If Ferrara Returns to the Sea

Written by  Roberto Pazzi

A fantasy facilitated by climatological forecast.

Recent items in the newspapers on the possible climate changes over the next hundred years in the Italian peninsula have caused some corresponding stir in our own peaceful city. According to one of the most credible and reliable predictions, by the end of the century Ferrara will find herself on the shores of the Adriatic, while Venice will probably disappear beneath the waters she once ruled. For those who know Ferrara’s history well, however, this would not be a genuine novelty but a kind of return to our origins. Those origins who have left their traces in the names of the city’s streets, like via Boccacanale di Santo Stefano, via della Ghiara, via dei Sabbioni: they indicate the incoming canals or the banks of the great river which ran through the city before the 12th century, leading out to the sea just a few kilometres from the river port, near the city’s proto-Cathedral San Giorgio.

But the idea of a Ferrara like Genoa, Trieste, Ancona, Bari, like Palermo, a sea-front city, has refreshed our imaginations. So here we are, a hundred year’s hence, waking up lazily for a morning’s work to the long whistle of a siren announcing the entrance into the port of Ferrara of an great liner from the east, like the Rex in Fellini’s Amarcord. And here is the port spreading out between the bastions of Porta Mare, restored to its inherent self, and the bastions of San Giorgio – did someone once tell me, as a child, that the bell-tower was the ancient port lighthouse? – where the waters have transformed the city walls into a defence against the rising sea lashing against the coast. And finally, in one of history’s paradoxical transformations, we could make sense of these walls, built by the provident Duke Ercole I d’Este and never once tested in siege through the long centuries. This mysterious ducal provision was designed to protect against the raids of the stormy seas, to defend against the tides, these walls designed by Biagio Rosetti in 1492, the very year in which Europe was opening up to the discovery of America.

So that on arriving in Ferrara by train visitors would embark in the station square, from the river wharf along the Panfilio canal on one of the many water buses which lead to the centre, towards the castle. The ever more numerous tourists would admire the shimmering reflections of the red walls on the coastal waters, presaging the dramatic reflections of the Castle’s four towers, no longer mirrored in the modest waters of the grey moat but on the semi-salt waters of the long canal which cuts through the whole city like a great sword. And the sea will play a crucial role in the development of the characters of the Ferraresi, as always happens for the peoples who live by the sea who develop that sense of connection with far off places, with the Other, which the sea washes into their minds. The sea embraces different peoples, brings together languages, religions and races just as the land serves to divide them.

And in Ferrara the primacy of agriculture will not release its grasp easily. The closed agricultural middle classes of Ferrara will be forced to become more adventurous, just as maritime traders have always been. Lacking the calm certainty of gathering in the fruits of nature which the Lord sends punctually each year, they have had to create a new strategy each year to increase their wealth and build on what they have.

And so fish will slowly begin to replace the pig from its centuries of domination. Alongside the famous pork salama da sugo, fish soup alla ferrarese will join the classics of Emilian cuisine. And if what Feuerbach says is true, “man is what he eats,” then something of the restless and slippery nature of fish will alter the physiognomy of the Ferrarese. The typical Ferrarese will be tall, slender, agile, elusive, constantly in motion, easily bored and always seeking something new…

And we’ll no longer be cloaked in fog all the time, the sea will dispel its weak influence. No longer will we all leave in the summer to enjoy the sun, the sea and the sand. They will be here on our doorstep, beaches for us to choose from: Francolino, Quacchio, Barco, San Giorgio.