The Waterways of Bologna

by Paola Emilia Rubbi

A journey in the city history.


Ponte della CaritÓ, Ponte della Badýa, Ponte della Sega, Ponte del Fondego, Ponte dei Preti: in Bologna, there were more or less fifty bridges. This means that it was necessary to step over streams of water. Of course. Because Felsina (then Bonomia, then Bologna) was founded and grew near the Aposa Creek to be able to take advantage of the necessary water resources for the community. It is formed by the two main waterways of the area, the Reno River and the Savena River. Two dams were built around year 1000 and two canals from which other canals were branched, on the surface, other canals, small ones, outflows and, underground, a dense network of conduits and tunnels.
The whole economy and development of the city, since the Middle Ages, is founded on that abundant natural wealth: water, which fed, as the driving force, the growing manufacturing crafts: paper factories, "purghi", mills, millstones, fulling mills, sawmills, tanneries, hammer mills, spinning mills; there were also retteries, orchards, fish ponds that received the essential water supply.
Since the mid-eleventh century, the City realized within the urban walls the Reno Canal, going through the last circle of walls crossing the Grada, the last leg, at the exit of the City, called the Moline Canal. They also develop the Cavaticcio, in the ancient Aposa Canal, and the Navile Canal bringing together the old canal which from Corticella led to the Po.
And then was born the Maccagnano port, outside of the walls, in the Bova community (today Via Bovi Campeggi). Later, Giovanni II Bentivoglio wanted to transfer it within the city walls and inaugurated the new complex on January 10th, 1494. Still later, at the end of the sixteenth century, Antonio Baruzzi, called Vignola, redesigned and rebuilt it with customs, warehouses, taverns, inns, wet docks, shipyard, wharfs, small staircases in masonry to access the ships, for which were organized at least 50 places. Thus, cargo (salt from the salt mines of Cervia, wheat, rice, corn, hemp, cotton, silk, fish, timber, leather) and passengers from the port, by the Navile Canal, could reach the Po, Ferrara, Venice, on barges often towed by horses along the towpaths.
Within the walls, in the leg of the Savena Canal along Via Castiglione, described Robert Scannavini, architect, there were the wool factories; along the Rialto and Castellata streets there were tanners, dyers, rope makers, stationers and hydraulic spinning mills; wheat-mills, rice-mills were in the initial agreement for the Reno Canal; between the Lame and the Galliera streets, hydraulic silk-mills and rice-mills; milling and tanneries were in the final agreement, called "the Moline".

Picture - Moline Canal, Bologna
Picture - The small window in Via Piella, Bologna
The Aposa came from the gate of the walls at S. Mamolo and then crossed the Mezzo market supplying water to small and large butchers' shops to wash the meat after slaughter and to fisheries. And still today, along the river bed to the river's tomb, we can admire the ancient Roman bridge, past the Mezzo market, which overpassed, since those days, the creek.
For centuries (until the 700), the water has moved hundreds of manufacturing activities that were carried out basements and ground floors of houses which, in the back, overlooked the canals and with shops on the porticoed street. Source of energy and means of communication, water, therefore, has characterized, since the twelfth century, the urban environment and supported the economy of Bologna.
Little by little was covered and hidden what was the hydraulic "treasure" of the city. Today it is reappearing, discreet and irregular, enough though to give an idea of the atmosphere and customs now gone: through the small windows on Via Piella (where we can see the silent flow of the water and houses as though it was behind the scenes, lost in time), in recent decades there has been restoration work done on the fašades of the Reno Canal in Via Piella and in Via Malcontenti;

of the Gallotti brickyard, the Salara, the old harbour area; the revitalization of the former mill Grada, the improvement of the underground canalization of the Aposa with the rediscovery of the Roman bridge.
And there is a jewel in the "water history" of Bologna: the renovated octagonal reservoir in Via Bagni di Mario, outside of the gate of S. Mamolo, designed by Tommaso Laureti and built in 1564, to collect the water intended to supply the contemporary statue of Neptune.
To visit it is a journey in the history of the city and more.Picture - The old salt warehouse of Bologna

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