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Fishermen in Cervia's history

Fishermen in Cervia's history

History of fishermen and maritime culture in Cervia

Porto canale, historical photo  - Ph. Collezione di Gabriele Bernabini

The Fishermen of the past


“I am no landowner I am a fisherman and I spend my life at sea

I didn’t know what love was before I met you
Now that I have seen you, I will change my trade and become a landowner
So I will be happy to come and find you at any time
I want to paint you in the sail and I want to take you to the high sea
The people will say, “What sail is this?” The love of a woman made me do it
The love of a woman the love of a damsel I will love no other except her”


This is how the sailors of Cervia used to sing and act in the nineteenth century. They came from different places - Chioggia, Goro, Comacchio - but they had one thing in common: the sea.

They lived together with local families in Borgo Marina, where both peoples left their boats: on the right were the fishermen's boats, on the left the salt boats. A single canal-port that connected the sea to Cervia Vecchia and at the same time acted as a salt canal.

Today there are few fishermen in the village, but in the past they were part of a large community, with their own clubs and taverns: "La lepre", "Il fiore" and "La pantofla". A united people, who at the beginning of the 20th century organised marriages exclusively within their own families.

Being part of the poorest in the city, sea life was learned from childhood, a moment that marked the beginning of life as a fisherman, a life that was certainly not easy.
Apart from being constantly in debt to the head of the boat, known as the padron, the fishermen did not even benefit from the sale of fish, which was almost always conducted to their detriment with the muta a orècia auction: the fishmongers whispered their offer in the ear of the head of the market, who very often forgot the best one.

Those who dreamed of becoming sailors had to go through five steps first, one for each year: muré semplice, without pay; muré d'la quartarola, with a quarter's pay; muré d'la quartarola e mèz, with a quarter's pay and a half; zuvnòt, with half a pay and finally zòvan with three quarters' pay.

The fishermen, or magna pes, as the city dwellers called them, who were economically poor, nevertheless possessed knowledge and solidarity between man and nature that could not be understood by the people of the land; for their own and others' survival it was necessary to know the weather, the transparency and brightness of the sky, the weight and smell of the wind.


All the stars go their own way
The North Star never goes
But if the North Star were to go
Poor sailors who have to sail!...

“The stars were the alphabet of the sailors, the sails and the winds carried their feelings”

The marine tradition today

Songs, events and guided tours keep fishing and the sea culture alive. It continues to be told and experienced in Cervia, it never sets.

Historical sails tiles - Ph. Arianna Bertozzi

The fishermen’s club and the Trapozal

From generation to generation, fishing has continued to be part of the life of the residents of Cervia. Many fishermen carry on the history connected to the sea. Their main meeting point is the Fishermen’s Club, old headquarters of the wholesale fish market. Here, through music, the choir of “singers and musicians”, Trapozal della Pantofla, sings the tradition of Cervia and Romagna. Their name is also connected to the sea; in the local dialect of Cervia, trapozal means the pieces of wood smoothed by the wave that the storm brings to shore.

The historical sails and Borgo

Each boat had its own sail representing a different family. The difference allowed the fisherman’s family to recognise his boat when it returned to the port. Today, the historical sails can be admired along the port canal. Borgo Marina exhibits both reproductions of the sails, painted in the original colours, and a series of tiles that indicate the name of the family under each sail.

Borgo is one of the places where you can still soak up the sea tradition. The restaurants here serve the goodness of freshly caught fish; the numerous initiatives animate the port canal. The most important include Borgomarina vetrina di Romagna, a market with food and craftwork stalls for a journey through local tastes and traditions.

Historical photo Marriage of the sea - Ph. Collezione Gabriele BernabiniMarriage of the Sea

Dating back to 1445, the Marriage of the Sea is one of the oldest festivals celebrated in Cervia. Legend has it that its origin comes from an event that saw as protagonist the Bishop of Cervia, Pietro Barboi. It is said that - caught in a storm while returning from Venice - to calm the waters he pledged the pastoral ring, and so doing he saved the entire crew.
The ceremony has repeated itself every year since then: the bishop launches the nuptial ring into the sea and if recovered it is a sign of good luck, fortune and prosperity. In the 1986 edition, the rite was celebrated by John Paul II and the port canal has been dedicated to him ever since.


"I Pescatori di una volta", source: "Cervia. Luoghi e memorie di una città"

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