9 November 2020

The rebuilding of Cervia

Historic town is now a popular seaside resort

A copy of the plan for the new Cervia that was commissioned by Pope Innocent XII in 1697
A copy of the plan for the new Cervia that was
commissioned by Pope Innocent XII in 1697
Pope Innocent XII, as Head of the Papal States, signed a document ordering the rebuilding of the town of Cervia in the Emilia-Romagna region, on this day in 1697.

It was the second time in its history that Cervia had been moved and rebuilt and therefore it has become known as ‘the town of three sites’.

Present day Cervia, in the province of Ravenna, is a popular seaside resort with a 9km (5.5 miles) stretch of sandy beaches along the Adriatic coast, about 30km (19 miles) north of Rimini.

The town was originally known as Ficocle and was probably of Greek origin. It lay near the coast halfway between what is often referred to as New Cervia and the city of Ravenna.

However, the town of Ficocle was completely destroyed in 709 as punishment for being an ally of Ravenna and therefore against Byzantium. It was later rebuilt in a safer location.

Cervia became a strong city with three protected entrances, a Prior’s Palace, seven churches and a fortress. It was during this period that the name of the city was changed from Ficocle to Cervia.

Cervia's Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta was built in accordance with the 1697 plan
Cervia's Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta was
built in accordance with the 1697 plan
There is a legend that the Bishop of Lodi was walking in the pine forest surrounding the town one day and a deer (cervo), recognising him as a representative of God, knelt before him as a sign of devotion. However, another theory is that the town got its name from the enormous piles of salt (acervi) gathered from the salt pans located there.

Cervia’s coat of arms has an image of a golden deer kneeling on the ground, which is an indication that the story of the bishop and the deer is the most popular theory.

By the 17th century the salt pans had turned into marshland and the air had become unhygienic, killing off many of Cervia’s inhabitants.

Therefore, on 9 November 1697, Pope Innocent XII signed a document containing the order and regulations for the building of a new Cervia in a location that would be healthier for the residents at a cost of 40,000 scudi.

The document stipulated the exact number of houses to be built, and the position of the Cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace and the prisons. There were also plans for huge silos for the storing of the salt produced in the town.

Cervia boasts a long stretch of wide, sandy beaches extending for 9km
Cervia boasts a long stretch of wide, sandy
beaches extending for 9km 
Travel tip:

Cervia has grown from being just a fishing and salt producing town into one of the major seaside resorts on the Adriatic coast, with excellent beaches at outlying Milano Marittima, Pinarella and Tagliata. All building in the town has been governed by strict regulations in order to conserve the natural pine forests. Nightclubs and outdoor dance venues have been banned from the historic centre out of consideration for the residents. A typical local dish served in the restaurants is Tortelli Verdi stuffed with ricotta and served with butter and sage.

Cervia's San Michele Tower, next to the salt museum, predates the new town
Cervia's San Michele Tower, next to the salt
museum, predates the new town
Travel tip:

In the centre of the town, the Duomo di Cervia, or Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, is a Baroque building begun in 1699 and consecrated in 1702. It was designed by Francesco Fontana, son of the Roman architect, Carlo Fontana, but the marble veneer he had planned for the façade was never added. The San Michele Tower in Via Arnaldo Evangelisti dates back to 1691, before the rebuilding of the new Cervia, when it was erected to defend the town from Turks and Saracens. Its design was based on an old drawing by Michelangelo, who had sketched a prototype for a defensive building to protect the coastal areas of the Papal States. You can also visit an old tower housing a Salt Museum, (MUSA) in Via Nazario Sauro, which was founded by the Salt Workers Association to keep the memory of working in Cervia’s salt pans alive by displaying old tools, documents and photographs.

Also on this day:

1383: The birth of military leader Niccolò III d’Este

1877: The birth of Enrico De Nicola, the first president of Italy

1921: The birth of football stickers pioneer Giuseppe Panini

1974: The birth of footballer Alessandro Del Piero


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