Piazza Duomo is one of the most ancient public spaces of Merano, South Tyrol, northern Italy. This area surrounding the Church of St. Nicholas (in German: “Pfarrkirche St. Nikolaus”), the parish church of the town, has in fact played an important role in Merano's life, hosting gatherings and a market, since the building of the main church in the XIII and its later expansion and completion during the XIV and XV centuries. It is located at the eastern end of the “Portici” arcade (Lauben in German), very close to the Steinach neighbourhood, the ancient heart and first “cradle” of the town. The square has a peculiar and non-regular shape, a not uncommon circumstance in Middle Ages, when a piazza was often simply an enlargement of the conjunction of two or more streets in the middle of a thick urban pattern. In this particular case the Piazza shows two main parts: the “lower” one (“Piazza Duomo inferiore”, on the west side) and the “upper” one (“Piazza Duomo superiore”) on the east side where the Steinach neighbourhood begins. The two largest parts are connected by a narrow junction area facing the southern elevation of the Duomo. The “lower” (western) part was refurbished some years ago and it's paved with porphyry, while the “upper” piazza remained with an asphalt pavement and no particular intervention. This latter circumstance, the lack of a proper centre of attraction and the presence of a small parking lot gave the eastern side of the square an undefined character and a perceived air of decay and abandonment. In other words, the two parts of the piazza seemed to have different lives and appeals, not being “felt” as an integrated and interacting unicuum. After the recent (2013) restoration and extension of the City Museum of Palais Mamming (Museum Steinachheim), located in the northern side of piazza Duomo superiore, close to the St. Barbara Chapel and the apse of the Church, the Municipality of Merano decided to refurbish that remaining part of the square in order to provide the building a better context and to complete the “relaunch” of the entire Steinach neighbourhood. The refurbishment was also to represent a chance to check and renew all the underground facilities already present below the surface to avoid the need of future intervention on the new pavement after completion. One of the first steps in the design process was to identify and study the “borders” of the square. While the northern side of the upper piazza showed a clear definition with the sequence of the Duomo apse, the Chapel of St. Barbara and the seventeenth-century Palais Mamming, the southern backdrop was undefined. Though various preliminary proposals for a solution were presented, unfortunately it was not possible to come to a definitive step at this time, for some reasons related to the use and property of this southern area. The main aim of the project was then to design a pavement which could sew and connect the different parts of the piazza and to provide this area with new urban furniture. It was chosen to use the same material and general laying pattern already present in Piazza Duomo inferiore, porphyry cubes and a laying in overlapping arcs (posa “ad archi contrastanti”). Three motifs were then superimposed. The first one finds its matrix at the centre of the church apse: six radiuses starting from that point are overlaid throughout the all paving with the task of strengthen the polarity of the apse in the piazza context. Segments of an ideal circle, with same origin, represent the borders of the new paving on the two streets converging into the piazza from north-east and south-east (vicolo Passirio and vicolo Haller). The second motif (code-name “the carpet”), a trapezoidal shape cutting the square in the north-to-south direction, starts at the entrance of the Museum and reaches a lonely sculpture-bench, which represent in its dynamic shape the termination of the “carpet” that takes life fluttering. On the backrest of the bench, verses of Princess Sissi (1837-1898), one of the most distinguished guests and lovers of Merano, are engraved in the wood and help rest and meditation. A third motif in the pavement design, crossing the piazza in the east-west direction, is represented by the “Ritsche”. In medieval times in Merano, as in other places in the Tirol region, a series of small channels took water from the close river into the town. The water was carried up to the town hall and the person in charge was the Mayor (the “Borgomastro”). The irrigation canals, which in agriculture were called "Waale" (irrigation ditches), in the centre of Merano took the name of "Ritschen", also mentioned by the German writer Beda Weber in his descriptions of the city. These were channels covered with stone slabs, which still characterize part of the old city, especially the Steinach district. The water of these canals was useful for several needs, for example to wash clothes, or to serve as a valuable source of fire protection. The project makes the ancient “stone line” visible again on the pavement surface: tonalite 80cm wide slabs were laid over the underground duct, which nowadays serves as a drainage facility. Most of the slabs used were found below the existing asphalt pavement during excavation. In two cases, transparent glass panes allow a glimpse of the water running underneath, while a superimposed text gives historical information on the “Ritsche”. In other four cases, 80x80cm square acid-etched retro-lit glass panes let the Ritsche line visible at night.
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