Cesenatico: history and art

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Cesenatico: history and art

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Cesenatico is one of the most important seaside towns of the Romagna coast. The lively touristic town offers comfortable hotels and excellent restaurants for sea lovers who want to spend a holiday with the family. But besides the renowned hospitality from Romagna this destination is also suitable for those who, apart from relax and entertainment, want to treat themselves to some cultural time.

From the historic and artistic point of view, this small Adriatic centre has a lot to offer. Based on archaeological studies carried out to this day, the oldest places belong to the period between the New Stone Age and the Bronze Age when this area, distinguished by lagoons and swamps, went from the first seasonal settlements dedicated to sheep farming to stable more ones. Some findings have actually brought to life traces of houses in the Almerici land, in Bagnarola di Cesenatico.

The best documented period is the Roman Age, as can be seen by the findings kept in the local Antiquarian. In the Republican period (1st and 2nd centuries B.C.), some archaeological findings indicate the small populated Cesenatico, while other discoveries in the surrounding land indicate the presence of rustic houses and kilns particularly productive in the Imperial period (1st to the 4th Century A.D.). From this period, some scholars go back to the roots of Ad Novas, a location which was found around the area that now includes Cesenatico, but which was not yet identified.

During the Early Middle Ages, Cesenatico was under the power of the Exarchate and was subject to the barbaric invasions until the 10th Century. In the following centuries, the history of Cesenatico turned towards a positive way and developed around the harbour and fishing activities. One of the most important periods is the medieval when it shaped as a lively fishing village and a commercial traffic point. In the 14th Century it took on the name of "Porto Cesenatico", that is, the port of Cesena, which is 14 km away.
It is during this period that this populated centre was shaped to its current structure, developing into a linear form along an axis, correspondent to the first version of the Porto Canale (canal harbour). Between the 13th and 14th Centuries, thanks to its harbour and geographical position on via Francigena Orientale, Cesenatico promoted commercial exchanges between the back countries of Toscana and Florence, and the Adriatic coast towards Venice, the east and the south ports. The 14th Century meant a flourishing moment for Cesenatico, with a lively economic situation, according to historic documents. Besides the traditional fishing business, there was also a salt pan, a bar, a tavern, accommodation for travellers and merchants, shops and a market.
Despite being dependent of Cesena, the importance of Cesenatico's port becomes stronger, to the point of a request in 1302, for the construction of a Castrum, a fortress for defence, which was several times destroyed and rebuilt during numerous war events up to the Renaissance. Today the historic fortress doesn't exist anymore, but its foundations were uncovered and restored during recent archaeological digs. These can be seen in the Parco della Rocca, at 16, Statale Adriatica (Adriatic Road).

It is in this same historical context that the construction of the church on the canal harbour started in 1324. Initially built as an oratory, it was devoted to Saints James the Apostle and Christopher the Martyr, protectors of the wayfarers and pilgrims. The Church of San Giacomo  (St. James) exists to this day, but has been changed many times until it reached the current 18th Century style. The 25th July fair has been dedicated to San Giacomo, patron saint of Cesenatico, since 1325 in order to boost the trade and the tourist business.

During the Renaissance, the importance of Cesenatico's harbour grew mainly in the short period under the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia (Most Serene Republic of Venice) domination, when the small seaside place became an important point for international trade, mainly with Flanders and Spain. The two Byzantine Greek columns that rise above the sides of the canal bridge date back to the Venetian domination. They were erected in the first years of the 16th Century.

With the conquest of the Romagna territory by Cesare Borgia during the battle of Agnadello in 1509, Cesenatico was under the rule of Pope Alexander VII. This is when Borgia ordered the reconstruction of the harbour and asked Leonardo da Vinci to design it. The presence of Leonardo da Vinci in Cesenatico is documented in some drawings that this great Renaissance artist made on his travel notebook (the famous Codice L.) during his stay. It is a detailed relief of the port and a view of the built area of Cesenatico. Both drawings are kept in the Bibliothèque de l'Institut de France in Paris, while one copy can be consulted in the Public Library of Cesenatico.

The papal domination was secular, and represented a period of economic decline, which was interrupted only in the 18th Century, with the construction of a road linking Toscana to the harbour of Cesenatico, an initiative of the grand duke Pietro Leopoldo.

Despite the modest economic situation, the artistic events continued their course and two paintings from Francesco Andreini belong to this period. They are kept in the parish church of San Giacomo.

Another important historical event was the arrival of Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1849. The "Hero of Two Worlds", arrived in Cesenatico to embark towards Venice after defending Rome. It was at the time when he lost his loved partner Anita, who died during the night of the 2nd August. The historical episode was particularly felt by the local community and it is remembered yearly with the Festa di Garibaldi, celebrated on the first Sunday of August. The city has honoured Garibaldi with a commemorative statue dated 1884, today still standing in the Piazza Pisacane, near the canal harbour.
Another monument dated from the 19th century is the Teatro Comunale (the Municipal theatre) near the Town Hall and Casa Moretti. The neoclassic building was designed by the architect Carlo Panzani. The construction dates from 1865 and was financed by the citizens who organized a public subscription because they longed for a theatre. Another important event for the development of the territory was the land draining and reclamation works of the wet areas, started at the end of the 19th Century, on all the sub coastal valleys from Cesenatico to Goro (Ferrara).

After the unification of Italy, the economy of the Cesenatico community relied basically on fishing. A document from 1863 states that from 5,725 inhabitants, 786 were fishermen. The little town had seen also to the preservation of the fish by building some ice holes to keep the fish, also called "conserve". Some of them, recently restored, can be seen in the old town in the Piazza delle Conserve which, together the Piazza delle Erbe, is where the market takes place. They are the two most typical places of Cesenatico and keep a faithful appearance of how the old city once was.

An important moment for the economy is the Belle Époque that hit Cesenatico. Besides the local ice factory, dated from 1929-30, also the tourist industry took off, spreading the fashion of sea bathing and the birth of the seaside tourism. Even if it was an elitist phenomenon, reserved for the high society, the seaside tourism of the beginning of the 20th Century started an irreversible process. In 1925, there were 24,430 tourists in Cesenatico and in 1933 there were already 33 hotels and boarding houses. Several buildings date from this historical period, many maintained in their original Liberty style along the sea promenade, nowadays called via Carducci.

Another two important monuments date back to the 20th Century: the birth house of Marino Moretti, which keeps the books and writings of the poet and important studies about the culture of those times, and the holiday camp Agip, one of the best examples of the rationalist architecture, designed by Giuseppe Vaccaro.

The peak time for the tourism industry in Cesenatico was after the Second World War, mainly in the 60's, when sea holidays became a mass phenomenon. The proverbial cordiality and hospitability of the area helped to maintain the tourist satisfaction up to this day.

A. Cocchi.

Trad.: A. Sturmer


F. Santucci, Cesenatico, da porto di Cesena a Comune Edizioni Il ponte vecchio, Cesena, 1995
D. Gnola, Storia di Cesenatico Edizioni Il ponte vecchio, Cesena, 2001
D. Gnola, Cesenatico nella storia Edizioni Il ponte vecchio Cesena, 2008
M. MARINI CALVANI (a cura di), Schede di Archeologia dell'Emilia-Romagna, Bologna 1995
B. FARFANETI, Cesenatico romana. Archeologia e territorio, Ravenna 2000


Tags:A. Cocchi, A. Sturmer, history, art, tourism, .

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