Bassani Park

Written by  Stefano Lolli
From Ercole I's extension of the town, to the Green extension.
In March 1979, Giorgio Bassani spoke to the Chamber of Commerce about something which was, at that time, just a pipe dream. He suggested that the perimeter of the ancient Barco del Duca be connected «with the River Po, as a type of moral riposte by the aesthetic of the city to the shifting of the riverbed.»

To this end, Bassani appealed to the citizens not so much for courage, but for clear thinking: because «I believe clear thinking at the propsal stage will bring in the funding necessary for such an undertaking fairly rapidly. Filthy lucre is what's required...» In fact, the conservation organisation Italia Nostra, led by its determined President Paolo Ravenna, had already done some clear thinking about its role; the "filthy lucre" however, was not forthcoming for some years yet.

Whilst the Progetto Mura (a vast programme of restoration and maintenance of Ferrara's crumbling city walls) was being defined, from 1986 organisation for the creation of a park was starting to take shape to make use of the 100 hectares owned by the city which formed the epicentre of what, at the International Symposium of Architects and Town Planners in October 1978 at the Teatro Comunale, Paolo Ravenna called the Addizione Verde (or Green Expansion project): «Ferrara is about to embark on a new green expansion project, which represents a natural development of Ercole I's extension of the town, which transformed Ferrara into Europe's foremost modern city. And long may it continue to be so.»
This speech opened up a wide-ranging debate on the modernity of the town planning strategies that were seen as uniquely characteristic of the Este era. Within the walls of the "pentagonal city" architects linked mediaeval and renaissance areas, which spread, moved, diffused, and became, in the image suggested by new regulatory plans, a countryside park. In other words, it is a project - one of very few of its kind in Italy - intended to integrate different environments. It is a project that will facilitate both preservation and public use, as well as social, tourist and agricultural activity.

Nevertheless, over the years, some fears were expressed; a few remained silent, whilst others firmly expressed their views. For, in the park region, from the 1930s onwards, there was a succession of initiatives and projects that were not always consistent with either present or future plans for the area.

There was the old piazza d'armi, the disused Ferrara - Copparo railway, there was the proposal for a giant football stadium, which, in the 1950s was only approved by Ferrara's local council with a handful of votes; and more recently plans were drawn up for a sports and shopping complex with "aerial" structures in the middle of the park. The project as a whole was financed with funds from FIO (Fondo Investimento Occupazione) and has also been staunchly supported by the local council and the Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara.
There is a feeling of having brought a unique project to life: the restoration of the nine kilometres of the city walls, the connection, albeit still incomplete, between the park in its widest sense, and the network of farms, pathways, farmhouses, woodlands, meadows, small waterways and drains which lead to the banks of the river Po. Indeed, it could be said that the risk paid off: not only for the approval of the cultural organisations, but also for the many and various institutional initiatives which culminated, in spring 1999 with the formal "inauguration" of the restoration of the city walls.

The public however, must judge its success. Tourists and locals do increasingly visit the wide open green spaces, either to play sport, for recreation and an appreciation of nature, or perhaps simply just to go for a stroll. Others still are looking for a «lovers' lane» (as Bassani said) within the city but «somewhere discreet, away from prying eyes.»

There was, and still is, a lot more to do. First of all, the extension of the current 100 hectares, which today mark the perimeter of the Bassani, to the banks of the River Po, and the careful planning of future works within the area: sports facilities, cycle paths, environmental and industrial developments. All of which require an integrated approach: some have suggested that some sort of Park Authority be set up, to co-ordinate both public and private actions and investments. This idea may prove to be even more worthwhile, if you think of all that the 'success' of the Green Expansion project involves.
As well as the practical restoration of the city Walls, and the public use of Bassani Park, the southern part of the city is now also planning a route to the park. This route would link environments and industries to guarantee «an expanse of green space for the whole city, whether for the historic centre or the suburbs» as Andrea Malacarne wrote in 2002. He cited the example of the Green Expansion project as something «which represents an example of balanced urban development, studied with interest throughout Italy and abroad.»

There was, and still is, a lot more to do. The synthesis of a future which will not wait another twenty-five years is encapsulated by a photograph which opens one's eyes to a dizzying pace of change. Beyond the city, the Bassani Park encroaches upon the countryside, the clear expanse of the river Po refuses to be confined, the mountains splinter away and fade into the clouds. It is right here, in the heart of the area, that a tiny red point on the picture indicates the possible position of the National Shoah Museum, which, already based in Ferrara, could find its home in the Barco hills.

There, where looking out from the tower, you catch a first glance of the river, where the roar of the traffic is suddenly subdued, and one can hear oneself think. Within the confines of a garden which escapes into pastoral simplicity, of a park which isn't a refuge but a vantage point, a Memorial which is not frozen in the past. Within the heart of a city, which, Bassani said «is Ferrara, and at the same time, something else entirely...»

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