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  • "Do not move Camarina!" Italian wetlands from reclamation to restoration
  • Meistara
  • Wetlands have been, throughout the centuries, even the millennia, the sacrificial
    scapegoat of the European landscape – a “landscapegoat”, as Giblett brilliantly named
    it. Expelled from the horizons of western space, most wetland areas of Europe began
    to know the fate of drainage since the late Middle Ages. Also in virtue of the more
    effective technologies available, the practice of land reclamation eventually witnessed
    its historical apex in the course of the 1900s, and to such extents that, by now,
    swamps and marshes have come to constitute true ecological rarities within the
    Western European environment. The second part of the last century, however, also
    happened to attend a curious and rather radical veer in attitudes towards wetlands,
    whereby the latter ones, also in virtue of improved ecological understanding of their
    virtues and importance, got to be progressively revaluated, and to even be considered
    among the earth’s most fundamental ecosystems. Following such developments,
    concrete actions and plans to preserve the few remaining marshes, and even engage
    with the restoration of those that had previously been deleted, have begun to spread
    internationally and rapidly grow in popularity.
    Italy can safely be seen as a paradigmatic example of similar events. The history,
    even starting with the Roman colonization, of land reclamation across the peninsula –
    and the Po Plain in particular – surely stands out as one of the richest and most intense
    we have record of. Furthermore, land reclamation in Italy was ever associated with
    more than just economical productivity. The country’s roots in Catholic monasticism,
    its role – since the renaissance and through the work of such figures as Galileo – as a
    primary cradle and breeding ground for the modern science of hydraulics, and its
    ever-lasting agricultural vocation, have all contributed to load the local history of
    drainages and reclamations with additional symbolism, facets, and complexity. Not
    the least, land reclamation revealed, for centuries, as perhaps one of the most
    prominent means of political control and organization of the Italian territory. The
    significance of the Italian case has certainly not decreased with the eventual end, due
    to saturation, of the practice of wetlands drainage. On the contrary, at least in some
    ways, the country has – in the two last decades – newly proposed itself at the forefront
    of water management and governance. In this sense, then, we can conclude that, as
    much as wetlands – in virtue of their shifting significations and role for human
    communities – constitute an ideal and most profound subject for the study of humanenvironmental
    relations, Italy represents an optimal and most appropriate site for the
    study of wetlands throughout history.
    Based on Italy itself – and, more precisely, the already-mentioned Po Plain – the
    genesis of the work here presented has been twofold. On the one hand, it was
    conceived as a thesis in fulfilment of the requirements for a Degree of Master of Arts
    in Anthropology. On the other one, it was explicitly thought from the outset as a
    contribution to Prof. Gísli Pálsson’s own comparative research on Icelandic wetlands.
    In virtue of this latter aspect, the study was undertaken as to come to represent a
    general and yet informative introductory outlook on the complex and multilayered
    cultural history of Italian wetlands – from the reclamations of the past, until the
    developments of the present. The idea of being somehow part of a wider context, and
    the mission to provide a broad and sufficiently exhaustive insight into a subject
    which, on the contrary, revealed itself as being overwhelmingly elusive and vast,
    informed this work structurally, from its very inception. We are aware that, for that
    sake and purpose, not little had to be sacrificed in terms of local perspectives and
    specificity. We hope, nonetheless, to have sufficiently counterbalanced that loss, by
    gaining at least as much on other sides of the inquiry.

  • 10.1.2009

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