The Delta

Written by  Vittorio Emiliani
«We were slow to understand, unfortunately, and perhaps we still haven't fully understood, just what an incalculable resource the Delta area could represent.»
We went to Pomposa on a school trip, complete with the usual larking around and noise. As soon as we got there, we rapidly climbed almost to the top of the imposing Romanesque bell tower whence we saw spread out below us an incredible landscape made up of tongues of land covered by bright green vegetation, the waters of the Val Giralda ruffled by the morning breeze, which the intense light had transformed into dazzling mirrors. Flocks of birds flew over the rippling water and the slender, verdant fingers of land.

Those were still years of hunger, and hunger for land; the farm workers were unemployed and Val Giralda was drained and reclaimed shortly afterwards. The mouth of the Po thus lost another piece of its former charm linked to the culture of the valleys. Today, in all probability, we would have kept it the way it was, for reasons of economic profitability if nothing else.

We were slow to understand, unfortunately, and perhaps we still haven't fully understood, just what an incalculable resource the Delta area could represent. Years ago, in the heart of that series of beaches known as the Lidi Ferraresi - which were to become, alas, almost worse than the Riviera Romagnola - tourists could hire small passenger planes to go for a jaunt in the skies above Ravenna and Venice.
From up there, in that slow and smooth flight, you could gauge the uniquely evocative countryside made up of waterways, land, woods, canals castles against the damage caused by mistaken developments that have made it much harder to plan the future of the area's natural patrimony in a sensible way.
At that time, nobody in Italy wanted to know, what a rare opportunity, economically and otherwise, the Alpine, Apennine, river, and maritime natural parks represented.

We returned to Pomposa, in the early Seventies, with Giorgio Bassani, Antonio Cederna, Mario Fazio and other members of Italia Nostra to talk of the Parco del Delta and we were told of a march, which had left from Goro, on the part of all those who desired the construction of a new coast road that would have not only cut straight through the great wood of the Mesola and other protected areas, but would also have made it possible to create generous lots of land for sale right on the sea shore.
The atmosphere grew quite tense, even threatening. Guido Fanti, then the neo-Chairman of the Emilia-Romagna Regional Council, had to take the field and wield all his political authority to block the rising wave of protest.
Since then, as a tourist, I have returned many times to the Delta, where I have explored the great wood of the Mesola, and walked along the completely empty beaches that gird the many branches of the mouth of the Po, and among the tall ranks of bulrushes nodding in the breeze.

And, every time, I felt as if I had been drawn into a dimension of life that cannot be found elsewhere. Here spaces are somehow dilated, very open, with boundless panoramas between river, sea and a sky blue with a special luminescence. All this goes to make up a landscape, of nature and the soul, that - in Italy at any rate - has no peer.

One September afternoon (the gilded September of the lower Po valley) we boarded one of the tourist boats that leave from Goro to take people round the Delta, along with a group of tourists from the Veneto who immediately began singing at the top of their voices, swearing and cursing (sometimes mentioning the parish priest of their distant village). But then, as we gradually penetrated the network of narrow waterways, amidst the densely wooded greenery, they began to fall silent.
Perhaps they were exhausted. Perhaps they had begun to be taken, conquered by the power of suggestion of the great river - with its close links to myth and history - as it makes it majestic entrance into the Adriatic Sea.

The legend of Phaeton, who through these skies spurred on the horses stolen from his father Helios only to plummet into the waters of the Eridanus; or that of Minos, who found hospitality and refuge on the islets of the Delta. The story of the Etruscan merchants, refined to the point of opulence, who established upon these banks the city of Spina, one of the busiest ports of the pre-Roman era.

This is the historical link that the recent Ferrara exhibition so efficaciously forged between that remote but culturally vital memory and the Delta we have inherited today: a Delta we have despoiled more than somewhat, it nevertheless still represents a rich naturalistic, environmental, and historic patrimony that only we can look after, preserve, and increase.