Euganean Hills Cataio Castle Monselice Castle Rovigo, Town Hall Square Map of the Etruscan city of Spina
Venice water limousine service Down South

Tour # 4: Down South

The Byzantines, the Estes and the Po river Estuary

Naturalistic Oasis of the Mandriole Marshes

Along the route of the Via Romea, connecting the heart of the Roman Empire with the salt mines in Grado and the Adriatic port in Aquileia, we will see the fishing valleys of South Laguna until Chioggia, a small fishing port which contains some typical atmospheres of Venice integrating them with the life of Terraferma. Then we will cross the mouths of the Adige River and the Northern branches of the Po River Estuary with the Valli di Comacchio Lagoon, to reach the majestic monastery surrounding the Romanesque abbey of Pomposa, whose bell tower seems to float on the plain.

Pomposa Abbey

The Abbey was probably founded in the VI - VII Century by Benedictine monks, although the first written document dates back to the year 874. Nowadays Pomposa still contains the church, the bell tower, some wings of the Monastery and the Palazzo della Ragione, beautiful sites which are but just part of a monastery which was big and influential in the Middle Ages. It was a spiritual center of great importance, famous for its library, also mentioned by Dante Alighieri in The Divine Comedy; there the inventor of musical notation, Guido d'Arezzo, became monk.
In 1300 the Abbey had 49 churches scattered in the various dioceses in North-Middle Italy and from its Palazzo della Ragione it administered territories until the Romagna and the Veneto.

Now we are at the center of the great estuary of the Po River, and our trip could continue through the numerous natural oases in this area, which offer paths and facilities for the observation of herons, cranes and all sorts of marshy fauna, immersed in the landscape of water, reed beds and Mediterranean scrub. Of course the area also offers a good choice of restaurants specializing in fish and game.

In the afternoon we can continue our journey to Ravenna, where we can get in contact with the Byzantine culture in Pomposa and immerse ourselves into the space of its golden mosaics which we can admire in the Abbey of Saint Vitale, in Saint Apollinare in Classe and in the Mausoleum in Galla Placidia, and pay homage at the tomb of Dante Alighieri who lived a long time in that town during the exile. Along the summer the Ravenna beaches are lively resorts and entertainment places.

The origins of Ravenna date back to lagoon settlements which were first Etruscan and then Umbrians. It was a Roman colony in the II Century BC and was chosen as the capital of the Western Empire in the 402 to become a hub and switch between the Byzantine culture and the Roman one. Because of the fall of the Empire, Ravenna became the capital of the kingdom of Odoacer and then of Teodorico transforming into a Byzantine power in Italy (553-751). In the Middle Ages when the relations with the Eastern Empire terminated, the town faced a period of great deprivation and isolation which ended only in 1400 thanks to the Venetian domination during the which the town shone and developed, especially in terms of urban planning.

Ravenna, mosaics in the Dome of St. Vitale

On the other hand we can go to the West in the Po Valley to Ferrara, a town dominated for centuries by the fiercest art collectors ever, the family Este - Gonzaga.
In Ferrara the Gonzagas of Mantua loved spending the summer holidays and their spare time as hosts of the Este family in the famous Palace Schifanoia, in the company of the great masters they loved to surround with: Mantegna, Giulio Romano, Leon Battista Alberti...

Castle of Ferrara p class='note'> Built in 1385 thanks to Alberto V d'Este, the Palace Schifanoia is the only existing example of official leisure house: the term Schifanoia derives from the expression “to salve oneself from the boredom”, to remove the tedium of pressing commitments of government. It was frescoed by Cosmé Tura, Francesco del Cossa and Ercole de' Roberti and today it houses the Civic Museum of Ancient Art which is distributed in collections located in the fifteenth century halls and in the fourtheenth century wing of the building: the Egyptian Collection, the Collection of Greek and Roman Ceramics... The numismatic collection from the Hellenic period on is particularly significant. It contains the section devoted to the medals fused in the first half of the fourtheenth Century by Pisanello and Sperandio from Mantua with the portraits of some members of the House of Este. And, more on,the corpus of illuminated manuscripts, the collection of ivories, bronzes...

Ferrara still keeps faith with this artistic devotion qualifying with the exhibitions of Palazzo dei Diamanti as one of the most active places in reporting the latest trends in modern art or what is thought to be such.

The area around Ferrara is suitable for the Romagna wine tasting, in a large area of Etruscan places which depended on the port of Spina (now deceased), which was the precursor of Venice in the relations between the West and the East, and the city of Adria. Although the Etruscan ruins in this area are not significant as those of Tuscany and Lazio, they make us realize the culture expansion of those people and their relationships with the emerging Roman Empire.

On the way back, the pretty town of Rovigo, the Castle of Cataio with its huge park and the Euganean Hills, the volcanic thermal hills of Monselice and Abano.

Map of the Etruscan city of Spina