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Emilia Romagna’s Canal Town in Germany

Prehistory and antiquity
Before the Romans took control of present-day Emilia-Romagna, it had been part of the Etruscan world and subsequently that of the Gauls. During the first thousand years of Christianity, trade flourished, as did culture and religion, thanks to the region’s numerous monasteries.

Early origins
The history of Emilia-Romagna dates back to Roman times when the region of Emilia was ruled by imperial judges linked to the nearby regions of either Liguria or Tuscany. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Lombards, a Germanic tribe, founded the kingdom of Lombardy in northern and central Italy. This kingdom, which included the region known as Emilia, flourished until the Lombard dynasty was overthrown by the Frankish king Charlemagne in 774. From the 6th to 8th centuries, the region of Romagna was under Byzantine rule and Ravenna was the capital of the Exarchate of Italy within the Eastern Roman Empire. In the 8th century, this region became a province of the Papal States when Pepin, the father of Charlemagne, donated the land to the Pope in 754.

Middle Ages to early modern period
During the 10th century, northern Italy became part of the Holy Roman Empire under the control of the Germanic leader Otto I. The Holy Roman emperors had varying degrees of control over northern Italy until the close of the Middle Ages. In the 12th century, the papacy extended its political influence and city states began to form in opposition to the Holy Roman emperors.

The northern cities, supported by the Pope, formed the Lombard League and reduced the influence of the ruling Hohenstaufen dynasty over their lands. Division between imperial partisans and their opponents created factions called the Guelphs and the Ghibelines which would divide the cities for centuries. For the next few centuries both Emilia and Romagna were ruled by papal legates or representatives of the Pope.

The University of Bologna—the oldest university in the world, established in AD 1088—and its bustling towns kept trade and intellectual life alive. Local nobility like the Este of Ferrara, the Malatesta of Rimini, the Popes of Rome, the Farnese of Parma and Piacenza, and the Duchy of Modena and Reggio, jostled for power and influence.

The House of Este gained a notable profile for its political and military might and its patronage of the arts: it left behind a vast heritage of splendid Renaissance palaces, precious paintings and literary masterpieces, such as the works of Ludovico Ariosto, Torquato Tasso and Matteo Maria Boiardo.

Following the rise of Napoleon, the region of Emilia came under French control.[15] After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, there was a growing movement for Italian national unity and independence. In 1848, a revolution in Vienna initiated uprisings against Austrian rule. The following decades saw uprisings in several regions and, in 1861, the Kingdom of Italy was established. During this Italian Unification, the territories of Emilia and Romagna would be incorporated into the new nation.

Late modern and contemporary
In the 16th century, most of what would become Emilia-Romagna had been seized by the Papal States, but the territories of Parma, Piacenza, and Modena remained independent until Emilia-Romagna became part of the Italian kingdom between 1859 and 1861.

After the First world war, Emilia-Romagna was at the centre of the so-called Biennio Rosso, a period of left-wing agitations that paved the way for Benito Mussolini’s coup d’état in 1922 and the birth of the Fascist regime in Italy. Mussolini, a native of Emilia-Romagna, sponsored the rise of many hierarchs coming from his same region, such as Italo Balbo, Dino Grandi and Edmondo Rossoni.

Towards the end of the Second World War, Emilia-Romagna was occupied by Germany and has been the theatre of numerous Nazi war crimes, such as the Marzabotto massacre in which 770 innocent civilians were brutally executed by German troops.

During the Cold war era, Bologna, traditionally a left-wing city, was particularly hit by political street violence and terrorism; in 1980 a far-right terrorist group detonated a bomb at the city’s main railway station, killing 85 people and wounding more than 200.

After the referendum of 2006, seven municipalities of Montefeltro were detached from the Province of Pesaro and Urbino (Marche) to join that of Rimini on 15 August 2009.[16][17] The municipalities are Casteldelci, Maiolo, Novafeltria, Pennabilli, San Leo, Sant’Agata Feltria and Talamello.

On 20 and 29 May 2012 two powerful earthquakes struck the central area of the region, killing 27 people and causing substantial damages to the region’s artistic heritage as well as to numerous manufacturing facilities. The 5.8 magnitude earthquake left 14,000 people temporarily homeless.[18]


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Relief map of Emilia-Romagna

Lagoons along the Po delta
See also: Po Delta Interregional Park
The region of Emilia-Romagna consists of nine provinces and covers an area of 22,446 km2 (8,666 sq mi), ranking sixth in Italy. Nearly half of the region (48%) consists of plains while 27% is hilly and 25% mountainous. The region’s section of the Apennines is marked by areas of flysch, badland erosion (calanques) and caves. The mountains stretch for more than 300 km (186.41 mi) from the north to the south-east, with only three peaks above 2,000 m – Monte Cimone (2,165 m), Monte Cusna (2,121 m) and Alpe di Succiso (2,017 m).

The plain was formed by the gradual retreat of the sea from the Po basin and by the detritus deposited by the rivers. Almost entirely marshland in ancient times, its history is characterised by the hard work of its people to reclaim and reshape the land in order to achieve a better standard of living.

The geology varies, with lagoons and saline areas in the north and many thermal springs throughout the rest of the region as a result of groundwater rising towards the surface at different periods of history. All the rivers rise locally in the Apennines except for the Po, which has its source in the Alps in Piedmont. The northern border of Emilia-Romagna follows the path of the river for 263 km (163+1⁄2 mi).

The region has temperate broadleaved and mixed forests and the vegetation may be divided into belts: the Common oak-European hornbeam belt (Padan plain and adriatic coast) which is now covered (apart from the Mesóla forest in Province of Ferrara) with fruit orchards and fields of wheat and sugar beet, the Pubescent oak-European hop-hornbeam belt on the lower slopes up to 800–900 m, the European beech-Silver fir belt between 800–900 m and 1,700 m and the final mountain heath belt above 1,700–1,800 m. Emilia-Romagna has two Italian National Parks, the Foreste Casentinesi National Park and the Appennino Tosco-Emiliano National Park.

Land use
Emilia-Romagna has been a highly populated area since ancient times. Inhabitants over the centuries have radically altered the landscape, building cities, reclaiming wetlands, and establishing large agricultural areas. All these transformations in past centuries changed the aspect of the region, converting large natural areas to cultivation, up until the 1960s. The trend then changed, and agricultural lands began giving way to residential and industrial areas. The increase of urban-industrial areas continued at very high rates until the end of the 2010s. In the same period, hilly and mountainous areas saw an increase in the registration of semi-natural areas, because of the abandonment of agricultural lands.

Land use changes can have strong effects on ecological functions. Human interactions such as agriculture, forestation and deforestation affect soil function, e.g. food and other biomass production, storing, filtering and transformation, habitat and gene pool.[19]

In the Emilia-Romagna plain, which represents half of the region and where three quarters of the population of the region live, the agricultural land area has been reduced by 157 km2 while urban and industrial areas have increased to over 130 km2 between 2003 and 2008. The impact of land use and particularly of the urbanisation of the Emilia-Romagna plain during this period has had some strong consequences in the economical and ecological assessment of the region. The loss of arable land is equivalent to a permanent loss of the capacity to feed 440,000 persons per year from resources grown within the region. The increased water runoff due to soil sealing requires adaptation measures for river and irrigation canals such as the building of retention basins, at a total cost estimated in the order of billions of euros.[20]

In 2000 there were 103,700 farm holdings and in 2010 there were 73,470, or a -29.2% loss in holdings for the region. The total utilised agricultural area (UAA) was 1,114,590 hectares (2,754,200 acres) in 2000 and 1,064,210 hectares (2,629,700 acres) in 2014 for a loss of 4.5%, indicating a downturn of smaller farm ownership. During this same timeframe there was a 14.5% decrease in the farm labor workforce.[21]