A glimpse of the Middle Ages, Pomposa Abbey.
Along the Po di Volano towers peremptorily the unmistakable bell tower.
What it is and where it is
Pomposa Abbey is one of the most remarkable monastic complexes of the Italian Middle Ages-the Romanesque church with its magnificent bell tower; the Benedictine monastery; the Palace of Reason, where the abbot administered justice-all set in a landscape that still gives a good idea of its ancient isolation in the expanses of the Po Delta. Its location, at the crossroads of two historical routes, is revealing: from north to south, the Via Romea at that time traveled by merchants and pilgrims on their way to the Eternal City: across, the road from Ferrara that followed the branch at that time principal among those in which the Po widens to flow into the Adriatic Sea. At that time the coast was not far away. Today, however, the river still continues for about ten kilometers, in the lands gained by the sea, to Volano, an ancient fishing village, and to Lido di Volano, the first of the seven Lidi of Comacchio.
Why it is special
The Basilica of Santa Maria is one of those monuments capable of transporting the visitor back in time. Passing through the colonnaded atrium, one penetrates the penumbra of the three large naves: the Roman and Byzantine columns, reminiscent of Ravenna; the inlaid floors of precious marbles with naturalistic figurations; the 14th-century frescoes, scenes from the Old and New Testaments, culminating in the apse with Christ in Majesty with Angels and Saints. Moving on into the monastery, also extensively frescoed: from the Chapter House, where the monks' assembly was held, to the Refectory, where they ate their meals in silence, listening to passages from the Bible. Among many, one image: the Deesis, a composition of Byzantine tradition that features the Redeemer between Our Lady and the Baptist, here flanked by St. Benedict, founder of the Order, and St. Guido, Abbot of Pomposa raised to the altars.
Not to be missed
An element of great prominence in the framework of the abbey is the bell tower: for its remarkable height, certainly, 48 meters, but above all for the nobility of its Romanesque forms. It was in fact built in the year 1063 and is the work of a certain architect Deusdedit, probably a religious man, who is remembered in a slab walled at the base. Characteristic is the sequence of openings, progressively larger, that mark the red and yellow terracotta shaft: single-lancet, double-lancet, three-lancet and four-lancet windows, to lighten the structure and at the same time facilitate the propagation of the sound of the bells. Two hundred and one are the steps leading to the belfry, a climb that is rewarded by the view of a wide stretch of the Delta. The concert is composed of four modern bells, harmonized in G B and still tolled by hand.
A bit of history
The first monastic settlement dates back to the 6th-7th centuries, in the Lombard era: a simple chapel, around which a Benedictine community took shape that was destined for great development. The oldest maps bear the indication "Insula Pomposiana," signifying that in fact the abbey stood on the wooded triangle drawn by the waters of two branches of the Po, Goro and Volano, and the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The planting of that territory was the first source of wealth for the Benedictines of Pomposa, which then became known as a center of culture thanks to the amanuensis monks who devoted their lives to book production. Rising to the rank of abbey in the 9th century, it reached the height of wealth in the 12th, then experienced a slow decline, due to relentless environmental changes, until its suppression in the Napoleonic era. Reclaimed by the state in the late 19th century, which manages it as a monumental property, it is parish of the Archdiocese of Ferrara-Comacchio whose archbishop bears the honorary title of Abbot of Pomposa.
The frescoed palimpsest of the basilica of Santa Maria finds a worthy conclusion on the counter façade with a representation of the Last Judgment. Beyond the images that compose it, some truly impressive, it comes naturally to think of the emotions of those who have admired them over the centuries. Among them was Dante Alighieri, who often had to pass through the Romea, especially during the years of his stay in Ravenna. He also did so in the summer of 1321 as ambassador of the Da Polenta family on his way to Venice. It was his last journey, for on his way back he was seized by that malarial fever that in September of that same year led to his death. There remains, in memory of his familiarity with the abbey of Pomposa, a passage from the Divine Comedy: "Nostra Donna in sul lito adriano," so he mentions it in fact in Paradise when he meets St. Pier Damiani, who precisely resided there in the mid-11th century.