In Bassa Romagna, the landscape, suspended between the earth and the sky, offers visitors such a depth of field that it is impossible to hug it all at once.
Bicycle is certainly the most suitable way to approach, in slow mode, this rich and tidy countryside, pedalling along the river banks, which are perfect viewpoints to discover those historical landmarks that rise over a horizon characterized by numerous waterways. The landscape is studded by parish churches, oratories, manor houses, farm houses, fortresses and noble palaces.
Earth and Water is an itinerary that tells the story of a landscape that has changed over the centuries together and in tune with the changing relation between these two elements.
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The territory of the so-called Bassa Romagna historically corresponds with Estense Romagna, which in the 15th and 16th century belonged to the Duchy of Ferrara, with Lugo as its capital city.
We start from here, from the north-western part of the fertile plain between Santerno and Senio rivers, from the city where the Hero of national aviation Francesco Baracca was born; then we will cross that network of natural and artificial canals and roads, first of all the main road via Emilia. In this land the signs of the Roman centuriation are still alive.
This is clearly indicated by the urban topography: it develops along a centurial axis around which the medieval city was built. The cardo connected the inhabited centre to the port and the parish church of San Giovanni in Libba.
The importance of Lugo depends on its proximity to the Via Emilia, essential for the traffic of salt from Cervia and Ravenna to Bologna, and to floodplain ports and local markets, supported by a large agricultural production.
Pedalling from Parco del Loto towards Massa Lombarda, we bike past Villa San Martino; we cross the Santerno river through the narrow cycle/pedestrian bridge “Pungèla” built in the beginning of ‘50s after the German soldiers had bombed the old Pungèla, which dated back to the end of the 19th century.
Along the Santerno river is Sant’Agata sul Santerno, closely linked to its river, an important communication route between Spina and Etruria since pre-Roman times.
The reclamation of the swampy areas, which took place between the 19th and 20th centuries, was fundamental for the agricultural development of Massa Lombarda, which mainly focused on orchards and the construction of fruit and vegetable warehouses. In fact it is known as the “village of fruits” and in 1927 it hosted the II° National Expo of Fruit farming. In mid ‘70s the Museo della Frutticoltura (Museum of Fruit Farming) was born here.
The name explains its origin: massa Sancti Pauli, an agricultural settlement at the border with Lugo forest, specifically a group of agricultural fields with a church dedicated to St Paul.
It was then called Massa Lombarda in 1251, when many families arrived from the Lombard areas of Brescia and Mantova, fleeing from intimidation by Ezzelino da Romano. The new settlers received the land, subdivided into regular squares, in exchange for their commitment to reclaiming and farming it.
With regard to watercourses, along via Imola it is possible to admire the fascinating old wash house (today it stages theatre performances, narrations, music and dance), fed by the water of Canale dei molini di Imola e Massa. The Canal, stretching for around 40 km, starts from the Santerno river and, after going around Imola, it touches upon Bubano, San Patrizio, Conselice, Lavezzola, it runs along via Selice, until it flows into the Reno river near the so-called “della Bastia” bridge.
It is probably a Roman construction, regenerated in the 6th century by the Benedictine monks of Santa Maria in Regola monastery in order to reclaim the lowlands, but before feeding the many mills it is named after, it was used as a very efficient waterway for transporting goods on small boats.
We leave Massa Lombarda cycling past the Santuario della Consolazione and the interesting monumental cemetery. We drink a sip of water near Pieve di Santa Maria in Centumlicinio or Fabriago with its extremely ancient cylindrical church tower.
Before arriving in Conselice we cross San Patrizio: the hamlet was set up around the parish church and, until mid 13th century, due to its favourable position between the forest and the lowlands, it often caused fights between Conselice and Massa Lombarda.
The hamlet boasts the presence of a mill, built towards the end of the 15th century, above Canale dei Molini di Imola e Massa Lombarda.
The territory of Conselice, located at the centre of a thick hydrographic network, is characterized by a thousand-year-old relation with the river water and the wide floodplain areas. Located between the Sillaro river in the west, the Reno in the north and the Santerno in the East, it is crossed by Canale Zaniolo. The territory is characterized by the presence of the already-mentioned Canale dei Molini di Imola e Massa Lombarda. Thanks to this Canal, in the ancient times Conselice acted as the port of Imola; this is thought to be the origin of the name Conselice Portum Capitis Silicis.
In the 2nd century B.C., at the time of the Republic of Rome, the territory was subjected to reclamation work and water regulation through the centuriation system, the subdivision of the land into regular squares to be allocated to the settlers and which is still visible today (via Emilia was the decumanus maximus; via Selice was cardo maximus).
In 1435 there was documented presence of meadows, woods, forests, marshes, backwaters, floodplains and piscarie, namely areas where it was possible to graze, hunt and fish. Between the 18th century and the 19th century unfarmed spaces were gradually replaced by rice fields and small farmed fields.
Right in the rice field water the breeding of frogs become popular. This granted the village the name “the land of frogs”; the monument to the frog located at the centre of the village entrance roundabout testifies it.
It is not the only sculpture to remind the story of the village: in the public park the sculpture dedicated to rice field workers and “scariolanti”, made in 1990, pays tribute to the one-hundred-year anniversary of mondine’s fight, which ended up in a terrible massacre. After that tragic event, between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the new century a cooperative was set up joining the labourers of Conselice, Lavezzola and San Patrizio, which over time progressively paved the way to deep economic and social redemption of those populations. That past can be found on the faces depicted on the piazzetta Guareschi murals: artworks inspired to the “small world” of Guareschi and the floodplain landscape.
In Piazza della Libertà di Stampa an old pedal-typing machine is displayed as a Monument to Underground Press and Press Freedom.
Its modern history started in 1919, when the labourers’ cooperative called Federazione delle Cooperative di Ravenna bought the Massari estate, owned by Massari Zavaglia family from Ferrara until that moment. The previous owners had exploited those low and wet lands for rice farming, but the new owners reclaimed those swampy areas for the production of new dry crops.
On the second day we continue along Canale Zaniolo towards the centre of Lavezzola.
The canal, was used for navigation and milling: in 1565 it used to feed up to twenty mills. Its name seems to be linked to its owner, miller Martino, mentioned by a notary deed in the 14th century that refers to fossatum Martini Zanioli. In the 14th century its navigability is confirmed by the presence of a chain, a “checkpoint” at Bastia for tax collection and to fight against illegal traffic.
Along the way we see Vallesanta and the protected oasis of Campotto behind the watercourse. These environments engage us emotionally thanks to their undisputable fascination, which is even deeper with autumn mist or with the sunset bright colours.
Then we arrive at the village of Lavezzola, now a hamlet of Conselice. It was born in the 15th century as a feud given by the Estes to Giacomo of the noble Lavezzoli family. The little village lived in symbiosis with the Primaro river in the north and with the floodplain landscape. From the right-hand side of the river bank, the landscape used to bend to the South, where the Senio and the Santerno rivers joined together.
In the heart of the inhabited centre it is worth having a look at Villa Verlicchi.
From Lavezzola, we continue towards La Frascata – this name refers to the right of “frasca” enjoyed by the first inhabitants, who were devoted to fishing and hunting before the water and the forest were turned into arable land. Make a diversion on the bank before arriving at La Frascata.
Cross the bridge on the Santerno river, after walking past the Oratory of Passogatto (18th century). Before arriving in Santa Maria in Fabriago, go through San Bernardino, a little residential and agricultural location in the Lugo countryside positioned on the right bank of the Santerno river.
Along the river bends you will find a little road called “carrara della fortuna” (road of fortune): here at the end of the 19th century a hot-air balloon flying from Bologna “deflated”, but the passenger landed safe and sound. A memorial stone is still positioned where the balloon touched the ground. At the exit of the village you can admire Villa Tamba (17th century, located in Bellaria).
We arrive in Santa Maria in Fabriago, on the left-hand side of the Santerno river. Like the near village of Campanile, it was part of the parish Church of Santa Maria in Centumlicinia, that only in 1091 took the name Santa Maria in Fabriago.
The story of this territory is very emblematic of the relation between the earth and the water, hostile to human settlements, but essential for the survival of the economy and functional to traffic and commercial trade.
After the year 1,000, Fabriago became a flourishing castrum, but already towards the end of the 12th century it suffered from a new hydrogeological crisis that caused a comeback of unfarmed lands and marshes. As a consequence, the inhabitants moved out, leaving a desolated, frequently flooded territory, with an un-kept and ruined church that is represented today only by the tower, which gives its name to the inhabited centre.
The proximity of the small floodplain harbour of Petrodolo, which put into communication the territory with the Primaro river, was a vital trade centre and is still reminded of by via Predola, which runs across Fabriago countryside.
In the 17th century the first core of the Castle of Fabriago was built, then subjected to many changes and renovations.
Along our journey we arrive in San Lorenzo: the first reference to this hamlet in the municipality of Lugo, located along the Santerno river banks, dates back to the 15th century. At that time, with the new river route and the parallel road running towards Ferrara, new settlements were built. Among them was the village and parish of San Lorenzo in Selva and, more in the north on a river ridge was San Bernardino in Selva.
Through the countryside, first towards Bizzuno then via Canale Sinistra Inferiore, we return to Lugo.