The previous Theatine monastery (from Saint Gaetano Thiene), which then became a Law Court, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi and accomplished together with Saint Gaetano’s church (whose inscription over the central entrance inform us that the church was finished in 1586) is located in an Eastern area of the town, outside the walls of the so-called “insland-citadel”, but within the sixteenth century walls. That was an area very close to the Brenta River, the ancient Meduacus that, certainly during the Roman period, must have crossed Padua with a winding stream destined to change its flow in the period of the catastrophic rivers deviations reported by Paolo Diacono (Hist. Lang., III, 23) which upset any previous hydrographic structure of the Eastern Padania. For that reason the history of Padua is closely linked to a river.
This particular hydrographic situation of Padua enabled some human settlements since 11th-10th centuries B.C. Nevertheless, it is only later on that the town seems to have acquired an urban connotation, with a rather homogeneous articulation.
Padua is closely united to Rome and follows its destiny faithfully. During the first Empire it takes the features of ‘capital of the Roman Venetia’. Its planimetry is irregular, on its whole, with five stone bridges crossing the river and a very dynamic river port.
It is likely that Padua could have gradually developed itself, with a first real urban settlement in the late Republican age. The town was crossed by the Roman Via Annia, to be probably attributed to T. Annio Lusco, consul in 153 B.C. This street linked Padua directly South to Emilia and East to Aquileia. Later on, probably on existing trails, all the streets starting from Padua radiated from here in any direction.
The residential area was surrounded by necropolis, built-up areas and places of worship.
As it was located in Altinate Street, the ex-Theatine monastery lay in the northeastern side of the town, along an important arterial road of the Roman age which was directly connected to the inner city, pivoted between the Roman bridges of Saint Lawrence and Altinate.
From the last bridge originated the road to Altino which reached Aquileia, starting from Porta pontis Altinatis, that is to say one of the Portae regales which Giovanni da Nono referred to in his work ‘Visio Egidij Patavie’.
On this arterial road that crossed the Roman bridge, famous since 1508 as “Ponte Altinado”, there are important archaeological evidences.
In fact, in 1972 and also before in 1951, during some road-works near the cinema ‘Altino’ and beyond, that is to say really close to the ex-Theatine convent, it was unearthed a stretch of road of the Roman age long about 35 metres, whose direction seems to have been the same as the present Altinate street. Almost at the crossroad with this street, always in 1972, it was found another stretch of Roman road afferent to the system of Via Annia leading to Altino, probably to be related to the stretch of road discovered in Eremitani Street.
From the monastery to the Law Court
In the area where, later on, would have risen up the estate, in the second half of the fourteenth century was founded the small monastery of the Order of the Humiliated, with the pertaining church consecrated to the Saints Simon and Jude which remained unchanged until the sixteenth century.
The congregation of the Humiliated Friars was suppressed in 1571 by a Decree of Pio V. The monastery and the church became property of the Episcopal Seminary and then (1573) the buildings were offered to the Order of the regular Theatine clerical Friars. The buildings were too small, thus the Theatines bought various adjacent properties to enlarge the monastery and decided to rebuild the church.
The works started in 1582, under the architect Vincenzo Scamozzi’s direction, who mentions it in his work ‘Idea of a Universal Architecture’ where he also tells of the convent, and ended in 1586, as it is stated in the inscription over the front door.
Scamozzi, who designed in Padua other private and religious buildings, designed an octagonal plan building with two side chapels and a chapel down the aisle for the high altar that leads into the choir.
The central space was dominated by a great dome and the chapels by three small domes.
Abandoning the architectural structure with naves reflects the Counter-Reformation spirit and the renewed purposes of religious foundations.
The works for the monastery went on until 1594 when they were interrupted because of lack of funds. The works started again under the leadership of father Raffaello Savonarola (1692-1730). On this occasion also the decorations inside the church were renewed.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, following to the suppression of monastic orders, the monastery became a State property and later on, in 1874, it was bought by the Municipality.
Already in 1816 there was a project by engineer P. Nalin to transform the ex-monastery in Law Court premises, as it happened just later on.
In 1844, it was examined the possibility to use the monastery as barracks for the Police Military Guards, but at the end it remained a Law Court.
In 1929, a project of rebuilding of the Courthouse, necessary because of the damages caused to it by a big fire, was committed to engineer Tullio Paoletti. Later on some some adjacent buildings were acquired as an enlargement was planned.
The new Law Court was inaugurated in 1934 and judicial activity was fulfilled until the gradual relocation to the new seat, from 1995 onward.
The building site – Start of works
The big building site of Saint Gaetano estate contains also an archaeological site, started in summer 2005 and still in full swing.
The project has planned various excavations, all under archaeological supervision, both to lower the height of the existing basements and to create new underground spaces, among which a conference room, in the middle of the ancient cloister of the monastery.
Even though the excavation is still in progress, it is already possible to have some preview on the archaeological finds unearthened up to now.
The digged parts have shown some stratifications and remains of building structures from the Roman age until the present.
Among the ceramic finds there are some dishes and bowls dating back to the Renaissance Era.
Concerning the building structures, one building, dating back from 12th -13th century to 15thc., is particularly oustanding for its dimensions – at least 16 metres x 13m – and care in building it. It is situated behind the church of Saint Gaetano, and it probably consisted in a house or a military building but not a religious one, even though we know that in the mid-fourteenth century there was a church dedicated to Saints Simon and Jude in this area, with a small monastery.
Before this building, in this areas already existed several Medieval buildings and infrastructures (11th -12th century) of smaller dimensions, probably related to either some manufacturing or craftman activities.
On the lower levels, on the contrary, there are nearly no traces of buildings: the area was probably used as vegetable gardens, as it usually happened in other areas of the town during the Early Middle Ages (6th-10th centuries).
The layers dating back to the late antiquity and the first periods of the Early Middle Ages (between the 4th and the 6th century) contain a large amount of headstone fragments, sometimes of a great value: road trachyte ‘basoli’ (large paving stones), squared elements, but also fragments of columns, Corinthian capitals, and friezes in marble.
It will be important to identify the origin of these fragments, that will be probably not so far away.
Concerning the Roman Age, it was important the finding of a small dig of amphoras, certainly not isolated as the excavations are revealing evidence of other similar clusterings.