Roger Vella Bonavita Lecture

16 August 2018
Fox Lecture Theatre, Arts Building, UWA
General Public, Faculty/Staff, Students, Alumni

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Medallion, honouring Gabrio Serbelloni and commemorating the completion of the walls of the ‘Civitas Pia’ of Pius IV

Medallion, honouring Gabrio Serbelloni and commemorating the completion of the walls of the
Civitas Pia’ of Pius IV. The legend ‘URBE COMMUNITA’ means “[Celebrating] the completion of the fortification of the city”.

Permittitur tamen
It’s Ok to Grow Artichokes There
The ‘Civitas Pia’ of Pope Pius IV (1561-1565) 

A public lecture by Roger Vella Bonavita, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, The University of Western Australia

The Medici Pope Pius IV (1559-1565) built the suburb now called Borgo Pio (originally named Civitas Pia) and the third enceinte of Castel S. Angelo, also completing the enceinte around the Vatican (unfinished since 1532). He also planned to replace Aurelian’s ancient walls (18 kilometres long) around Rome with gunpowder fortifications. 

Capitano Francesco Laparelli da Cortona, a brilliant but obscure Tuscan engineer, was put in charge of these projects by his patron and friend Gabrio Serbelloni; a nephew of Pius IV, governor of Rome, and superintendent of the fortifications in the papal states who was himself a distinguished soldier and military engineer. The role of the pope himself, even in technical discussions, is important too. These projects must be seen in the context of the crying need for up to date defences to enable the papacy to maintain its independence against pressures from Spain (and France). 

This illustrated public lecture will highlight the fascinating story of the preparation of the new urban area: which involved levelling the site, demolishing the ninth century church of S. Maria Traspontina and its adjacent Carmelite monastery besides laying out the streets, sewers, water supply and civic buildings and finally the building regulations promulgated by Pius IV for his Civitas Pia in the Bull Romanorum decet Pontificem (August 1565), which for very good reasons specifically permitted the cultivation of artichokes outside the walls of the new city.

Pius sent Laparelli to Malta in November 1565 to assist the Order of St John after it survived a four month siege by the Ottoman Turks. There he designed and built a new fortified capital called Valletta.

Roger Vella Bonavita is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow of The University of Western Australia. He was born in Malta in 1940 and educated at St Edward’s College, Cottonera. He took his Bachelor’s degree with Honours in History and then his Master’s degree (by thesis) at Manchester University. In 1982, after some eighteen years as a lecturer in modern history at the Royal University of Malta, where he specialised in the evolution of Italian fortifications in the sixteenth century, he moved to Perth with his family. A (very) varied career outside academe followed until he retired and returned to his books, taking his Doctorate from the University of Malta in 2011 with a thesis on “A Gentleman of Cortona: the life and achievements of Capitano Francesco Laparelli da Cortona (1521-1570)”. He is a member of the Accademia Etrusca di Cortona. He researches and writes mainly on military and political history of Malta. This lecture will be delivered again later this month at EAUH18, an international conference on “Urban Renewal and Resiliance: cities in comparative perspective” organised by the European Association of Urban History at Roma Tre University.