age (first century A. C.) when takes place the renovation of the whole urban area. In these years also Brenta’s river banks are provided with strong retaining walls near docks. Other reconstructions show a progressive decline first and then a short lived revival (III-IV century AD): Padua was also affected by the decline of Roman civilization and was subjected to the consequences. Afetr the destruction of the town by Agilulfo in 602 A. D. this urban sector was systematically deprived of the ruins of Roman walls almost to the complete cancellation
MEDIEVAL AGESurvived at the Lombard devastation and deprived of the see of bishop in favour of Monselice, in 1049 Padua becomes a new city when Enrico III the Emperor grants to mint coin. Since this year many events fix the role of Padua in the regional contest: the involvement in the victorious struggle of the Italian cities (Guerra dei Comuni) against Federico I di Svevia the Emperor known as “il Barbarossa”; the strengthening of the structure of the new city which caused its economic and commercial growth; the foundation, in 1222, of University – called Studio – after the which one in Bologna; the important cultural development; the introduction of the Antenore’s legend, the Trojan founder of Padua; but especially the greatness of Padua with the rise of the lordship of Carraresi until 1405 when Francesco Novello, the last member of the dynasty, yields to the Republic of Venice.
ZABARELLA’S FAMILY The Zabarella’s family had a good relationship with the lordship of Carraresi which ruled Padua between 1318 and 1405. For this reason several members of the Zabarella’s family lived in some properties of the Carraresi’s dinasty.
The Zabarella’s family became noble thanks to Francesco which was the protagonist of the transition from the historical period of Signoria in Padua to the Republic of Venice. He became in 1390 one of the most important professor of canon law in Padua and was a famous diplomatist: in 1398 he was in Rome on behalf of Novello the son of Francesco I da Carrara and in 1404 he was also in Paris to the king Carlo VI of France to ask him support against Venice; next year oversaw the surrender of Padua to Venice. His important diplomatic role and his subsequent appointment first as Bishop and then as Cardinal, made of Zabarella’s family one of the important family in Padua during fifteenth century.
THE TOWER The tower, which still characterizes the building, is related to the Commons Age (l’età dei Comuni) when Padua had a commercial river port (near Ognissanti area), some watermills (near Ponte Molino zone) and commercial activities. The history of the Palace begins between late twelfth and early thirteenth century and in this period takes shape the structure of the building as an house – tower which represents the wealth of the owner and is also suitable for the protection of the Palace. After an important recovery Fondazione Bano assigned some rooms of the tower for their own institutional activities; these rooms, which represent now the oldest unit of the building, have original furniture of Seven-Nineteenth Century including a beautiful chandelier and some paintings realized by Francesco Hayez as “Le Muse”.
BETWEEN ‘500 AND ‘600 The awareness of the role as a symbol of wealth and political influence of the family is a constant sign in the history of the building during the centuries in which it was a property of Zabarella’s family. This awareness is expressed in the choice of transmitting from generation to generation the property of the building to the male descendants. Brothers Giovanbattista and Lepido Zabarella which inherited the building, decide to renovate the Palace by adapting it to the space and to its functions. In 1672 the two brothers commissioned to the expert Thomas Sforzan a new project. The survey shows a main elaborate building with two structures joined together on the medieval tower, some open spaces with service rooms, a common well and a garden in the north area. This is the typical structure of a medieval house with a court still visible in Palazzo Zabarella.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURYThe beginning of the nineteenth century is one of the most important periods in the life of the building. Count Giacomo Zabarella, the last member of the family, after his marriage with Countess Anna Ferri in 1802, decides to renovate the space by dividing exclusive apartments on San Francesco street and simple houses on Zabarella street. To realize this new project he calls a famous architect Daniel Danieletti which works on the existing structure by adapting it to the neoclassic style; the realization of the atrium known as “worthy of an exclusive home” is very important. Three famous artists who had just worked on Palazzo Reale in Venice are called, between 1818 and 1819, to paint the James and Anna’s house à l’antique, according to the style of the period: Giuseppe Borsato (1771-1849), Giovanni Carlo Bevilacqua (1775-1849) and the young painter Francesco Hayez (1791-1882). The works of these artists reflect the timeless style of an era and are oriented to the recovery of the Greek and Roman models of art according to the rules of “neoclassicism”.
Even today the atrium with columns, the wall paintings and the grand staircase with frescos, characterize the southern area of the Palace: this disposition of the spaces and these classical forms and images are the last evidence of this house which completed its history with Anna and Giacomo.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURYThe death of Giacomo Zabarella defines the end of the dynasty. After his death, his wife Anna, her relatives and then some private citizens live in Palazzo Zabarella for some years. In 1920 the bank Credito Veneto buys the building and make it its main prestigious office. In 1925 Credito Veneto decides to enlarge the building under the direction of the architect Antonio Zanivan. He realizes a big semicircle space with two floors as the neoclassical atrium made by architect Danieletti.
After Second World War, the building became the headquarters of the Society of Casino Pedrocchi which made on the upper floor a new ballroom. The renewed building, designed to host meetings of noble citizens of Padua, was inaugurated in 1949.
Others work deeply changed the western area of Palazzo Zabarella which hosted the Giacomo’s house.
In 1988 the Society of Casino Pedrocchi left the building.
THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURYIn the 80’s the businessman Federico Bano buys the building to create, as a tribute to his hometown, a multipurpose cultural center similar to American foundations and to some artistic – entrepreneurial reality which were gradually consolidating in those years in Italy. This new reality has to be a virtuous place for the development of culture and knowledge, for the improvement of the value of Italian heritage and history; this place will create new job opportunities and new training possibilities for young people, this is the main project.
When Bano’s family buys Palazzo Zabarella it’s crumbling, decadent, deprived of his integrity and beauty; Padua, also, seems to have lost his memory. Its structure, however, seems suitable to host a new big cultural center devoted to art and culture. In 1994 it begins a new renovation project by architect Gaetano Croce which wants to restore the historic building while maintaining the characteristics that have marked it for centuries.
First step is an important archaeological excavation, in accordance with the Soprintendenza of Veneto, which involves almost the entire surface of the inner courtyard. The goal is double: to obtain a new service area on the underground space without changing the original structure of the Palace, and at the same time, have a complete investigation of the site since ancient times.
The renovation concerns the whole structure, the building and the spaces which form the inner courtyard in effort to restore, where is possible, the spaces in their earliest formulation. Works in the courtyard allow to rediscover the ancient spaciousness of the environment thanks to demolition of many more recent buildings that prevented the free reading and enjoyment of the court as it was in ancient times, and contemporary allow to rediscover the wonderful arches that enclose the rotunda.
These works recovered several homes (the ancient service home) which now overlook the courtyard and other spaces designed today to the cultural activities of the Foundation; other rooms that overlook Zabarella’s street are now used instead as shops.
At the Palace was given the noblest destination: to host every year art exhibitions and cultural activities.
On October 5th 1996 when restoration works are finished, Palazzo Zabarella opens the doors to Padua while the Foundation is already working for the first art exhibition dedicated to Maurice Utrillo which begins on March 1997. The successful series of Fondazione Bano’s art exhibitions begins with this exposition dedicated to the French painter and continues to offer to the city precious moments of art and culture until this days.
Palazzo Zabarella, the official site of Fondazione Bano, is still in Padua the first example of a no-profit private cultural center, fully managed and administered for the promotion of culture and art.