The Coastal Towns of Emilia-Romagna

The Coastal Towns of Emilia-Romagna

by /// August 31, 2021 /// Estimated reading time: 7 minutes







They are the soul of the maritime tradition of Emilia-Romagna and of the high Adriatic Sea. In the past centuries, they have represented important trade hubs between the Italian peninsula and the peoples of the East.

Bellaria-Igea Marina, Borgo San Giuliano, Cattolica, Cervia, Cesenatico and Comacchio: these are the 6 Coastal Towns of Emilia-Romagna where the art of fishing, the knowledge of the sea and navigation have reached their maximum.

Comacchio: the floating city

Comacchio | Ph. Vanni Lazzari, via WLM

Comacchio | Ph. Vanni Lazzari, via WLM

A small village in the province of Ferrara, COMACCHIO rises in the middle of the lagoon of the same name, between Po di Volano and Po di Comacchio and was originally built by joining 13 small islands formed at the mouth of the Po di Primario with the sea.

Before suffering the inexorable silting due to the proximity of the mouth of the River Po, over the centuries it was an important naval port in the Adriatic Sea and one of the main ports for trade in Emilia Romagna.

Of its glorious past, the city today preserves architectures and buildings of great value, beyond the characteristic canals that have made it the nickname of “Little Venice” over time.

To See:

  • The Po Delta Park: the village of Comacchio is entirely inside the Park, which gives it an extraordinary naturalistic attraction, especially regarding the volatile and faunal species that can be admired here.
  • The Trepponti Complex: a true symbol of Comacchio, the Trepponti bridge was once used as a fortified gateway to the city.
  • The Museum of the Ancient Delta: a very rich archaeological museum that illustrates the evolution of the territory and human settlements that have characterized the history of the ancient Po Delta.
  • Il Loggiato dei Cappuccini: a sequence of no less than 142 arches that lead from the center of Comacchio to the ancient Sanctuary dedicated to Santa Maria in Aula Regia.
  • The Manifattura dei Marinati: the museum which represents an important piece of the economic and gastronomic history of the city
  • The Museo delle Valli: an open-air museum inserted inside the Po Delta Park and together with a historical naturalistic itinerary inside the Valli di Comacchio
  • The House Museum Remo Brindisi: summer stay of the master Remo Brindisi until his death, was built between 1971 and 1973 on a project by architect-designer Nanda Vigo.

Cervia: the Salt Empire

Coastal Towns

Cervia | Ph. Comune di Cervia

Perhaps one of the oldest settlements on the Romagna coast, the town of CERVIA in ancient times was not in the place where it stands today.

The first settlements settled in fact in a more intense place, probably for defensive issues in what was once the marshy areas near the Adriatic Sea.

Precisely because of this particular location, over the centuries, the local population became very skilled in the works of hydraulic engineering and in the reclamation of the marshes, which cemented the social, cultural and economic identity of the town.

The community has always been dedicated to industriousness, already in the IX century, the village could guarantee a flourishing economy to its inhabitant’s thanks to the industry of the production and sale of the Salt that could count on excellent inland traffic and a place-efficient towards the most distant countries.

This opulence could not fail to awaken the envies of neighboring potentates, so much so that the town was at the center of serious conflicts with the Continent Lordships until the arrival of the Serenissima Republic of Venice first and then the Papal State.

In 1697, after numerous requests to the then Pope Innocent XII, it was granted to the population to literally move the city from the original area, up and down where today’s salt pans are located, to transfer it to a healthier place near the sea.

In the same period, the Salt Warehouse and the Defense Tower were built, which we can still admire today.

To See:

  • Excursion by boat in saltworks: a suggestive landscape, especially at sunset, where you can practice birdwatching. Tastings and initiatives for children are often organized.
  • A Visit to the Magazzini del Sale: today it hosts exhibitions of Salt Museum, the Torre San Michele and the Cathedral are its most significant emblems.
  • Relax at the Spa: in the millenary pinewood the Cervia Spa rises, avant-garde for programs and therapies, thanks also to the Saltworks of Cervia where the liman or mud of lagoon is extracted, very precious for health together with the mother water.
  • Morning at the Fishmarket: as every respectable fish market, it is a must to go in the early morning.

Cesenatico: the fortress of the Adriatic

The Canal Port, Cesenatico

Cesenatico | Ph. Caba2011, via Wikimedia

At the time of Ancient Rome, the coastline was much further behind than today and the strip of land on which stands the village of CESENATICO was largely occupied by the Adriatic Sea.

A small village stood in the place of the city, but it was no more than a small stop-over along the route of the ancient Via Popilia that from the northeast of Italy led first to the Via Flaminia and then to Rome.

The foundation of the village of Cesenatico as we know it today happened in fact in 1303, when the Municipality of Cesena decided to equip itself with an outlet to the sea, and began the construction of a small fortified port with a castle, called “Cesenatico“.

The construction of a fortified military place on the Romagna coast alerted the quarrelsome neighboring Lords (Ravenna, Forlì, Rimini) so that the settlement was destroyed and rebuilt several times along the bloody wars that ensued.

In 1500, when Cesare Borgia conquered the city of Cesena, Cesenatico became a strategic place, so that in 1502 the Valentino called Leonardo Da Vinci, who designed a series of improvements and variations that, subsequently adopted, made of that port a refuge sure also from a strategic military point of view, as was demonstrated during the Napoleonic period.

Collapsed the dominion of the Borgias the city passed, for a short period, under the dominion of the Venetians, then to the Holy See and for over three centuries had no major events except, in 1849, the embarkation on the famous “bragozzi” of Giuseppe Garibaldi, who after returning from the defense of Rome and left San Marino, tried to run to the rescue of Venice in the company of Anita, Ugo Bassi and other patriots.

To See:

  • The Leonardo’s Canal Port: built starting in 1502 using a project commissioned by Cesare Borgia to Leonardo da Vinci, it still retains today all its main characteristics.
  • Spazio Pantani: the museum is entirely dedicated to the memory of the cycling champion Marco Pantani, originally from Cesenatico. The museum is not far from the train station and is easily accessible
  • The Maritime Museum: perhaps the only floating naval museum in Italy consists of ten boats visible on the outside, and two inside the corresponding pavilion. The boats are the traditional fishing and sailing propulsion boats used until the early twentieth century and, together with the museum, represent an important recovery of the memory and objects of the maritime tradition of the upper Adriatic.
  • Piazza delle Conserve: In ancient times the Conserve or Icehouses were wells 6 meters deep and 8 meters in diameter that were chilled with layers of ice and used for the preservation of fish and other foods.

Bellaria Igea Marina: the Village of the fishermen

Bellaria Igea Marina | ph. Maurizio Polverelli

Bellaria Igea Marina | Ph. Maurizio Polverelli

The old stories tell that the name BELLARIA is due to an exclamation of Pope Gregory XII who in 1414 when he was guest of Carlo Malatesta, after having long inhaled the salty air coming from the sea, would have said: “Oh, what a beautiful airOh che Bell’aere“, giving the name to the place.

In truth, scholars teach us how the name “Bellaria” is prior to this episode: since the year 1311 in fact, a testament of the Malatesta mentioned “Bellaere” as a fortified residence.

The small village had to be particularly important at the time first for the Lords and then for the Papal State.

Placed at the mouth of the river Uso, the small settlement of fishermen of Bellaria was in fact an easy prey and an easy landing for the frequent raids of the Saracen pirates, so that it was necessary to provide the village with a Watchtower, called the Saracen Tower.

An ancient seaside resort and a holiday destination since 1900, today Bellaria Igea Marina is a modern and charming town that still maintains its lifestyle on a human scale.

It is recognized as an ideal holiday location for the friendliness of its inhabitants, and for being a strategic starting point for world-famous art cities such as Ravenna, Ferrara, Venice, Rimini, Urbino, and Florence.

To See:

  • Cycle path of Uso River: 10 km cycle-pedestrian track along the river that reaches the nearby town of San Mauro Pascoli.
  •  Parco del Gelso: more than 25 hectares of Mediterranean vegetation and tall trees, is the true green lung of the city

Borgo San Giuliano: the maritime tradition of the Adriatic Sea

San Giuliano Village - Ph.

San Giuliano Village, Rimini | Ph.

BORGO SAN GIULIANO is one of the villages that gave life to the city of Rimini and was once the place where the fishermen and local artisans lived.

Born around 1000 A.D. near the mouth of the river Marecchia, it was accessed bypassing the ancient Tiberius Bridge to the north.

Its narrow lanes, the houses piled one on top of the other were certainly the result of a chaotic and spontaneous growth, but as in all the seaside villages, they were also a formidable barrier with strong sea winds, especially during the rigid autumns and winters.

It became a less recommendable place until the second half of the twentieth century, today it lives a period of rebirth thanks to the will of Rimini citizens, that through initiatives such as the Feste de Borg, each year bring the village back to its ancient tradition.

In 1994 with the death of Federico Fellini, the houses of San Giuliano became paintings that portray the scenes from his most famous films, making the walk through the alleys of this village unique that seems to be loved by the director himself.

To See:

  • The streets of Borgo San Giuliano: a chance to breathe in person the particular atmosphere of the Italian seaside villages.
  • The films of Federico Fellini: thanks to the many wall paintings that have been realized over time along its streets, Borgo San Giuliano is a real collection of paintings depicting the films of Federico Fellini.
  • The church of San Giuliano: together with the seventeenth-century monastery they guard the great altarpiece by Paolo Veronese (1588) dedicated to the martyrdom of the Saint, recently restored

Cattolica: the last station on Via Flaminia

Cattolica | ph.

Cattolica | Ph.

It is the only seaside village in the Romagna region that has a certain foundation date: August 16th, 1271.

In fact, it tells the story that the inhabitants of the Castle of Focara, when they decided to submit to the Malatesta municipality of Rimini, set up a new settlement on the sea “que vocetur Catholica“, or that was called CATTOLICA.

Here there was already a settlement from the Roman era, which was essentially a post station along the ancient Via Flaminia with an economic vocation linked to the transit of caravans and travelers to Rome and the near sanctuary of Loreto.

According to historians, in 1500 A.D. there were in the town center about twenty taverns, the city of Cattolica has never abandoned its vocation to hospitality so much to make it famous until the present day.

After the period of Saracen pirates, the town began to expand its economy to fishing and tourism, becoming in the twentieth century, one of the major centers of Italian tourism, thanks the construction of the Bologna-Ancona railway in 1861 that easily reached.

To See:

  • The ancient Fortress: located in Via Pascoli, it was erected in 1491 with the function of control over clandestine shipping businesses.
  • The Queen Museum: recently renovated and enlarged, the “Museo della Regina” in Cattolica houses two sections: the Archaeological Museum with finds from the Roman-Republican period and a Maritime section.


Walter Manni

Explorer and Adventurer: loves sailing the oceans, climbing the highest mountains and surfing on the waves of the web

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