The Emilia-Romagna is an elongated region in the north-east of Italy, but in fact, in some ways, it is often seen by many as a bridge between two very distinct geographical systems, the continental and the peninsular.
A traditional stronghold of the left, Emilia-Romagna is a vast flat corridor across the country, almost linking the Adriatic with the Ligurian sea, and marking the division between the colder lands to the North and the warm, sunny land of popular imagination to the South.
The region could in fact be considered – even for its shape – a natural cushion between the Alps (and Central Europe beyond) and the start of the Italian peninsula – the so-called “boot of Italy”.
Therefore, Emilia-Romagna also lies at the junction of two different climatic systems: the harsher continental climate of the Po plains gives gradually way to a more Mediterranean feel as one approaches the coastline – a whole different climate altogether, which buffets the region along the shores of the Adriatic, albeit only intermittently (one should not forget that the eastern Italian seaboard is always more prone to attacks of cold air from the Balkans, while the western side of Italy is warmer and more downrightly Mediterranean).
Brief Geographic Outline
Most of Emilia-Romagna is flat, as it covers a relevant section of the Po plains south of the river (the Pianura Padana in Italian). Gentle pastoral hills stretch along the southern edge of the plain, creeping higher as one moves south until they break 2,000 metres.
The city of Piacenza is usually considered – as a point of reference – the westernmost fringe of the region, even though there is in fact a further section to the west, until the boundary with Piedmont and Liguria: an area which is fully continental in nature, and that resembles in many aspects the landscape of the remainder of north-western Italy, where the plains are rich in trees and mostly cultivated with vast expanses of corn (and rice north of the Po). This is also the coldest corner of the region.
The central swathe of Emilia-Romagna is perhaps the richest, with the countryside giving out an abundant harvest, and that’s where many of the regional food staples – such as Parma ham and other cured pork meats (salami, mortadella), as well as the emblematic Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan cheese) – come from.
The extensive fields of the eastern section are mostly treeless and cultivated with wheat: wide, monotone expanses which remind some people a lesser version of the infinite prairies of the American Mid-west, until reaching the atmospheric – but empty – lands of the Po Delta.
The southern half of Emilia-Romagna is instead consistently covered by the hills and mountains of the Apennines, and it is within this part that most of the regional natural beauties are to be found – even though there are notable exceptions in the plains too.
It is impossible to mention all that this region contains in terms of places of natural interest. To find high wilderness you must go to the margins – for instance, to the borders with Tuscany for the Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi and the Cimone, the region’s tallest peak (2,165 m).
In the highest section of the Northern Apennines there are several other natural reserves – such as the Parco Regionale del Corno alle Scale in the Bologna Apennines and the Parco Nazionale dell’Alto Appennino between the mountainous sections of the provinces of Reggio Emilia and Modena.
The first civilization to cross this area with any thought of route-making were, of course, the Romans. They drew a line on the map and built the Via Aemilia (now spelled Via Emilia) – a road running from north-west to south-east and that has formed the region’s axis ever since. In the Middle Ages pilgrims trudged along it on their way to Rome, as did the crusaders heading for Ravenna and embarkation for the Holy Land. Agriculture thrived on the vast prairies that lay to either side, earning the region the titles of “bread basket” and “fruit bowl” of Italy. Some of the most famous Italian food staples are still being produced in Emilia-Romagna, and help to make Bologna the “culinary capital” of the country.
So much for the stomach – but what about the wilderness–hungry traveler? Not terribly much in the tedious symmetry of the plains, but a great deal more in the Po Delta, also known as the ‘Italian Camargue’.
The Po is a strange and almost forgotten river, worthy rather than splendid. Few would deny its importance as the great divide that separates the Alps from the Apennines or overlook the fact that its huge basin covers 15% of the country’s land area and supports a third of the population. What is in question is its drama rating; its lack of visual pyrotechnics. As opposed to the Tiber and the Arno – infused with the mythical atmospheres surrounding Rome and Florence – no fine city awaits the Po, nor any open seas – only the narrow Adriatic, a bleak Delta and a view of the Balkans: a more dour and subdued prospect that the Tiber’s promise of the Mediterranean. Where the former is short and vigorous, the Po is mournful, laden with the nitrates which have been forcing it into a slow suicide and poisoning of the sea into which it flows; even the title of Italy’s longest river can seem of little consequence, when you consider that it is only 650 km from end to end.
This is to be hard on a river, though, which excites loyalty in writers and painters alike, and which – after some time spent in its presence – begins to exert a subtle and slowly insidious charm: the fascination of a dream landscape with rows of poplars rising from mist-covered fields; of wide, languid skies and long empty views over gentle brown soils, with the soft tints of autumn leaves and the languor of winter evenings. The river draws in a lot of birds as well: for them, the Po Delta is a key stage on the migration routes from Africa to Central Europe.
Emilia-Romagna: A Few Historical Facts
The region bears its very name in honor of Marco Emilio Lepido – the Roman consul who traced the Via Emilia: a historic road which undoubtedly represents the spine of Emilia-Romagna still today.
This road is a pretty much straight thoroughfare, which is in fact also one of the foremost axis in the country, as it crosses a densely populated area forming an almost linear metropolis, going all the way from Piacenza in the west to Rimini – on the Adriatic coast – in the east, where the Via Emilia is said to terminate; the provincial capital of Bologna sits right in the middle.
Modern-day Emilia-Romagna was once a handful of separate states which were brought together during the Italian unification, but were given their present borders only as late as 1947. More than anything, however, it is the double-sided aspect of the region that deserves a few additional words, as Emilia-Romagna is effectively composed of two main different entities forming a single administrative entity: the first half (Emilia) corresponds roughly to its western part, from Bologna (included) going westward and northward, while Romagna broadly identifies the section from Bologna eastwards.
There are many differences between Emilia and Romagna; many of them are historical (roughly, one could say that – in Modern times – Emilia was mainly formed of a series of independent duchies, while Romagna was largely under the Papal State, but differences in fact sink all the way down to Roman times and the Byzantine Empire), most are cultural; as a matter of fact, however, the boundary between the two areas has never been so well-defined.
Quite where one ends and the other begins is still a cause of dispute: most identify the boundary with the Sillaro river, running just to the east of the regional capital, Bologna, but common knowledge holds it that it is more a question of character than of geography – and the criterion for finding out is peculiarly based on the kind of welcome you receive. Pull up at any house, and ask if you might have a drink: while they give you water you are still in Emilia; when they give you wine, you have crossed into Romagna
This anecdote also clarifies that many identify Romagna with the more ‘joyful’ half of the region – maybe because of the persistence of farming traditions, which still mean an abundant wine production within certain pockets of the land; a generous, hearty cuisine and – last but not least – a general, widespread feeling of openness and cheerfulness in the people.
In Romagna, too, there are many interesting natural sights – most notably, perhaps, the Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi; also, in the coastal section, are to be found the southernmost stations of the Parco Regionale del Delta del Po, while this park’s most relevant stations are further to the north, in the province of Ferrara and near the boundary with Veneto (in fact, the park’s most important section is the Po Delta proper, which juts out of the coastline right by the regional border).
The Mediterranean influence can be appreciated in the southern fringe of Romagna; most notably, in the presence of the first olive groves that can be found on the foothills, inland of Cesena and Rimini – but occasionally also further west (such as for instance around Brisighella, in the area of the Vena del Gesso).
The Purpose of This Page
For the time being, I am intending this page as a hub that will direct you to the places of interest within Emilia-Romagna that I have been visiting more lately, or that I know best. In perspective and over time, however, when it is complete it will redirect you to all the main sites of naturalistic value contained within the region.
The mountainous half of Emilia-Romagna is mainly dealt with, so far, in the Northern Apennines page, as well as in the Bologna Apennines page, which concentrates on the section of these mountains just to the south of the regional capital; there is also a page dedicated to the town of Zocca, situated at the border between the provinces of Bologna and Modena.
While the plains are thus far the least represented area on this website, there is nevertheless a page on the nature of the plains around Bologna, which extend over the vast flat lands (part of the Po valley) that open up to the to north of the city – an area mostly overlooked by the average tourist and the nature lover alike, quite unjustly so. I have also been writing about a small nature reserve between Ferrara and Bologna that I am particularly fond of – the Panfilia – but the most important natural area to be found in the flat section of the region is undoubtedly the Po Delta. The park which was instituted for its protection is fragmented into a series of stations that run southwards from the Delta proper all the way to the salt-flats at Cervia, south of Ravenna.
In the area of the hills, I have been writing about the Regional Natural Reserves of the Gessi Bolognesi and the Pliocenic Rampart, protecting parts of the Bologna Apennines; in the same area is also the noteworthy historic site of Monte Sole, which is a nature reserve too.
Further east into Romagna is the notable mineralogical area of the Vena del Gesso (the chalk vein), near which is the atmospheric Medieval town of Brisighella and the small resort of Casola Valsenio, home to a very interesting Herb Garden.
As a final footnote, please bear in mind that this page (and the other pages it refers to) is expanded periodically; therefore, it will grow over time – so come back often to check it out!
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