The town of Faventia (now Faenza) first arose in Roman times, when it was built on the Via Aemilia (187 BC), although archaeological excavations have shown that the site was inhabited in prehistoric times.
Faenza was built by the Romans according to the classic 'centuriation', i.e. by dividing the countryside into square blocks about 700 metres along each side, with the seat of civilian life in the city (the Town Hall, Market and craft shops) at the centre of the centuriation.
During the Roman Empire, some significant measures for agricultural development took place in Faenza and until the Second Century AD, the city enjoyed a prosperous life, made up of activities related to agriculture and industrial ceramics.
Decline and rise after the Roman Empire
The crisis of Faenza coincided with the fall of Roman Empire, and lasted until an urban revival occurred around the 8th century, when the early work on the town walls started.
This work continued in later centuries, especially around 1224, although it stopped in the age of Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250), who besieged the city and prohibited the construction of new walls, and dismantling those already in place.
Towards the middle of the 13th century a series of civil buildings were started, such as the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall) and the Palazzo del Popolo (the People's Palace), which became the headquarters of a Seigniory destined to have a fundamental importance to the history of Faenza: the Seigniory of the Manfredi family, which was founded in 1313 by Francesco Manfredi (died 1343).
With the advent of these Lords, Faenza had an extraordinary urban and economic momentum, including the Bridge of Towers, the founding of the Mint, the Church of the Servi, the Fortress, and then, during the Renaissance age, the Cathedral and St. Stefano Vetere Church.
In 1503 Faenza was conquered by Cesare Borgia [1475-1507], the son of Pope Alexander VI Borgia (1431-1503); and, despite the death of Alexander and Caesar, Faenza, from that moment, was always a part of the Church State until the Napoleonic age (1797).
Under Napoleon and in the early 19th century, Faenza had an orderly building development, which reflects the styles then in vogue such as Neo-classicism; but the character of the ancient city and palaces remains as constructed during the Lordship of Manfredi.
Origins of the name Faventia : Faenza
The roots of the name are very unclear. Experts agree that that the Roman word 'Faventia' means 'favourable' - but the problem arises when we try to establish what exactly was being described as favourable. It is possible that the truth lies hidden in one of two interpretations of equal authority:
(1) Faenza might refer to the term 'Arva', making Faenza a "favourable agricultural place" (Arva = cultivated and fertile fields). This would be historically acceptable because Faenza, throughout the centuries, has stood for the prosperity of its agriculture.
(2) 'Faventia' may instead refer to 'Vasis' (pots), and this interpretation also has its own strength, because, since Roman times, the city was famous for its ceramics.
Indeed, in a passage of the book "Mirabilia Mundi" or "Polyhistor, sive de Memorabilibus Mundi" (“The Wonders of the World”) by Julius Solinus (III Century ca.), we read about Faenza: “Nota est fictilibus… Faventia Vasis”. According to this the etymology refers to “Faventia”, a “famous city” (“Nota”) for the production of potter’s earth ("fictilibus vasis").
See also the Faenza travel guide.