Est Modus in Rebus: The Novelty of Late Baroque Romagna Fishery Architecture in Papal Trading System

Est Modus in Rebus: The Novelty of Late Baroque Romagna Fishery Architecture in Papal Trading System

Iacopo Benincampi (Sapienza University of Rome, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6936-7.ch002
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In the 18th century the overall weakening of the papal authority forced the ecclesiastical government to focus its attention on the rationalization of its infrastructures, in order to facilitate the control of the collection of taxes and to stabilize local and general finances. In particular, at that time the upgrading of strategic ports such as Civitavecchia and Ancona marked the political discussion, and the desire to restart the economy encouraged by Pope Clement XII Corsini (1730-40) awaked a general enthusiasm. Thus, in Romagna region, centers like Rimini, Forlì, Cesena and Faenza started to strengthen and improve their infrastructures: primarily, port facilities and retail buildings. In architecture this meant a progressive functionalization of the design: geometry, comfort, utility, security and linearism became the terms for the new language. The outcomes of their reflections seem to respond to a common ideological ‘modus operandi': a sharing of intents which led to realizations just apparently different.
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As part of the public institutions modernization which involved the Pontifical State in the early XVIII century, the connection to the sea is of great interest (Tavoni, 1981, p. 31), due to geographic and economic reasons. In fact, the Pontifical State boasted its position between both the Adriatic Sea – at the time known as the Venetian gulf1 – and the Tyrrhenian sea (Figure. 1). This position on one hand exposed the State to the danger of pirate attacks, on the other it was a great opportunity for the coastal communities to widen trade relations. Moreover, the gabelle imposed on marine trades were less onerous than the ones land routes were subjected to (Dal Pane, 1957, p. 387).

Once grasped the importance of the development of port activities to compensate the Pope’s loss of international status and financial help, the papal government encouraged the trades with various initiatives. The most important one was the conversion of the Ancona harbor into a porto franco in 1732. As a consequence, even the smaller costal towns acquired importance, because of their new role of vessels required for the dispatch of goods. In this respect, the State made available many sovvenimenti: structural aids which could be gained only through the presentation of a project coherent to the Administration’s purpose.

Figure 1.

Papal State (author’s elaboration)


Many local administrations adhered.2 The propositions concentrated mainly on the expansion of the quay and the excavation of the entrance, necessary conditions for the docking of a consistent number of small/medium size boats. Moreover, other than the big cargo vessels, there was a conspicuous number of ships of smaller dimensions which usually supplied the provision of fish the population required. This food item was usually sold in the town’s main squares3 and it needed to be traded in a specific structure, in order to avoid frauds and guarantee the payment of the taxes imposed on it.

Therefore, in the last century of the Ancien Régime a genuine exploit of this type of crafts occurred, particularly in the most peripheral areas of the Pontifical State, determining distributive and formal issues. In these circumstances, the Romagna Legation emerged as one of the more dynamic province, developing prototypes ahead of their time.



The matter of the town fishing boastfully interfered with the late-baroque architecture, establishing itself as a complete novelty. Before then, there certainly were other places intended for fish trades, but never before there had been the opportunity to establish formal norms for this type of buildings. Only from this moment onwards the need for adequate sites for this kind of trades became compelling, due to the confusion grown around this negotium with the potential consequence of the spread of harassment and chicanery. For instance, in 1722 in Forlì the possibility to provide an appropriate space for this purpose had been already considered: “Apparently riots kept exploding because the community was damaged by the fact that in Forlì the fishermen used to sell the fish to taverns, usually without paying taxes. This happened to prevent the fish from being stolen in the open square due to the large crowd. Having the fish market in an enclosed space would have prevented disorders and damages”.4 These reasons were acknowledged by Rimini administration, which ordered in 1745 “to remove all the existing fish stalls and arcades because they were distorting and ruining the appearance of the piazza”.5 Equally, the city of Cesena – which also ruled on the port of Cesenatico – joined the request to comprehensively intervene “to avoid the above mentioned issue and the one concerning the fisherman, as well as to clear the city of the fish stalls, the butcher shops and the stink which haunted the city”.6

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sovvenimenti: State subsidies.

Porto Franco: It is a coastal city with a port where goods in transit are exempt from customs duties, no matter where they come from. The establishment of these facilities aimed to reduce industrial and agricultural protectionism and to promote industrial development in specific regions.

Palmo: Roman unit of measurement (almost 7,4 cm).

Gabella: Word used since Medieval times to indicate a medium of exchange and subside: direct and indirect taxation or aggregates of tributes. In XVIII century it indicated only excise duties.

Piede: Roman unit of measurement (almost, 29,65 cm).

Legatos: The papal delegate and permanent representative in one of the provinces of the Church territory.

Pescaria: Fish market.

Instrumento: Legal act of a contractual nature.

Scudo: It was the currency of the Papal State until 1866. It was subdivided into 100 baiocchi , each one consisting of 5 quattrini.

Congregazione del Buon Governo: The Congregatio boni regiminis was a body of the Roman Curia established to supervise the fiscal and economic management of the municipal administrations.

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