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Palazzo Amorini detail Bologna Emilia Romagna Italy
Bologna Emilia Romagna Italy
San Vitale church Ravenna Emilia Romagna Italy

Emilia Romagna History

Almost confined by the original boundaries of the Roman Empire, Emilia Romagna is characterized by a large triangular shape enclosed by well-defined natural elements such as the River Po, the Adriatic Sea, and the Apennine Ridge. On the south-eastern slope of Mount Fumaiolo flows “The Vein,” a spring that stretches along the territory and is the first stretch of the Tiber river.

The region owes its name to one of the main Roman arteries, Aemilia, which connected the settlements of Piacenza and Rimini for centuries, while the name Romagna dates back to the Longobard invasion and it was originally used to indicate the Roman territory from the east of Italy. To comply with its historic individuality, the name Emilia was officially added to the name Romagna in 1947.

In the first half of the sixteenth century the region was divided into three territorial entities, the Duchy of Este, comprising Ferrara, Modena, and Reggio, the Farnese region including Parma and Piacenza, and the Legations of the Pontifical State with Bologna, Rimini, Forlì and Ravenna as major centers. Up to the unification of Italy, these three major divisions remained the same with the only variation being the passage of Ferrara from the Duchy to the Pontifical State, and the succession of the Bourbon to the Duchy of Parma.

The early development of the region is based on the Via Emilia, a viable artery capable of polarizing numerous economic activities including agriculture in early times, then industrial and urban development. Another constant of the territory is the river Po, which in Roman times was navigable to Turin.

The river transformed into a true fortune for Ferrara over time, and by the end of the twentieth century its valley and delta became a protected area, creating a new model for environmental quality and lifestyle.

Between the 70s and 80s, the region witnessed a great industrial and urban evolution along the axis of Via Emilia, from Piacenza to Cesena. The development was characterized by the emersion of new urban nodes that formed a true “Emilian model” of economic prosperity.

Over the years, the driving force of the region was represented by agriculture and international favorites such as Parmesan cheese and Parma ham, but also by crafts such as pottery and superb vehicles like Ferrari and Lamborghini.

Regarding the agricultural production, the region is characterized by an impressive system of cooperatives and the presence of a dense urban network connected with national and international railways. The diffusion of small and medium-sized family-run businesses in the region is impressive, and this flexible system capable of self-financing contributed to the flowering of the region.

The region has also seen a spectacular growth of services and tourism sectors, which have created an impressive vacation destination between Cattolica and Rimini.

Prehistory of Emilia Romagna

While sharing the same historical evolution and dynamics with the rest of Northern Italy, the Emilia Romagna region became a sort of a bridge between the various environments of the peninsula during the various phases of prehistory. In fact, the populations of central Italy came in direct contact with the northernmost part of the peninsula, influencing each other’s cultures from the Neolithic Age.

The territory of Emilia Romagna was inhabited with certainty since the earliest prehistoric times. Numerous traces of the Lower Paleolithic era are located in the coastal area and in the Apennine valleys, including Correcchio.

From the plains come the numerous findings linked to the Middle Paleolithic age, while the most significant Upper Paleolithic testimonies are some feminine statues called “Veneri” from Savignano sul Panaro and Chiozza.

The first part of the Neolithic period is characterized by the cultural facets of Fiorano, where the typical engraved ceramics appeared. This craft represents a clear point of contact with the coarse culture developing at the same time in Sasso.

The Middle Neolithic and most of the Upper Neolithic periods are characterized by other cultural diffusions that resulted in square-shaped urns and vessels. At the end of this period and in the last centuries of the fourth millennium BC, Emilia Romagna presents typical aspects of the Lagozza culture, characterized by further development of ceramics.

The situation in the region during the Eneolithic era is unclear, although some recent excavations carried out at Spilamberto have attributed the typical “scaly ceramics” to this stage. On the other hand, the presence of the ceramics in both residential and burial contexts is well-attested, especially in the period between the end of the Eneolitic era and the Bronze Age. The ceramics of the period are characterized by their typical bell shape, and they are skillfully decorated. Besides ceramics, the Bronze Age is characterized by the spread of the terramaricoli villages.

In the thirteenth century BC, there is a clear influence of the Subapennine facets of development, borrowed from central Italy, especially in the Romagna area.

Emilia Romagna massively abandoned the Terramare culture between the twelfth and tenth centuries BC, while the Protovillanovian culture emerged not only in the region but almost everywhere in the peninsula. This culture is characterized by a complex ritual of incineration and the first Villanovian tombs of the region are located in the area of Bologna and Verrucchio, in the proximity of Rimini.

The Etruscan colonization in the region started soon after the Iron Age in an area connecting the Valley of Po to Tuscany. During this period Bologna flourished. Made up of several urban agglomerations, the city was placed between two fundamental routes of communication connecting the valleys of the region and the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian sea between Spina and Pisa.

As a result, Bologna became the central node between Etruria and the north of the Peninsula. Lastly, in the sixth century BC, the region meets the advent of the Felsinean civilization that is strongly influenced by the Etruscans.

History of Emilia Romagna

Emilia Romagna was colonized by the Etruscans between the ninth and the sixth centuries BC, and the period was extremely flourishing for the region. During this period, numerous centers including Cesena, Parma, Piacenza, and Modena arose.

The economic centrality assumed in the fifth century BC by the Padan Etruria brought Etruscans and the populations of Umbria into direct contact with the Celtic populations. Their pressure, initiated in the sixth century, intensified even more as a result of the prosperous economy, and it concluded with the invasion of the Galls and the rupture of the Italian-Etruscan system in the fourth century BC.

To fight against the invasion of the Galls, the Romans expanded their territory to the north of the Adriatic and founded Rimini.

In 218 BC were born the colonies of Piacenza and Cremona, two settlements intended to control the Valley of Po. As a conclusion to the war against Hannibal in 202 and overwhelmed by the Galls in 191 BC, Rome founded numerous other colonies including those of Bologna, Modena, and Parma.

In 187 BC Marco Emilio Lepido built Via Emilia, from which the region gains its name. Constituted as the spine of the Roman colonization, Via Emilia is based in the center of the system and represents one of the main arteries and communication routes of the Roman empire.

At the end of the first century BC, Aemilia became the VIII district of the new order of Augustus who built a port in Ravenna, making this city the official seat of the defense-oriented fleet in the eastern Mediterranean. Thus Ravenna, together with Bologna, became the main center of the region.

In the third century AD, under the diocesan reorganization, the region was divided into a western part, Aemilia, and an Oriental part embedded in the Flaminia et Picenum region. Despite the decline of the empire in the fifth century, Ravenna knew a period of growth and success. In fact, in 402 the city became the imperial residence of the west and the capital of the Theodoric Kingdom, as well as the seat of the Byzantine domination in Italy.

The descent of the Longobards in Italy in 568 marked the end of the Byzantine state that deteriorated with a remarkable rapidity. The Longobards conquered the Emilia area between 569 and 570 and Romagna between 728 and 751.

The ninth century was characterized by the increased power of the bishops and the tendency towards the creation of small committees, particularly in Emilia Romagna. The religious authority was never strong in the region, and the struggles for investments between the eleventh and twelfth centuries weakened it even more, favoring the advent of the Communes.

In this period emerged cities like Parma and Piacenza, two settlements that only played a secondary role until then.

The first step towards the transformation of the communal institutions into a noble regime was made in the thirteenth century, with the establishment of the podestà. The process wasn’t fast everywhere in the region, but some cities adhered to it almost immediately, such as Ferrara and Piacenza. 

In the Emilia area, the Lombard influence was evident above all in Piacenza, Parma, and Reggio, cities that were subject to the rules of Visconti and Sforza. In parallel, Romagna also developed its noble structures in Ravenna, Cervia, Rimini, and Forlì.

Although the religious power was weak, in the thirteenth century the Papal authority was recognized by Ottone IV and Federico II. As a result, the fifteenth century witnessed the struggles between the popes and the lords, which caused the culture and economy to stagnate in the region, while in the neighboring region’s cities such as Florence and Venice were expanding rapidly, attempting to extend their territories in Emilia Romagna.

In 1559 the region was divided between the Farnese and the Pontifical State, which occupied Romagna firmly and placed its seat in Bologna. In 1597 Ferrara was also added to the Pontifical State, and the situation remained almost unchanged until 1731 when the Duchy of Parma passed under the domination of Charles of Bourbon.

In the Napoleonic period, the cities of Modena, Bologna, Reggio, and Ferrara were annexed to the Cispadana Republic, while Parma and Piacenza were joined to France in 1802.

The region became officially part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860 and since then it met a restructuring of the agriculture. This restructuring resulted in the rise of an agricultural proletariat and a general accentuation of the class conflicts. In this climate spread the cooperatives, the mutual relief organizations and the workforce chambers, institutions that created the basis of the modern Emilia Romagna.

After the First World War, the region was driven by strong political and social agitation, as well as agrarian and fascist movements. During the Second World War, the region suffered many devastations and saw the growth of the Partisan movement.

Afflicted by the Nazi-fascist retaliation, the postwar period in the region was characterized by social and economic tensions which caused a painful trajectory of violence. The protagonist of the Italian economic miracle, the region then witnessed the hegemony of the left parties and the rise of the political “Emilian” model.

Archaeology in Emilia Romagna

Among the most important testimonies of prehistoric art in Emilia Romagna are the “Veneri” of Savignano sul Panaro and Chiozza which is a series of statues carved in stone and symbols of fertility. Other important archaeological findings are the numerous furnishings of the Villanovian tombs and other Etruscan monuments currently preserved in the museums of Bologna and in other cities in the region.

The National Archaeological Museum of Ferrara is renowned for its valuable vestiges from the ancient city of Spina. Moreover, the museum also exhibits some collections of Etruscan bronzes and figurative ceramics imported from Greece and belonging to the fifth century BC.

An important archaeological site is Marzabotto, where the remains of an Etruscan town can be seen as well as a museum showcasing the past.

The Roman civilization also left numerous testimonies, especially from the second and first centuries BC. The city that preserves the most notable Roman monuments is Rimini, although the archaeological site Velleia in Piacenza is equally beautiful and important from a historical point of view. 


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