The rivers of Italy form an intrinsic part of the country's history, serving as vital trade routes for civilizations that encompassed the Etruscan and Istrian to the Roman and Renaissance. One of the better-known waterways is the Po River, the longest in the country. It follows a course of 405 miles from the Cottian Alps, through Turin and the Lombardy and Vento regions to empty into the Adriatic Sea.
The Importance of the Po
The highly industrialised region of the Po Valley has long been one of the most significant economic centres of the country. The river itself flows through 12 major cities, including Milan and Turin, and the area accounts for a third of the country's population. Encompassing more than 27,000m², the lush, fertile Po Basin supports a huge slice (up to 40%) of Italy's domestic product in terms of agriculture and manufacturing.
Of the Po's tributaries, some form the border with Switzerland and others run into large mountainous lakes, including Lakes Como, Garda, Maggiore, Lugano and Iseo – collectively known as the Italian Lakes.
As well as Milan and Turin, the river's alpine tributaries pass through Novara, Monza, Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona and Mantua. Its Apennine tributaries pass through (among others) Modena, Parma and Piacenza.
The Canal Bianco
The Po River includes a section known as the Tartaro-Canalbianco-Po di Levante, which connects the city of Mantua to the sea and is very popular on the itinerary of Italian river cruises. While the beginning (from Lake Garda) and end (out to the Adriatic Sea) of the waterway are natural, the mid-section, measuring nearly 50 miles, is artificial. The diversion of the Canal Bianco was constructed in 1604 to make the entire length of the Tartaro-Canalbianco-Po di Levante navigable for trade, but today it is used mainly for leisure purposes, including yachting, small pleasure vessels and Italian river cruises.
Attractions en Route
For those looking to discover the history of the Po Valley region, Italian river cruises that encompass the Canal Bianco provide the opportunity to not just soak up the wonderful scenery, but also to explore its attractions on shore excursions.
The National Archaeological Museum at Adria is home to the renowned Bocchi Collection, which includes some of the country's most important Etruscan and Greek artefacts, along with numerous Iron Age relics. The collection comprises bronzes, ceramics, priceless paintings and glass works. As its name suggests, it owes its existence to the magnificent efforts of one local family (the Bocchis) to excavate and preserve the findings for future generations.
The historic and beautifully preserved city of Mantua is surrounded and fortified by manmade lakes, which date back to the Middle Ages. Amidst its cache of UNESCO-protected architectural treasures, the Palazzo Ducale is undeniably the jewel in its crown. This breathtaking palace is second only in size to the Vatican, and its complex of towers, gardens, churches and endless corridors of rooms filled with priceless Renaissance treasures is overwhelming in its proportions.
Explore the Beauty and History of the Canal Bianco
One of the best ways to discover the beauty of this stunning part of the country is on Italian river cruises. Meandering lazily along the Po River and its tributaries takes one on a very tangible ride through history, and the Canal Bianco provides one of the most memorable journeys of all.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury Italian river cruises and other great destinations in Europe. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.