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The "Valles Argentensium" and ports

Even if this area is very different with respect to the early centuries of the second millennium, the territory of the Romagna Plains holds proof of the routes taken by the ancient pilgrims traveling to the capital of Christianity.

 

In the centuries immediately after the year 1000, the principal branch of the Po River passed through Ferrara and all of the plains between Argenta and Bagnacavallo were covered with swamps, the “Valles Argentensium”, where the river overflowed.

 

Santa Maria in Fabriago - Foto by Stefano Lasi

 

The pilgrims that wanted to reach the via Emilia therefore had no other choice but to go by boat and disembark in the ports of Argenta, Bagnacavallo, Santa Maria in Fabriago or other minor towns such as San Lorenzo di Lugo, to then continue on to Faenza.

 

Surrounded today by reclamation lands, a result of the draining of the medieval swamps, the town of Argenta is home to the evocative Parish Church of San Giorgio, the oldest church in the province of Ferrara, founded in the 6th century by the Archbishop Agnello of Ravenna.  The original Romanesque parish church is opposite the town, along the street going to the Campotto oasis.

 

Immersed in a large green meadow, this little building has a portal with a façade dating back to 1122, topped with a lunette containing a carved Martyrdom of St. George.  Inside there are traces of mosaic paving and an altar, both of which date back to the 6th century when the church was founded.  The mosaics and archeological finds are reproduced in the atrium of the Museum “delle Valli” and conserved in the Civic Museum of Argenta and in the Archbishop Museum of Ravenna.

 

The parish church is located in one of the areas of the regional Park of the Po Delta, a humid zone under protection.  It is the last remains of the medieval swamps and has very interesting vegetation and avifauna.  The Val Campotto can be visited only if accompanied by a guide.  Housed in the recently restored Casino di Campotto is a natural history center with documentation on the “valli”; one room is dedicated to the natural noises of this area.

 

Between Argenta and Conselice, today the SS 610 runs where the pilgrims traveled across the swamp.  It then continues along the route of an old road that crossed the via Emilia in the territory of Massa Lombarda.  A short distance away, merchandise was unloaded and men disembarked at the old Parish Church of Santa Maria in Fabriago, a little building set among fields.

 

Dedicated to the birth of the Virgin Mary, it was one of the oldest among the ancient parish churches of the diocese.  It was built at the beginning of the 16th century on the ruins of two previous churches, destroyed by floods.  The actual building has one nave with a polygonal apse.  The cylindrical bell tower in the Ravenna style (8th to 9th century) was probably built on a Roman era foundation, and it is decorated by single, double and triple lancet Romanesque windows going from the bottom to the top.

 

Another important medieval port was located 8 kilometers to the North of the lively commercial center of Lugo, in San Lorenzo, where in recent times the layout of the parish church of S. Stefano in Catena has been brought to light; it probably dates back to the 8th century and has a bell tower with a circular base.

 

Then stopping over in the ancient “castrum Tiberiacum”, now called Bagnacavallo, the pilgrims would have found a settlement that was much different from what we see today.  Of the 13th century town there are only traces of the blocks that are now part of the northern section of the historic center.  In piazza Libertà, from which many beautiful streets branch out all covered with porticoes, there are still the beginnings perhaps of the 1200s tower (called the Clock tower) and the adjacent Palazzo Vecchio.

 

Outside the town, about 1 kilometer away, there is the parish church of San Pietro in Sylvis, a noteworthy example of proto-Romanesque or exarch architecture from the 7th century, among one of the most beautiful and well-conserved in all of Romagna.

 

The ancient church seems to correspond with the easternmost of the ports along the southern fringe of the delta swamp.   It has a sober façade and a free-standing bell tower.  Inside, it is divided into three naves by stilted arches on pillars, and there is a remarkable little altar also from the 7th century.  The polygonal apse is frescoed, possibly the work of a Rimini master (1320-25).

These frescoes depict the Redeemer with the Evangelists, the Apostles and Christ crucified between the Madonna and St. John.

 

Bagnacavallo has always maintained its relations with the other cities along the via Emilia, given that from this town, besides a road that lead to Faenza, noted as the strata magistra in the Descriptio of 1371, merchants and pilgrims could also count on finding navigable routes along the Senio-Santerno and the Lamone Rivers.  Near the castle there was also a port from which it was possible to reach Argenta, S. Alberto and Ravenna.


For tourist information:

Local site: Ferrara
Local site: Romagna d'Este

Last modified Feb 02, 2017

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