Italian Regions: Pontine Marshes / Agro Pontino

Pontine Marshes
Figure 1.--The photo was taken in the land reclaimed Pontine Marshes. The children shown here in 1938 come from the families settled there. Their parents had been oiven land reclaimed by Mussolini Fascist Goverment. Italian governments for nearly two millenia had been trying to do this. It was finally accomplidshed by Mussolini's Fascist regime.

The Appian Way (Via Appia) is the famous road leading south from Rome. It was one of the first and perhaps most strategically important Roman roads. It passes through the Pontine Marshes (Agro Pontino) south of Rome. The area is in Latium, now called Lazio in Italian. The area has an interesting history. What became the Pontine Marshes was a low lieing, but fertile area inhabited by the Volsci south of Rome. Several prosperous cities (Suessa Pometia, Ulubrae, Cisterna, and other settlements) were located there made prosperous by productive farms. The Romans defeated the Volsci and conquered the area (367 BC). The prosperous and fertile area had heavily wooded foot hills. And Rome needed wood--large quantities of wood. Rome needed wood to build ships. And they needed fuel for ships, the major way goods were trsansported in the ancient world. They also needed wood to fuel the heating systems in the city's baths. Rome was subsequently drawn into the Punic Wars with Cathage. The First Punic War (264–41) was fought over Sicily. Until this Rome was a local power, unlikeCarhagev without a fleet or empire. To defeat Carthage, Rome had to build a fleet and this required large quantities of wood. Thus the Romans cut down the trees in the mountains and foothills which drained into the area. The wood here was especally valuable because it was close to Rome. Importing wood significantly increased the cost because the exenseoif transporting it. The slopes were gradually deforested and the Romans made no effort to plant seedlings. The result was amassive ecological catastrophe. Without the trees there was severe erosion. The three rivers in the area (Sisto, Uffente, and Amazone) changed their beds. Storm surge from the sea were not flushed out. Over times the silt and sand dunes builkt up. The rivers rather than carrying the silt out to sea flowed backwards into the interior. In the far south the land was below sea level had large areas of stagnant water--perfect breeding grounds for mosquitos. The tropical Anopheles mosquito, somehow managed to transfer its blood parasite which cause makaria to the local mosquito species Anopheles messeae. This was probably the result of expanding Roman coimmerce, but no one knows. Thus in addition to turning the once fertile area in\to msarsh lands, the Romans now had a disease-ridden area. The Romans were master engineers and made several efforts to drain the marshes, but not to reforrest the surrounding hills. All their attempts failed as did subsequernt eggorts suriung the middle ages, Renaissance, and modern era. The Pontine Marshes were finally drained by Mussolini's Fascist Government, one of its most prominant public works projects. The project was financed by the Opera Nazionale Combattenti--a governmental body. The poject was launched atearly stage of the Dascist Government (1926). Mussolini would bisit and liked to be shown shirtless with workers or farmers, tool in hand. Mussolini's Fascist Government strongly supported rural development. The project also provided the opportunity to reward war vetterans. The government after draining the marshes settle about 2,000 families on ther land. Strong Fascist supporters were chosen. Mostly families from northern Italy where Fascist support was strongest were chosen. Much of the work would be undone by the Germans during World war II. The Pontune Marshes became part of the Gustaf Line defensesand part of the reason for the Anzio landings (January 1944).


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Created: 8:13 PM 7/11/2009
Last updated: 11:33 PM 10/27/2014