Comacchio: the floating city
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
A small village in the province of Ferrara, Comacchio rises in the middle of a lagoon of the same name and was originally built by joining 13 small islands formed at the mouth of the Po River with the sea. Before suffering the inexorable silting due to the proximity of the mouth of the Po River, over the centuries it was an important naval port in the Adriatic Sea and one of the main ports for trade in North Italy.
Of its glorious past, the city nowadays preserves architectures and buildings of great value, beyond the characteristic canals that have worth it the nickname of “little Venice”.
The history of Comacchio is linked to the progress of the coastline due to the sandy and alluvial deposits of the Po River, which has profoundly influenced the area’s geography over the centuries.
The first settlements traced in the area of today’s Comacchio date back to the Bronze Age, but it is with the Etruscans and with the founding of the city of Spina, that the area assumed fundamental importance as port and emporium of the Etruscan domain on the Adriatic Sea.
After the decline of trades with ancient Greece, the end of the Etruscan domination over the Po Valley and the subsequent Roman domination, the city of Spina lost much of its commercial role, but remained an important naval junction due to the confluence of the Po River, which guaranteed the fluvial connections with the interior of the Po Valley, and the connection with the Fossa Augustea of Ravenna, the wide Roman channel that connected the Port of Classe to the southern branch of the Po River. During this period, the Comacchio area saw the proliferation of settlements that were mainly concentrated along the rivers and consisted of Roman villas, settlements for the production of bricks and salt, fish breeding and agriculture. From this point of view, it is significant to visit the ship from the Augustan period that kept on board all the cargo coming from Spain and Greece and now exhibited in the Ancient Delta Museum.
It was in the VI and VII century AD, under the Byzantine and Longobard dominion of Emilia Romagna, that the city of Comacchio as we know it today originated as a center headed by the Exarchate of Ravenna, but which at the same time maintained important commercial agreements with the interior Lombard of the Po Valley. The “Capitolare of Liutprando” dates back to this epoch, a commercial agreement which in VIII century attested the existence of a Comacchio’s community with sufficient autonomy to stipulate commercial agreements with the Lombard kingdom, for the passage along the Po of the own boats laden with salt and “garum” (fish sauce of ancient tradition much liked by the Roman populations), but also pepper and other goods from the Far East.
Starting from the ninth century the growing power of Venice Republic, started not to tolerate any longer the presence of rival cities so close. All this led to the progressive decline of Comacchio as a commercial emporium, with the consequent prohibition in Salt producing, one of the most important resources in ancient times.
After alternating events that saw Comacchio under the domination of the Este House, and that did not bring great developments to the area, in 1598 the area definitively passed under the dominion of the Papal State that redeveloped the city in the form that we can still admire today. The Pontifical government wanted to enhance the city with naval commercial functions that are reflected in the width of the road that leads to the port of Magnavacca and in the grandiose Trepponti, the ancient monumental entrance to the city. Almost all the stone bridges date back to this period and so other masonry buildings, including the lodge where the wheat was stored, the Capuchin Portico and the new Cathedral.
Finally, during the nineteenth century, the city was at the center of reclamation works that have profoundly changed its geography, moving it away from the sea, burying most of its territories and profoundly changing the economy of the area. Today the city of Comacchio is an important fishing center (especially of eels), a tourist destination appreciated both for its beaches and for its particular lagoon conformation and one of the access points to the Po Delta Park.
What To See
Well-known with prestigious name of “Little Venice”, the city of Comacchio is today characterized by a historical center crossed by a dense network of still navigable canals connected by stone bridges and masonry. The city is also located within the Po Delta Park, which gives it an extraordinary naturalistic attraction, especially regarding birdwatching activities.
So if you want to discover the city of Comacchio you must not miss the spectacular Trepponti complex, a true symbol of the city that once served as a fortified gateway to the city. Inside the historic center, we also point out the new Ancient Delta Museum that illustrates the evolution of the territory and human settlements that have characterized the history of the ancient Po Delta, and its neighbor Bellini Palace, which today is the seat of the Gallery of Contemporary Art and of the City Historic Archives. A visit to the center of Comacchio cannot fail to touch the San Cassiano Cathedral, the “Loggia del Grano“, the Civic Tower and the famous “Loggiato dei Cappuccini”, a sequence of 142 arches that lead from the center of Comacchio to the ancient dedicated Sanctuary of “Santa Maria in Aula Regia”.
But the attractions of Comacchio are not reduced to the characteristic beauties of its downtown; the city can boast a territory really rich in historical and naturalistic places with a bunch of experiences to be discovered.
Here we point out the very important “Manifattura dei Marinati“, which represents an important piece of the economic and gastronomic history of the city, the “Museo della Valli“, an open-air museum inserted inside the Po Delta Park and together a historical naturalistic itinerary inside of the Comacchio Lagoons, and the Remo Brindisi House Museum, which was the summer residence of the master Remo Brindisi until his death, and built between 1971 and 1973 by architect-designer Nanda Vigo.
Civic Tower – Ph. Vanni Lazzari
Comacchio – Ph. Vanni Lazzari
Comacchio Historic Centre – Ph. Vanni Lazzari
Dawn on Comacchio’s Lagoons – Ph. Francesco-1978
Comacchio Lagoons Ph. Francesco-1978
Flamingos – Ph. Vanni Lazzari
Lagoons – Ph. Vanni Lazzari
Trepponti – Ph. Vanni Lazzari
Traditional fishnet for eels – Ph. Monuwanda
Ancient Delta Museum – Ph. Vanni Lazzari
Fog – Ph Samaritani
Lagoons – Ph. Zappaterra
Bellini Palace – Ph. Vanni Lazzari
Cappuccini Portico – Ph. Chiara Dobro
What To Do
The fog, the calm lagoon landscape and the silence of the valleys… autumn it is one of the best seasons to appreciate the landscapes and metaphysical atmospheres of Po Delta areas. During this period we highly recommend bike and boat trips in the Po Delta Park (as long as the weather permits), without forgetting one of the most important events in the area, the Comacchio Eel Festival which is usually held every year in the months of September/October.
Walking through the center of Comacchio during the cold and harsh winter can look like being on a movie set.
These are the areas that by nature and colors have been chosen by many great artists as a set of their masterpieces. Directors like Antonioni, Avati, Visconti, Soldati, De Sica, and many others have set many of their stories within these misty landscapes.
We recommend a tour of the famous film locations that have been set here, or a visit to the Ancient Delta Museum, the new place inaugurated last year that illustrates the area evolution and human settlements that have characterized the history of the ancient delta of the Po.
Spring in Comacchio is dedicated to Slow Spring, the great event dedicated to nature in Po Delta Park and which offer naturalistic excursions, cycling routes, days by boat within the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of the Po Delta.
Sea, art, nature, hiking: the gifts that Comacchio offers to visitors in the summer. From the equipped beaches on the Adriatic Sea to bike excursions in nature. And then the good local and Ferrara cuisine prepared in a territory rich in things to discover.
Food and Wine
Overlooking the Adriatic sea halfway between the sweet of the Po River and the salty of the sea, Comacchio offers a cuisine of clear local derivation. Despite the Este court and the superb Ferrara cuisine just a few kilometers away, the typical dishes of this part of Romagna are different and are affected by the history, the time of year and the territory from which the raw materials come.
The famous eels, for example, are cooked in different variations depending on the time of year (some say there are more than 45 different recipes to prepare the eel), as well as you can taste the great variety of mollusks that have made these areas famous all over Italy.
If you are under a date, we advise you not to lose the particular Topino d’Ognissanti, a small mouse-shaped biscuit prepared the first two days of November, as well as the great variety of “Risotti”, whose rice fields are only a few kilometers away.
How To Get To Comacchio and Lidos
Highway A13 Ferrara Sud; connection Ferrara-Porto Garibaldi; at km 47, exit Comacchio.
The closest train station is at Ostellato > www.tper.it
TPER Suburban Line: Ferrara-Comacchio Lidi (all year round); SACA e AUTOSTRADE.it Line (during the summer).
Bus Service: Ferrara/Comacchio Lidi; Ravenna/Comacchio Lidi
Information and schedules: +39 0532 599411 – www.tper.it