Leonardo da Vinci Canal
For years now I’ve been totally in love with the region of Emilio-Romagna in Italy, mostly, I admit, because of its food, but my first flirtation with the area came when I visited Cesenatico. It was here that I discovered that the canal that runs through the centre of the town, was designed by Leonardo da Vinci and I was immediately charmed. That the genius who produced so much art could also put his mind to something so mundane, seemed so wonderful. Is there nothing he didn’t design? How had it escaped me?
Cesenatico has been a popular seaside resort for Italian visitors since the early 20th century, but it wasn’t until the end of the Second World War when people began to seek pleasure in sandy beaches and sun that its tourist trade really took off : Cesenatico’s beaches stretch for over five kilometres. More recently, the town has seen an influx of visitors attracted by the beaches and shallow waters of the Adriatic, the bars, bistros, elegant shops and gelateria that line the canalside, and the near perfect weather.
This is as medieval as it gets and it rings with names from history. The ancient fishing harbour was designed in 1502 by da Vinci on the orders of Cesare Borgia, two names to set the mind racing. One part of the canal has been closed off to accommodate the Floating Museum of Marine History in which eight perfectly restored boats of the type that were once used locally for trade in the upper and middle Adriatic are on display. Painted in the natural colours that were used in the past, each sail represents a different fishing family from the area. This was done originally so that the boats could be recognised at a distance: today they are a lesson in maritime history.
Alongside the canal the indoor Maritime Museum houses artefacts and documents dating back to the prehistory of navigation. As the port supports today’s fishing industry the canal bustles with working boats, many of which sell their catch from the boat. Weaving in and out, there are small yachts and leisure craft for the canal has an attraction for all who love messing about on boats.
If it’s a sunny day and being indoors is not to your liking, then admire the collection of medieval boats on the canal while sitting at a nearby café with a glass of the delicious local wine. If you are there on a Sunday expect to see elegant ladies with tiny dogs tottering about on their Louboutins, impeccably dressed young men making the passagieta with or without their girlfriends, and old men sitting outside the bars nursing espressos and smoking.
Cesenatico was the first Italian town to erect a monument in honour of the great Liberator of Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi, to signify his connection to the town and this statue can be seen in Piazza Pisacane. In August of 1849, the great man, his wife, and other patriots fleeing from Rome were hunted down here.
There are a few other monuments to visit if you can drag yourself away from the port and its charms or the beach and the calm waters. The birthplace of the poet Moretti is now a centre for the study of 20th century Italian literature with a display of his books and papers, and the Theatre built by the architect Candido Panzani which, having survived damage sustained during the Second World War was restored in 1992, is architecturally very interesting.
But Cesenatico is really a place made for relaxation, for doing what the locals do, chill out with a coffee and grappa, lunch al fresco with local wines, or dine elegantly while watching the world go by.
The region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy has many lovely towns and villages but none, apart from Cesenatico, has a canal designed by Leonardo da Vinci, running through it.