Men, Land and Water

by Paola Emilia Rubbi

The long thred of history.

The oases ofPicture of a grey heron Vallesanta and Campotto in Argenta represent 850 hectares of free, uncontaminated nature where grow a wide variety of vegetal and animal species (many of which are quite rare in the national panorama); where herons, egrets, shanks, cormorants and other bird species (of which 145 are migrators) live peacefully and often nidifyImage of an old shooting lodge; where you can walk in valleys and marshes, through the woods, pine forests, reeds, or in the countryside where every season has different colours and the sounds the various animals make offer a different atmosphere.
This is where it seems we still can hear the voices and songs of the scariolanti, those very hard-working men who, with their simple and important work a century ago, have changed this unrepeatable natural environment. It was the work of man, in conjunction to drainage, that transformed in natural oases of international interest these lands that were once swampy, unhealthy and invisible.
"In this vast area, underlines Adamo Antonellini, Councillor of the Commune of Argenta, the natural environment and the work of man are weaving the elements allowing to go through the whole history of this territory. We recall on one hand, the original environment and, on the other hand,Image of a swampy oasis the long journey of cultural and social growth, providing a wide thematic horizon, probably unique in Europe, between nature, history, culture, economy, technology, water and land."
As a matter of fact, Vallesanta and Campotto are what is left of the wide swamps which began to form from the twelfth century when the Po di Primaro, then encumbered with sediments, could no longer receive the water coming from the various streams of the Appennines. Overflowing, the waters then formed a large wetland which remained so until the Picture of a sunset on the canalbeginning of the 900s. This marks the beginning of the "great adventure" of drainage with the development of an articulated system made of 850 hectares of enormous basins of land into which water flows and is accumulated when the Reno is no longer able to take it. It put in place the conditions for the development and survival of a true nature, luxuriant and hospitable for all living species while creating a system of defense of the territory whether it is for an excess or a lack of water.
It is here, in Saiarino, that it is possible to see the gigantic water-scooping pumps (fabricated more than a century ago and still in working condition) with which the water in the bassins during spates was flowed into the Reno and discharged for the fields' irrigation.
The Consorzio della Bonifica Renana was a consortium that managed this complex hydraulic system of water regulation, its beating heart being in Saiarino and in the oases of Campotto and Vallesanta constituting what little remains of a landscape once much more expanded : Padusa.
A few kilometers from Bologna, less still from Ferrara, it is in a unique natural habitat, today preserved thanks to a delicate and vital hydraulic stability ensured, once again, by the work of man.
The millenary interaction between man and the land, witnessed by the valleys, is richly and precisely documented in these three museums: delle Valli, dela Bonifica and Civico. We are in the middle of the Ecomuseum of Argenta which in turn is part of the Parc of the Delta of the Po.
Walking around these oases or stoping at one of the observatories of reeds that were built here and there, it is possible to see the flight of a Great Crested Grebe, a Whooper Swan, a Common Mallard, a Ferruginous Duck, a Whiskered Tern, or it is possible to observe - in the green waters - thousand species of waterlilies or the aquatic gentian, and in the grass-dominated meadows, the levees and the reeds: the water speedwell, the water mint, the marsh spurge, the yellow iris... and it is the museum centres that can be found the technique and human activity: the water-scooping installations with their intact mechanisms; the old ovens for the use of the thermic central; the transformers, the immense interrupters; the large reproduction of a flood with the water courses getting larger and the water-scooping pumps working at full capacity. Pictures of the period and illustrative panels sort out the long thred of the weaved history of men, land and water.