A social story behind the beauty of Roman coastline
Workers from Ravenna in Ostia
Near the archaeological park of Ostia Antica, there is the beautiful castle of Pope Giulio II and the cozy hamlet of Ostia. Walking around its streets you can notice the name of the main square: Piazza Ravenna. Ravenna was the last capital of the Western Roman Empire and it is considered a capital of Byzantine Art in Europe but here its name resembles the presence of its people, also known as people from Romagna, Ravennati, or Romagnoli, who arrived more than 135 years ago when Ostia was a no man’s land. Ostia was slowly abandoned after a flood that in 1557 modified the course of the Tiber River creating the dead arm of the river, stagnant and stinky and became a marshy land between the pond of Ostia and the one of Maccarese.
The Ecomuseum of the roman littoral
Rome became the Capital of Italy in 1871, the city started to grow, and so did its population. The Agro
Romano, i.e. the countryside of Rome, and the littoral was an insalubrious place dominated by malaria where seasonal workers lived in huts like the one reconstructed in front of the The Coast Eco-museum. In the land of Leucotea, during our guided tour by e-bike, we stopped here. Simone Bucri of the CRT, i.e. Cooperative Research on Territory, led us along a video and audio reconstruction of hidden history. Starting in the eighties of the nineteen-century a group of researchers has been collecting material and nonmaterial witnesses such as photos, interviews, and everyday life objects that make it possible to return identity to this territory.
The reclamation of the land in Ostia e Maccarese
In 1878, the Italian Parliament promulgated a law that established the urgency to reclaim the land in the
area of Ostia and Maccarese and transform this territory into a healthy place worthy of Capital. A place
where people could live and work. It is necessary to remember that 11 million people in Italy were affected by malaria and despite the distribution of the quinine about 2 million people died. Under the papacy, there have been many attempts to reclaim the lands of the littoral but they failed one by one because they don’t consider the geomorphology of the area using the wrong technics.
The General Association of labourers
In the 80s of the 19th centuries, there was an acute crisis among the workers in agriculture especially
felt in Romagna and northern Italy. Poverty was in the order of the day. In Ravenna and its surrounding for the first time in the world, a union among the labourers was born in 1883: The General Association of workers and labourers. One of the promoters was Nullo Baldini while the first socialist deputy Andrea
Costa, in 1884, supported the project to involve the Cooperative in sending some workers to Ostia. The
associates had been increasing rapidly from 300 to 2500 in a few months, they needed more than a season’s work to maintain their large families and this represented an opportunity. The aim of the State
was to maintain social peace and avoid riots.
The Ravennati and the reclamation of the roman littoral
Laborers from Romagna were experts in the reclamation of the land. They had simple but efficient
equipment, consisting of a shovel, a wooden pole, and a wheelbarrow (carriola in Italian), from which the
name “scariolanti “.The first group of about 500 people, men in the majority, fifty women called sdore (sort of housekeepers) with the task to control and take care of the workers, and only a few children arrived on the 25 th of November, 1884. Half of them would have stayed in Ostia, another group in Maccarese. From Fiumicino, they crossed the Channel of the Scafa by boat while the ferryman, named Charon, advised them then “none the devil would have lived in that land”… Not a good start indeed.
Solidarity and mutualism in Ostia
In the beginning, they lived in a big building, and they paid for a bed and meals. Every month they gave some money for health assistance and for helping people who can’t afford expenses. In case of diseases, they had the right to be cured and eventually to come back home. They created the Green Cross for the
transport of patients to Rome.
First Agricultural Colony of People from Ravenna
Ravennati were hard workers paid on a piecework basis: they worked an average of ten hours per day. In
four years, they had excavated a system of channeling that would have been combined later with the use of dewatering pumps to guarantee the flow of the low waters (i.e. the waters under the sea level). The pond of Ostia had dried and the conditions for the cultivation of fields were placed. They paid a high tribute to deaths because of malaria and other diseases. This new opportunity made possible the birth of the First Agricultural Colony of People from Ravenna: some families formed a stable community. They lived in the restored houses of the ancient hamlet. The colony contracted a lot of debts also because the land was not so favorable and asked for help from King Umberto I, and after his murder of his son Vittorio Emanuele III. They never gave up. Umberto, I was a passionate hunter and when he was nearby he chatted with the workers. He said that also if they were called anarchists or hotheads they were correct and reliable. In 1890, the colony received 1.500 hectares to cultivate. In 1992, in Ostia there were 30 families, consider then some families had up to 12 children.
Grassi and the battle against malaria
Children gave great help in the battle against malaria. They collected the mosquitos that were studied by
Giovan Battista Grassi, the Italian malariologist discovered the vector of malaria. Despite he didn’t receive the Nobel prize the scientific community recognizes his research was fundamental.
A new Cooperative in Ostia
After the first failure the Ravennati founded the First Cooperative of laborers of Ravenna in Ostia, they
mint and print their own money (many shops in Rome accepted this form of payment, a sort of check that
would be exchanged with money after the workers would have been paid), they built schools, opened and managed the first shops, and created a welfare system.
Why Federico Fellini loved Ostia
This was the first experiment of internal emigration in a period when Italians left their country to work
abroad. These women and men made possible the rebirth of Ostia and brought with them their culture,
their music, their beliefs, and of course their cuisine like the famous cappelletti, i.e. small ravioli.
Federico Fellini the great film director attended the kitchen opened by mamma Nerina in 1884 and
transformed it into a trattoria and after the second world war into a restaurant. Fellini liked to eat in the
kitchen and talk in dialect…Romagnolo of course!