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The Po Delta park
Natural beauty and history
A paradise of 70,000 hectares, between Emilia Romagna and Veneto, which could become the Biosphere Reserve.
Its oldest part, from the Cervia saltpans to the Goro Po, is already a natural park designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO
by Dario C. Nicoli
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Po Delta park. Basin with bamboo fish trap. Photo courtesy of the photographic archive of the Park
of the Po Delta

Take a group of pink flamingos dredging the lagoon’s shallow waters, a flight of migratory birds flying high in the sky, while another flight land on the water for a breather and snap up the silver fish that abound in an aquaculture pool. Add a stroll in the Mesola wood, the pride and joy of the Este dukes, under the curious gaze of a stag, a rare representative of an ancient species that over the centuries has survived only here. And then, breath-taking sunsets over groves of reeds through which a maze of tiny canals run, accessible only by small flat-bottomed boats. Eels, sea bass, bream, mussels, clams, fossil dunes, plants and flowers that exist nowhere else. And rice fields that produce a special Carnaroli rice, recently awarded protected origin status by the European Union.

These are the images of an earthly paradise that greet visitors to the Po Delta, an area of 70,000 hectares, which hopes to become the Biosphere Reserve, but which in its oldest part, from the Cervia saltpans to the Goro Po in Emilia Romagna, is already a natural park that has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The more modern section, from the Goro Po to the Adige, belongs instead to Veneto which protects it with an Area Plan, because it contains large tracts of cultivation alongside biotopes which shelter 360 species of nesting and migratory birds, 3 species of reptiles including an extremely rare tortoise, two species of amphibians and 10 of fish. Not to mention the flowers and native plants protected in the Botanic Gardens of Rosolina Mare. The pearl of pearls is the holiday island of Albarella, which sprang up in the Seventies along the coastline at the edge of a lagoon and an aquaculture pool.

The park originated at the beginning of time and reminds us of Spina, ancient port town and favorite stopping place amongst traders from Greece and Adria, the Etruscan city which is supposed to have given the Adriatic sea its name. It takes us back to the wars between the Republic of Venice and the Ferrara Duchy, but also to the Estensi’s love for the natural environment and to the great land reclamation operations carried out by Venetian nobles to gain cultivable land from the sea and the marshes. Places not to be missed are the museums of Adria and Spina, the Mesola castle in the Ferrara area, built by Niccolò d’Este in 1385 as a country “delight”, and the Land Reclamation Museum of Ca’ Vendramin in the Rovigo area. At the mouth of the Pila Po, there stands, emblematic and paradoxical, a thermoelectric power station designed by Enel in the Seventies and still in operation until a few years ago. It disfigured the horizon with its 250-meter-high smoke stack in reinforced concrete; but in order to safeguard itself, it involuntarily had to save the entire territory from tides and flooding.

Kilometers of sandy beach, mostly in its natural state, cycle paths along the banks of the fish pools teeming with bream and sea bass, house boats, trekking, fishing with a line or lift net, birdwatching, photography, good food. This is a wetland whose features are in some ways similar and in others unique compared to other European deltas, a heritage that the Veneto and Emilia Romagna Regions have jointly condensed into a tourism package to be presented at Expo 2015 from 1st May to 31st October, both at the Milanese site and at Aquae Venezia, which will be open in parallel at the same time. There are a great many factors that every year push over 100,000 new visitors to fall in love with the Po Delta. Not the least is its proximity to Ravenna, Ferrara, Bologna, Venice, Padua and Verona, artistic cities soaked in history and well connected by roads, motorways, railways and airports. What’s more, on this very special occasion, Ferrara, city of bicycles, world heritage site, offers an exhibition of Giovanni Boldini and Filippo De Pisis, protagonists of the international art scene between the 1800s and 1900s, in the exquisite rooms of Este Castle, while Palazzo Roverella in Rovigo from February 14 is hosting “The demon of modernity. Visionary painters in the short century”.

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