The Medieval Review 11.07.09

Sznura, Franek. Fiumi e laghi toscani fra passato e presente: Pesca, memorie, regole. Atti del Convegno di Studi (Firenze, 11-12 dicembre 2006). Florence: Aska Edizioni, 2010. Pp. viii, 447. . . 38 EUR. 978-88-7542-150-2.

Reviewed by:

Mark Aloisio
Colorado State University

This volume brings together nineteen of twenty-two papers originally presented at an interdisciplinary conference held in Florence on 11-12 December 2006 on the theme of Tuscan Rivers and Lakes between Past and Present. The conference aimed to explore themes concerning the use and management of Tuscany's rivers and wetlands as a source of energy, as a means of transport, and as a food resource through fishing. While the chronological time span covered by the volume ranges from late antiquity to the present, many contributions fall within a period between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. Given the Tuscan focus of the project, studies focusing on the Arno and its tributaries loom large as do the contribution of scholars from the University of Florence, including the volume's editor Franek Sznura. Although the lack of an index is an unfortunate omission, the volume does include a comprehensive bibliography of works cited as well as fifty-six pages of illustrations, maps and photographs, many of them in colour.

The initial three papers examine the depiction of Tuscany's rivers, streams and lakes in medieval art, literature and hagiography. Drawing on mosaics, illustrations and sculptures, Enrica Neri Lusanna suggests that changes in the artistic depiction of water and fish from the third and fourth to the fifteenth centuries corresponded to a shift from a religious-symbolic to a more realistic style. Riccardo Bruscagli then considers the theme of human interaction with water resources in Italian literature, notably in Dante's Divine Comedy which placed rivers within historical memory. Finally, Anna Benvenuti's lively essay looks at the religious and secular significance of medieval legends in which saintly figures expel dragons inhabiting coastal areas or watercourses in the vicinity of urban communities.

Several papers focus on legal rights over water resources and their exploitation on the part of the authorities, particularly during Florence's communal and Medicean periods. The Tuscan communes' gradual assertion of rights over watercourses and their surrounding environments is explored particularly well in the contributions by Enrico Spagnesi, Lorenzo Tanzini and Paolo Pirillo. In Roman law, water resources were subject to public (that is, collective) rather than private ownership but, as Spagnesi demonstrates, that changed as northern Italy came under the influence of Frankish law. Inland waters were thereafter absorbed into the regalia and thus considered as the private property of the prince. The evolution of communal government, however, led to a gradual shift towards a reconsideration of these resources as public property. Tanzini's detailed discussion emphasizes the emergence of municipal offices specifically intended to manage water resources for the benefit of the community, which also reflected the growing assertiveness of communal government over local society. In fact, as Pirillo's paper demonstrates, in the course of the thirteenth century communal authorities such as those of Florence could claim legal rights not only over the watercourses within their district but also over any land that emerged as a result of falling water levels. At the same time Pirillo is careful to emphasize how communal rights over the exploitation of water resources and the surrounding areas were not always uncontested or even clear-cut. For instance, in 1361 and 1370 Florentine officials intervened to decide which rural communities had the right to cultivate land on newly formed islands in the river Arno. Moreover, access to land along rivers and streams could also lead to legal wrangling among parties eager to exploit the area's potential as a source of water power and potential sites for fisheries. Contributions by Gloria Pappaccio and Alberto Maria Onori emphasize the role of monastic communities in these endeavours. In a particularly well-researched paper Gloria Papaccio examines the acquisition of water rights on the Arno by the monastery of San Salvi from the twelfth to the fifteenth century, while Onori concentrates on the monastery of San Salvatore a Sesto, located between the Arno and Lucca, during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Both authors stress how the efforts on the part of the two monasteries to gain control over parts of the river bank were driven by the potential revenues that could be derived from the construction and operation of water mills to provide grain for Florence but also fresh fish for sale at local markets.

Various authors look at the utilization of Tuscany's lakes and rivers to meet the energy, food and transport needs of nearby areas. Francesco Salvestrini's stimulating paper gives a comprehensive overview of the infrastructure and organization behind the transportation of commodities on the Arno and its tributaries from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. Notable is that river's role as a primary route for all sorts of products to Florence from the Mediterranean and from the interior. The range of products transported on river craft was truly extraordinary: grain and wine from southern Italy, timber and building materials from the Tuscan countryside, iron from Elba, Eastern spices, Sicilian cheese, wool from England, Spain, Provence and north Africa, textiles and much more. Salvestrini also emphasizes the long term process of canal building and management of waterways which began in the thirteenth century and reached its peak in the sixteenth century under the rule of the Medici. The hydraulic projects undertaken by sixteenth-century Medici rulers from Cosimo I to Ferdinand I are described by Saida Grifoni and Leonardo Rombai. Some of these works were undertaken to improve the inland transportation system while others aimed to convert marshy, malaria-infested areas into agricultural land. By 1440 the Medici had also completed the construction of the Lago Nuovo (Padule di Fucecchio), an artificial lake in the waterlogged Valdinievole region between Florence and Pistoia. Yet as Alberto Malvolti notes in his study of this project, such ambitious schemes were also driven by political considerations. The Lago Nuovo thus served to strengthen the defences of the Valdinievole against enemies such as Lucca which fought a war against Florence between 1429 and 1433. Finally, contributions by Zeffiro Ciuffoletti, Danilo Barsanti and Giuseppe Tartaro examine land reclamation projects in Tuscany's wetlands and their environmental impact during early modern and modern times.

Not surprisingly a number of papers are concerned with fishing and fresh water fauna. Andrea Zagli and Franek Sznura offer detailed pictures for the fifteenth century. The presence of significant inland cities such as Florence and Siena, combined with religious restrictions on the eating of meat, created a great demand for fish. Meanwhile limited access to salt water fish meant that most of the fish eaten by the urban consumer came from fresh water environments. Zagli provides valuable insights into the techniques employed for the construction and management of fisheries across Tuscany. Demand was sufficiently high to be an important factor in several schemes to block water courses and thereby create artificial lakes and wetlands. Of course, not all those projects were successful and indeed the benefits of several such interventions were limited while some had a negative impact on the natural and human environment. Other problems were caused by over-fishing or harmful methods for catching fish such as the use of poisonous substances but as Sznura's study of relevant Florentine legislation demonstrates, the authorities were unable to eradicate abusive practices. Lastly, the volume includes three additional studies concerned with modern and contemporary issues relating to Tuscany's wetlands, including the introduction of alien species (Annamaria Nocita and Marta Poggesi), the management of fish in the Arno basin (Manuela Gualtieri), and fishing as a modern economic activity and a pastime (Massimo Mecatti).

Taken together, the papers in this volume represent a notable effort which reconstructs in often vivid detail successive generations of human interactions with the inland waters of Tuscany. Given the range of topics discussed, the various contributions should be of interest to many scholars from different fields.