“De Hedificiis Communibus Murandis …”: Notes on the Beginning of Building Regulations in Medieval Tuscany
By Klaus Tragbar
Paper given at the Second International Congress on Construction History (2006)
Introduction: The formation of the independent town in Italy during the eleventh and twelfth centuries is a central theme of historic sciences. The history of art and architecture is concerned with its expression in buildings while historians, especially law historians, research its political-administrative organisation. A particular part is played by municipal statutes, born from the collection and setting out in writing of established rights, orders of municipal organs and oaths of office bearers. In the beginning municipal statutes were either in no order or in a chronological one, yet were structured by practical criteria in single libri (books) during the thirteenth century and reflect a rapid development of administration of independent towns.
It was Wolfgang Braunfels, who was the first to use those municipal statutes for history of art, mentioning them as far back as 1953 as “the most important source on medieval building at all”. Since the end of the 1980s municipal statutes were increasingly brought in for art historical studies, there have recently been odd attempts at interdisciplinary collaboration between the fields of art and legal history. Below I will try to examine municipal statutes with particular regard to regulations concerning private building to give an overview of building legislation in medieval towns in Tuscany.
Some basic problems should be taken into consideration: What kind of status do statutes have in daily urban life? Do they describe an ideal town or are they reaction to an unacceptable state of affairs? What is the relationship between regulation and real life, e.g. when demolition of wooden porches and balconies is ordered again and again though they were forbidden on principle? Following Keller statutes are “not only a fundamental collection of municipal norms but at the same time one of the most important symbols of urban community, a reflection one could say of correct order and a guideline for political-administrative activities”. Firstly, they reflect the will of municipal organs to show their independence by taking on sovereign tasks, which were practised by the bishop or count as town rulers for a long time. Secondly, the concern for security and order and, last but not least, the concern for both the townscape and beauty are main themes of municipal statutes.