How Theme Park Architects Recreated Italy

Within internal theme park design meetings you will quite often hear the term ‘Basis of Design’. Often, theme parks and themed entertainment projects storylines may require the recreation of an existing or known architectural style. A singular – or even a combination of several – existing architectural styles is the project’s ‘Basis of Design’. In this post we will explore the architectural stylings of Italy and how they are represented and recreated in Epcot’s Italy Pavilion.

Campanile di San Marco

Case Study: Italy Pavilion in Epcot

The Italy Pavilion, in Epcot’s World Showcase, is styled after the romantic city of Venice, which is located in the upper Northeast corner of this European country that resembles the shape of a boot.  

Architecture

The pavilion is representative of Saint Marks’s Square, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Venice. Known as Piazza San Marco in Venice, Saint Mark’s Square has been called “the drawing room of Europe.”  As one of the lowest points in Venice, it’s often subject to flooding.

Within Italy’s Saint Mark’s Square, you will find a large bell tower, known as the Campanile di San Marco. The tower found in Disney’s Italy pavilion was recreated at one fifth the size of the original, which at 323 feet, is the highest structure in Venice. Originally used as a lighthouse, the Campanile’s original five bells each rang for a specific purpose, such as an execution or an election. Built in 912, the original tower unexpectedly collapsed among a crowd of onlookers in 1902, miraculously hurting no one except for killing a cat.

Fun Fact:
Considered the center of Venice, Saint Mark’s Square is the only urban space in Venice called a piazza, which means “square,” while all of the city’s remaining urban spaces are named campo, which means “field.”

The two large columns at the entrance to the Italy pavilion are recreations of the columns found at the waterfront entrance outside of the Doge’s Palace area. The winged lion on top of the left column is the symbol of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice.  The right column features St. Theodore slaying a dragon.  St. Theodore, the original patron saint of Venice, lost his position to St. Mark when St. Mark’s remains were smuggled back to Venice from Alexandria by packing them in pickled pork, ensuring that the Muslim guards would not touch the forbidden meat.  St. Mark’s remains were laid to rest in a chapel that would become the Basilica di San Marco, another famous structure in Saint Mark’s Square which gives the area its name.

Beware!
In Venice, walking between the two columns is thought to bring bad luck, since the area was once used as an execution site.

The large pink and white building to the left of the tower is a recreation of the Doge’s Palace.  Known as Palazzo Ducale in Venice, it is called such because it used to be the home of the Doge, the elected ruler of Venice who held office for life.  Doge’s Palace was also the seat of Venice’s government for many centuries when it was an independent state, called the Most Serene Republic of Venice.  The Palace, one of the world’s finest examples of Gothic architecture, was first built in the ninth century, with rebuilding and renovations continuing until the 16th century.

Heading towards the back of the right-hand side of the pavilion, past the Kidcot area and the angel statue, you will find a doorway flanked by two columns.  The columns represent the five orders of architecture, ancient styles characterized by their columns that were commonly used in building designs. Starting from the bottom of the column, the architectural styles are Ionic; Corinthian, the most decorative of the orders; Tuscan, a very simple design; and Composite, a combination of Ioinic and Corinthian designs.

The Fontana Di Nettuno, the large fountain in the back-right corner of the pavilion, is surprisingly not inspired by a Venetian structure.  The much larger Neptune Fountain, featuring the Roman God of the Sea, is found in the city of Bologna, birthplace of the famous sandwich meat.

Gondolas – Italy Pavilion Epcot

Have you found the gondola in the Italy pavilion?  The right hand side of a gondola is longer than the left to compensate for the weight of the gondolier.  According to a 16th century law, all gondolas must be covered with seven layers of black lacquer.

The candy-striped poles served as a personal parking space for a family’s gondola, with each family’s pole marked in a different color combination.

Fun Fact:
The stacked wine barrels and the grape vines found in the back-right hand corner of the pavilion pay tribute to Italy’s well-deserved reputation as one of the world’s great wine making countries. Italy has 20 wine regions and more types of vines planted than any other country.  The country’s wine history dates back over 4,000 years.

Shopping

The shop to the right of the pavilion is filled with Italian chocolates, Italy-themed books, and carnival masks.  The fanciful masks are symbolic of Venice’s most popular festival, Carnevale, a pre-Lent festival similar to Mardi Gras. Masks hid the identity, and thus the social status of Venetians, during the city-wide festivities.

Pinocchio
Disney’s animated film Pinocchio is based on the 1883 children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio, written by Italian author Carlo Collodi. The book was based in the Tuscan area of Italy.

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About the Author J. Daniel Jenkins, AIA, NCARB is a licensed Architect, Theme Park Design Consultant, and former Senior Project Design Manager at Walt Disney Imagineering with over twenty years of subject matter expertise and design team leadership experience. Jenkins is the creator of themeparkarchitect.com who's goal is to teach individuals about theme park architecture and design, how to become theme park architects and designers, and discuss themed entertainment industry related topics. For nearly a decade, Mr. Jenkins has worked in the themed entertainment industry on new themed entertainment attractions, theme park lands, and new theme parks. Upon leaving Walt Disney Imagineering, Jenkins started his own Design Management Consulting company where he has consulted with and provided subject matter expertise and project leadership for new, confidential projects for several themed entertainment companies. Mr. Jenkins holds a five-year Master of Architecture degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design and a Virtual Design and Construction Certificate from Stanford University.
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