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The deep and mysterious meaning of the city.

Aggiornato il: 20 set 2019

“...I came to affirm the right of human cities to exist, a right which we hold, we of this generation, but this right belongs, to an even greater extent, to the future generations, a right whose historical, social political, natural, and religious value becomes larger in proportion as the deep and mysterious meaning of the city is clarified in today's human meditation.”. Giorgio La Pira, Ginevra, Assemblea della Croce Rossa Internazionale, 12 aprile 1954)



The words reported above, pronounced by Giorgio La Pira 65 years ago, are very current and

invite us to deepen the human meditation on the city. They do not place us in front of a set of citizens or even a set of buildings, but in front of its profound and manifold meaning - historical,political, cultural and religious, as La Pira said. It is this mystery that we would like to investigate or, perhaps, better, to contemplate, meditate and penetrate. “The crisis of our time – which is one of disproportion and immoderation with respect to what is truly human – gives us proof of the value, which we might call therapeutic and crucial, which the city has in this regard.”. (Giorgio La Pira, 1955, Florence, Conference of the Mayors of Capital Cities).


Half of humanity lives today in the increasingly numerous, ever larger cities. It is the evolution of a history that began more than 5,000 years ago in Egypt along the Nile River, in Mesopotamia between the Tigris and the Euphrates, in China along the Yellow River, in India along the Indus River. A fascinating story, which soon experienced fertile tensions between the urban world and the rural world; between an ideal and a real city; between utopia and history; (...) between the earthly Jerusalem, built from below, and the celestial one, which descends from above (...). History has known further conflicting trends. On the one hand the abandonment of the city, due not only to invasions, natural disasters, but sometimes also (...) due to the extreme attempt to denounce the corruption of the city and the ideal search for a new society. (...) The history of thought, together with the practice of enlightened men, has fluctuated between the desire to renew the city, every time that it its decadence was perceived, and that of founding alternative cities, drawn on certain deals. (...) In the face of today increasingly massive urbanization and the expansion of megacities, the city is the object of interest, investigation, debate between sociologists and economists, urban planners and architects, politicians and environmentalists. In it the present and the future of humanity are played. (Fabio Ciardi, Prefazione, Resurrezione di Roma, 2017)

The cities today invest a lot on their ethos, on the pride of being part of that specific city and offering visitors their specificities. The more they succeed, the more attractive they are and in them the differences strengthen coexistence, identity and belonging. A dimension that requires attention and that, as an alternative to nationalism, someone wanted to call civicism. A spirit of belonging that is there, in every city, like a beacon in the night of this post-modern, post-global, post- democratic era, with its exasperated search for true identity. (cf. The spirit of cities, Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age, Bell de-Shalit, 2011)




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