Land Reclamation and Large Landed Estates

The coming of the dewatering pumps at the half of the 19th century led to drastic changes in the territory; no longer limited by the slight land slopes and by the drainage canals, the reclamation activities gradually conquered new lands, to the detriment of the landscape.
The mechanical reclamation activities required huge capitals: as a consequence, the large landed estates gained ground on the drained lands. The result was a countryside dominated by large areas characterized by a regular structure, with long channels and straight roads, a few trees, and a limited number of inhabitants. Moreover, the rural working masses, which had been until then an active component of the production process, became mere seasonal walker-ons: the labourers.

 Disegno macchina agricola
Drawing of an agricultural machine as a whole and in all its parts, 18th century. Rovigo Accademia dei Concordi

CARLO MARCHI, Planimetry of the final stretch of the Po Plain-Polesine collection drain, 1901. Rovigo, State Archive

"Bad Air" and "Bad Food"

Polesine and Ferrarese areas were affected in the past by endemic diseases like malaria, pellagra, and tuberculosis, while the area of Comacchio was affected by a strange kind of leprosy. Malaria had been widespread for centuries in the lagoons and in the Delta. During the works for Porto Viro cut-off, it affected many workers and technicians, including the cut-off superintendent Alvise Zorzi. It disappeared only after World War II with the massive and indiscriminate use of DDT.
Pellagra was caused by a single-food diet based on corn. A rare disease until the Unification of Italy, it began to spread from the 1970s because of the impoverishment of the rural population; in 1902 a law for its treatment and prevention was approved.

Zanzara anophele
Anopheles Mosquito

La rotta Adige
EUGENIO PIVA, The breach of the river Adige in 1882

Casa colonica
Rural house in the territory of Aserile (Adria – Rovigo), drawing, 1898. Rovigo, State Archive

From the "Boje" to Migration

The life conditions of the rural population got worse from the second half of the 19th century. These people had no education, earned precarious incomes, lived in unhealthy homes, and diseases were widespread. In 1869 the meal tax was introduced and in 1882 the so-called "vagantivo", that is the right to collect herbs, fish, and cultivate untilled lands was abolished. This favoured the spread of private property. In 1872 and 1879, the Ferrarese area was flooded by the river Po and in 1882 the area of Polesine was devastated by a breach of the river Adige. The exasperation led to strikes, sometimes also violent: the most important one was the so-called "La Boje" in June 1884. With the cry "La Boje! E de boto la va fora" (the pot is boiling and is almost overflowing), the battle spread from Castelguglielmo to Loreo and, from 1885, also to the area of Mantova. The army took action and in Polesine there were 220 detentions, 32 trials, and 160 convictions. Between 1887 and 1900, about 63,000 people emigrated from Polesine, the 30% of the working population.

Panorama Course of the river Po, 1872. Rovigo, Accademia dei Concordi

La Boje
La boje in ISTITUTO ALCIDE CERRI, Campagne e società nella valle Padana di fine Ottocento, Bologna 1985
Idrovora Codigoro
Codigoro dewatering pump (Ferrara), early 20th century

Idrovora Ca Vendramin
Ca' Vendramin dewatering pump, 1906. Rovigo, State Archive
Navigazionr sul PoNavigation along the river Po, early 20th century

Navigazionr sul Po
Navigation along the river Po, early 20th century
Ponte Scalon Donada
Ponte Scalon in Donada, end of the 19th century. Rovigo, State Archive

Draga Volta Grimana
Dredger in Volta Grimana, end of the 19th century. Rovigo, State Archive

Leader+ Community Initiative Measure 2.1 Action 2.1a) "Interterritorial Cooperation"
Project: "Historical-Cultural Heritage Enhancement and Tourist Promotion of the Po Delta Territory"
Action A: Po Delta "Heritage Promotion"