Bibione’s Valgrande and Vallesina are both embanked fishing valleys of tremendous natural value, classified in 1993 as “local heritage walking sites”. Together, these valleys cover a vast area of around 475 hectares including 320 water sources, such as water basins, canals and mill ponds as well as reed beds, forests and farming fields.
The private area of Valgrande alone covers 360 hectars, with a large mill pond characterised by its low salt content, where extensive breeding of certain species of fish takes place (grey mullet, sea-bass, eel, sea bream).
Mere marshland up until 300 years ago, Valgrande is the result of the natural environment being successfully combined with man made interventions. This clever balance between nature and human innovation today manages to surprise tourists and visitors as they enter the valley, finding themselves totally immersed in such a unique and unrepeatable context.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF VALGRANDE.
By Arabella Ferri de Lazara.
Valgrande is an ancient lowland area formed during the construction of the Tagliamento River delta. It covers a vast area, with low altitudes at the valley’s lake (in the centre of the valley), which rise slightly towards the Southerly direction (forest area) but remain nonetheless limited to the North (along the Lugugnana canal), where drainage works had to be carried out during the 20thCentury. The valley’s past is particularly interesting as, despite its proximity to the Caorle Lagoon, it does not share the same history. The fishing valley was, in fact, created at the end of the 1600s by flooding the lowland, as is shown by a number of documents illustrating the area before and after the operation. Following a government decree passed in the 17thCentury imposing the destruction of fishing valleys within the Venice Lagoon, based on the conviction that they obstructed the correct flow of water, it was necessary to find other Venetian areas in order to continue fishing activities. It was then that the Venetian nobleman Antonio da Molin decided to flood the lowlands of Bibione in order to convert them into a fishing reserve. It should be stressed that this very action continues to have a strong impact on the area’s environmental balance even today. This does not merely depend on the maintenance of natural dynamics, but rather more on the ecosystem that the man action has created over time. In fact the valley’s organisation, progressively replacing natural dynamics with man made dynamics, allows for a large number of plant and animal species to survive that are otherwise typical of humid ecosystems.
The various owners of the valley that followed adopted traditional techniques and interventions to maintain the valley’s physiognomy almost intact, to the point that the area today represents one of the most interesting cultural and natural heritage sites in the whole of Europe. It is in fact rare to find an ecosystem made up of so many different elements: a millpond split into fishing pools; a forest with high levels of biodiversity with regard both flora and fauna; fossilised dunes that hide important Roman artifacts; an ancient “casone di valle”, a typical home of the valley’s inhabitants.
The inheritance of the valley has guaranteed heightened awareness and culture amongst its various owners (Molin, Nani Mocenigo, Pisani, de Lazara, Sordi, Ferri) who, over time, have successfully maintained the ecosystem, even when the area was divided into two holdings during the course of the last century: Valgrande and Vallesina.
Today, the valley has been opened to the public in order to increase environmental awareness and offer the possibility to retrace Bibione’s history stretching over many centuries.
NOTICE ABOUT ANCIENT AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL HISTORY.
THE EXCAVATION OF THE "MUTTERON DEI FRATI" MARITIME VILLA (PARS URBANA)
Written by Vincenzo Gobbo.
In August 1991and 1994, the government department for archaeology in the Veneto area carried out two preliminary digs at the foot of the large sandy hill widely known as the “"Mutteron dei Frati", situated within the “Val Grande” farm area.
The excavation, led by Dr. Pierangela Croce Da Villa and conducted by myself, aimed to analyse the presence of archaeological remains in the area, including the mouth of the Lovi Canal and Tagliamento River, in order to reconstruct what could possibly be the typical costal settlements of the classical period.
Following preliminary ground level analysis confirming the presence of hidden structures close to the surface towards the south of the hills, it was decided to carry out an excavation to gain a better insight into the information collected thus far from previous interventions in the area in question. The area to be used for the sample excavation was a large, square shaped clearing free from any high-stemmed vegetation, just like the area excavated in 1932 by Aulo Gelio Cassi.
The excavation, made possible thanks to the valley’s owner, revealed sections of a large noble villa dating back to Roman times, made up of seven rooms, three of which also contained mosaic flooring.
Owing to the numerous excavations carried out during the last century, which meant that the majority of archaeological material had already been taken away from the site, it was unfortunately only possible to recover a small number of finds, the majority of which can be classified as circular fishing-net weights with a hole in the middle. Examples of roofing tiles branded “Ti PANSIANA” were also found along with a fragment of a "C. TITI HERMEROTIS" branded roof tile.
Another important find was the coin from the Emperor Onorio period (395-423 A.D.) found within the concrete that held together the bricks of a dividing wall; the coin shows the profile of the emperor wearing a pearl encrusted crown and, on the flip side, there is the common image of Victory dragging a prisoner. This small coin allows us to precisely date the construction of the wall and also the building of the entire west side of the villa.
The classification of this building using one of the most commonly used categories for typical private Roman housing is very difficult in this case. The small part of the building excavated provides a far too limited and incomplete plan of the house in order to formally classify the structure. Being a private house, it would have been built with much more attention to the specific needs of the individual owner rather than to architectural trends. A comparison with other buildings is therefore very difficult, also when considering that no point of reference exists within the neighbouring area. Having said that, we may observe the wide use of stone in the building’s elevation, which does not appear to be one of the materials typically used in other rustic villas excavated in the area; instead of stone, the main building material in agricultural areas is in fact bricks made of clay (terracotta). We may therefore conclude that stone, transported with little effort using the water ways, was probably a lot cheaper than building bricks, which were anyway used a lot more frequently in land. We must add the commercial importance of the building to this initial typical characteristic. It is almost certain that warehouses for goods being transported by sea must have been located near to areas of rich accommodation. These goods would then have been distributed inland thanks to the quick routes offered by the nearby Tagliamento River. Perhaps the "Mutteron dei Frati" villa was built and developed at the beginning of the V century A.D. exactly for this commercial purpose, right at the time when the Roman world was experiencing a great crisis. As well ascommercial activities, the villa would also have played host totypical costal activities, such as fishing and perhaps the breeding of shellfish. These activities were typically carried out as part of rustic life so, if the plan of the living quarters resembles the general layout of the majority of similar homes excavated in the area, they should be found slightly to the South of the structures excavated until now.
ON FOOT, ON HORSEBACK AND BY BICYCLE. THREE WAYS TO VISIT BIBIONE’S VALGRANDE.
The Valley was opened to the public for the first time in Summer 2008 and can be visited either on foot, on horseback or by bicycle, accompanied by one of the expert guides who speak both Italian and English.
Visits include only a part of the immense reserve, and can be divided into the three sections:
- upon entry to the valley, visitors immediately find themselves immersed in the peace of the holm-oak grove, which boasts a range of forest vegetation and guarantees a shady, cool atmosphere even in high summer;
- visitors then follow a more narrow path along a good part of the lagoon. This part of the trail is characterised by open spaces on the horizon, where one can admire the species of nesting and hibernating birds flying over head;
- visitors reach the fossilised dune, a more sandy area boasting a pine forest (mainly made up of Austrian Black Pines) and a wide variety of flowers. Here, visitors will discover Bibione’s most ancient piece of history: the remains of a Roman maritime villa complete with original mosaics, adjacent to the so-called ‘Motteron dei Frati’. More attentive visitors may well catch a glimpse of the many different types of animal who live together in perfect harmony with nature, although they are not used to the presence of people: wild horses, deer and wild boars.
Guido, a guide at Valgrande, remarks: “For most visitors, the first impression is of total amazement, owing to the valley’s proximity to a tourist resort as big as Bibione. Once you enter the reserve, you are in fact immersed in surprising natural surroundings, with their own rhythm, governed only by the hours of sunlight, and complete and utter silence. The only disappointment is that we can’t always be sure to see the animals that live here, who tend to remain hidden in the greenery owing to their natural shyness and the high summer temperatures. For the future, there are plans to introduce birdwatching trails with viewing platforms and mountaing bike trails.”
Interesting facts about the valley’s flora and fauna:
From an environmental point of view, the native holm-oak grove is of particular interest. The grove covers the ancient dunes that stretch to the ‘Mutteron dei frati’, that, at 11 metres above sea level, represents the highest point of the entire North Adriatic coastline. It is also important to highlight the many varieties of flowers of high botanical quality and rare animal species within the valley, such as the Hermann tortoises.
The holm-oak specimens within Valgrande, some of which are estimated to be around 150 years old, together form the most northerly grove of its kind in the whole of Italy.
Visitors interested in the botanical aspects of the valley are advised to come in late Spring to early Summer; animal lovers are instead advised to visit either at the beginning of Spring or at the end of Summer and during the Autumn.
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How to visit Valgrande?
Every Friday, from June to September, one can see the valley, either on foot or by bicycle, by means of booked excursions organised by Anemos. Registration should take place in the morning at the info points at beach ticket offices 1,7 and 9.
For a special experience in harmony with nature at the Barbuio riding school (0431 43500) one can book horse rides with a qualified instructor. For those who instead wish to experience a coach ride, call Samuel Boaretti on 348 7759203.