The geohistorical context

The hydraulic geography of the region stretching between Livenza and Tagliamento Rivers is rather distinctive; here a thick network of short watercourses, among which Lemene and Reghena Rivers, flows into the charming body of water known as Caorle lagoon. This geomorphologic condition has always been a valuable opportunity to trigger specific uses of nature by those people who settled this part of the plain lying between Veneto and Friuli. And indeed, the grid of outflows running into Reghena and Lemene Rivers is really striking, not just for the physiognomy of vegetation, but also for the characteristic classification of human presence. The grid consists of short watercourses that, since they originate from springs, cannot carry huge amounts of suspended sediments and therefore they could fill only a narrow tract of land along their beds. It follows that the configuration of the hinterland of Eastern Veneto has been dominated for a long time by the presence of large marshlands and lagoons surrounded by dune belts, which were made of the alluvium carried by Livenza and Tagliamento Rivers.

It was already a homogeneous geographic context at the Roman Age: the outline of Concordia public countryside division in centuries, following Julia Concordia foundation between 43 and 40 b. C., was demarcated by the natural borders constituted by Livenza and Tagliamento Rivers. The presence of fixed settlements was favoured by a regular sequence of harbours and canals coincident with the rivers that debouched into the Adriatic Sea (just think about Equilium and Opitergium). Actually, we must bear in mind that the quiet fi nal stretches of rivers such as Piavon, Livenza, Lemene and Tagliamento facilitated fruitful exchanges between the hinterland and coasting trade, whereas the hydrographical boundaries of Concordia centuries kept its geopolitical coherence even under the Patriarch of Aquileia's rule, since it coincided with the extension of Concordia bishopric and enjoyed great religious and secular autonomy for a long time. The Benedictine abbey in Sesto al Reghena, whose foundation dates back from the Lombard period, reached the peak of its splendour after the year 1000 thanks to plentiful grants and investitures. Another Benedictine abbey was founded later on in Summaga (10th - 11th century), always close to Reghena River. The political stability guaranteed by the Patriarch's rule allowed a fairly good increase in population as well as the economic recovery all over Eastern Veneto, namely thanks to a group of merchants who settled the area north of Concordia, near the confluence of Reghena and Lemene Rivers, which later on will set up a river town, Portogruaro. From the 13th century, the commercial expansion of this town, due above all to navigation on Lemene River, had acquired a remarkable importance, being the gateway to Alpine passes and Venice. The unexpected urban sprawl of Portogruaro - so manifest even now in the extraordinary structure of the old part of the city along the riverbanks where the monumental and functional centrality gathers around its river port - went hand in hand with a specific human organisation in the surrounding aquatic areas. And indeed, the thick texture of settlements along the numerous rivers and channels east of Piave River, which were already populated in the Venetian period, as well as the huge presence of casoni1 in the marshlands and valleys up to the right bank of Tagliamento River, belonging mainly to Caorle fishermen, show that the anthropic action on this area developed by making regular use of everything this aquatic environment could offer, fostering river trades and inland waterways, the exploitation of woods and ditch reeds, fishery in watercourses and in the lagoon, shipbuilding industry and coasting trade.

Nowadays the functional elements of the distinctive evolution of territorial physiognomies can still be noticed in spite of the transformations that had succeeded, in particular from the 1960s. In order to get acquainted with and be aware of these inherited local values we need to be supported by other sources, and this is why resorting to historical cartography is full of charming suggestions, which can provide plenty of information to please the desire to learn. We deal with documents from which we can draw useful stimulations for a more convenient territorial enhancement, using the landscapes of reclaimed areas as a benchmark to test the potentials for interdisciplinary cultural approaches, open to anthropology and humanities.

We are hinting at the attractive opportunity to identify remarkable literary and pictorial scenarios, i.e. by evoking among the riverbanks of the outflows in the basin of Lemene River the presence of a mental geography deeply rooted in collective imagery, revolving around the characters of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Ippolito Nievo, Ernest Hemingway, and Romano Pascutto.

To these places devoted to the learned memory, linked both with narrative fiction and biographic events, we could couple the far-reaching popular memories, hardly recorded in written texts, consisting of minor stories, accidental and short-lived microcosms expressing the multifaceted succession of the endless daily lives of those who fished, sailed, swam in Lemene River or in its tributaries; those who worked in one of the several mills; who travelled along the towpaths, or even those who tilled the soils made unfertile by the surfacing of ground water, or those who spent their life kneeled in the washhouses in the shade of willows.

1. In Veneto, casoni are farmers' and fishermen's traditional houses, having a rectangular layout and a thatched sloping roof (translator's note)