Civiltà del Po - dal Po al Polirone
Dal Po al Polirone - una cartina geografica medioevale del Po

From the Po to the Polirone

The modern day Po, that we can see meandering through the solid banks of the plains from which it takes its' name, is very different from the river that furrowed through the territory in the middle Ages. The river bed was wider and its' banks were irregular. The waterway was articulated by various streams that flowed into and out of the river, many more than the modern river, especially from the Apennine. These tributaries formed long pieces of dry land, islands that gave the viewer the impression of looking onto a lagoon, in which the populated centres rose from valleys and wetlands, vast areas found in the centre of the river's vegetation with a tiny portion ploughed and cultivated land.
There were a variety of animals in this scarcely populated environment that no longer use this area as their habitat: deer, wild boar and wolves. Tall trees grew beside remnants of roman settlements that had been swallowed by the mud created by frequent flooding. 
The Po's course was not the same as it is today, from the high Medieval era until the XI century it flowed through the most important centres from Roman times (Bruscello, Ostiglia, Bondeno di Ferrara) as well as Suzzara, Gonzaga, Pegognaga, San Benedetto and Quistello after which it continued with the path it follows today in Ostiglia. Evidence of this course can be found in what is now known as the "Old Po" and the "Paleoavei", seen in photos taken over the area that feed into other waterways like the Secchia River.
Another branch of the Po, the Lirone in the North, collected water from the Mincio and together with the "Vecchio Po" formed other waterways in the area (the Zara, the Crostolo and the Bondeno) as well as the characteristic islands in the countryside.
In the area between Guastalla and Sermide there are three notable islands: Suzzara, San Benedetto and Revere. The island of San Benedetto was, in its own right, made up of three smaller islands: Mauritola, San Benedetto and Gorgo in the area between the Lirone in the North and the "Old" Po in the South and East. It extended for about tens of kilometres and was about 1-5 km wide, with surface of about 30 kmq.
The long river was used to transport ships, barges and even military fleets. Small villages of fishermen and peasants gravitated around the river in addition to some fortified centres.
The territory, dominated by the Canossa family, was subject to the dioceses of Mantova and was governed by the "Pieve di Floriano" (San Benedetto Po), and later was dependent on the Monastary of Polirone.
In the mid XII century, there was a progressive increase in the amount of precipitation in the appennico tributaries, with a consequent growth in the quantity of water carried by these waterways to the Po and contemporaneously, a natural phenomenon lifted the land around Romagna at a higher position than the rest of the Padana flatlands. The Po then changed its' course further North, starting with the area around San Benedetto Po where it flowed into the Lirone branch and then continued East following path similar to its' modern course until it reached the Ficarolo. The tributaries to the right, in particular the Secchia and the Panaro, left their ancient river beds, that used to carry them East to the Po, and began to channel their paths into the modern streams on the Western side.
Thus the original course of the Po was abandoned, and became the "Vecchio Po".
When the Abbey was founded, the cultivated area consisted in about a fifth of the territory on the Polirone Island (the island of San Benedetto). The process of acquisition of the territory for agriculture, through eliminating trees, excess water and rock masses, was long and laborious. The Benedictine monks moulded the land organizing labour for centuries. They set up agrarian contracts and offered incentives to clear new land and maintain the areas already in use.

Mirasole: The rebel island

Mirasole is a rural village on the main sides of the Po; it is one of the oldest settlements on the ancient island of San Benedetto Po. In 1275, the colonies of Mirasole disputed with the Monastary for the right to elect consuls and representatives. In 1441, the area around Mirasole passed to the hands of the "Prepositura" but, they later returned to the jurisdiction of the Monastary. The tiny houses of the "terzaioli" look out onto larger courtyards. In the 1800 and 1900's the peasants of the area were known for their production of Lambrusco wine. This wine became famous for its' equilibrium, liveliness and rich bouquet; thanks to the respect that the farmers in the area had for the land, the plants, and the time need to vinify and mature the wine. This now typical Padanan product has always had an organic production along with the cultivation of wild Asparagus and Spugnole.


Lambrusco Luna di Marzo - Home page Civiltà del Po