The pinewoods of Ravenna consist of a large flat area that falls within the Po Delta Regional Park.
According to historical accounts, it was the Romans who planted the first domestic pines from Spain at the time of Augustus, when the emperor chose this area of the Adriatic Coast to establish one of the major ports of production and supply for his immense and powerful naval fleet. The trees proved to be invaluable in supplying the timber needed for shipbuilding.
The spread and growth of the pinewoods is, however, closely linked to the activities that characterised this area in the Middle Ages: the monks of the Camaldolese Order settled in this stretch of coast and, through their monasteries, extended the woodland and took care of about 7,000 hectares of trees, distributed in four distinct pinewoods (San Vitale, Classe, San Giovanni and Cervia), in order to generate income from the gathering and sale of pine nuts.
It is certain that, for the survival of these woodlands, the critical period coincided with the suppression of the monasteries by the French during the Napoleonic period, so much so that, as happened with many other properties, these lands were also sold to private individuals, with the result that the extension of the pinewoods dwindled drastically. Subsequently, also on account of particularly cold years, some owners decided to turn the pine forests into a source of firewood and most of the woods were thus destroyed.
Another blow was dealt by the First World War, when timber from these woodlands became a much sought-after raw material for road and railway construction.
The two best known pinewoods are the Pineta di San Vitale and the Pineta di Classe.
The first extends north of Ravenna. A characteristic of this pinewood is the alternation of the so-called “staggi”, ranges of sand dunes, and “bassure”, wet and usually marshy lowlands.
All this makes this area ideal for the development of birdlife and a favourite nesting area for black-winged stilts, herons and egrets. From here a series of itineraries lead visitors to the Pialassa della Baiona, a spectacular brackish lagoon and naturalistic oasis.
The Pinewood of Classe, on the other hand, extends south of Ravenna as far as Cervia, and covers an area of 900 hectares. Apart from the pinewood’s characteristic habitat, the area of greatest naturalistic value consists of the 40 hectares occupied by the Ortazzo and Ortazzino and the mouth of the Bevano torrent.
This whole area is particularly well-known for its wild and uncontaminated state, as well as for its remarkably biodiverse inhabitants, making it a point of great interest in the Parco Regionale del Delta del Po (Po Delta Regional Park). Among the tall trees populating the area, are the English oak and maritime pine and, in the lower areas, ash and white poplar.
The undergrowth is also very rich: wild roses, honeysuckle, juniper, holly, wild asparagus, clematis, hawthorn and many other shrubs colour the pine forest with their white and yellow flowers in spring and their red, orange and brown berries in autumn.
Nevertheless, the pine cone, the pine tree and the pine forest are among the defining features of the Ravenna area. The stone pine is part of the municipal coat of arms and the image of Ravenna’s pinewoods and has traversed centuries of literary and artistic history.
Many scholars have identified Ravenna’s pinewood with the “selva” extolled by the poet Dante Alighieri, since it gave him inspiration and the beginning of his divine poem.
The pinewood has been a favourite place for many other writers, poets and artists such as Boccaccio, Byron, Giovanni Pascoli, D’Annunzio, Montale and Botticelli, who celebrate the beauty of these places in their works.
Much of the wooded area over which the pinewoods extend is classified as a Site of Community Importance and Special Protection Area.
Apart from its naturalistic value, so rich in flora and fauna, the pine forest remains a popular place for outings and relaxation, and is often frequented by locals, sportsmen and tourists.