The Sile: The River of Silence in Italy
Discover the Veneto Region from the water
One of the fundamental elements of the Veneto region is water: numerous rivers, countless streams, beautiful lakes, calm canals, and finally the sea.
The fertile lands of the Po Valley were created by water: perennial waterways, fed by great torrents coming from the alpine glaciers or born from springs of resurgence and fontanazzi.
The Veneto is surrounded and crossed by water and on it it has developed crops and businesses.
Waterways, which, over the centuries, have allowed irrigation of crops, supported its inhabitants with fishing, becoming ideal roads for the trade and transport of things and people. Waterways crossed by boats drawn by oxen or mules, which, walking along the towpaths, traced paths on the banks, urged by the shouts of the river men.
For centuries, scows and barges (called Burgi) have crossed the waterways connecting the Po Valley and the Adriatic to the east, the Lakes of the Alpine arc and Switzerland, the gates of Europe to the north.
So, the best way to get to know and appreciate the wonderful Venetian territory from a different perspective is to navigate its waterways.
Cruising on the Sile
I have already told you about my trip along the Brenta River, disembarking along the riverbanks and strolling through the gardens of the majestic renaissance villas of the rich Venetian merchants and my visit to the Parco del Sile during the Asparagus fair.
Well, this time I was lucky to be invited by Navigazione Stefanato to hop along on a day river cruise trip on the River Sile, which, with its 95 kilometers, is the longest resurgence river in Europe!
We started from the river town of Quarto D’Altino, which belongs to the UNESCO site “Venice and its lagoon” since 1987.
You may visit an interesting archaeological area in Altino, where you can find the National Archaeological Museum that displays pre-Roman and Roman remains that go back to the Veneti’s age, The inhabitants of the ancient Altinum moved to the islands in the lagoon and, by founding Torcello, they set the basis to the birth of Venice.
Together with my friend and fellow blogger Roberta Zennaro, we set off on the last beautiful Autumn morning of the season – a few days later, unfortunately, our region would be battered by one of the worst storms in centuries, causing death and damages to the mountain area of the Veneto region and one of the biggest Acqua Alta on record in Venice.
But let’s start by telling you about the River Sile.
Sile – The River of Silence
Silis. Qui silet / Sile. “River of Silence”
It is a very special river, in fact unique in Italy, confirmed by its many peculiarities:
– it is a resurgent river, in fact it does not originate from a mountain range or even simply a hill, but from springs of water that rise from the depth of the earth in the middle of the plain; it does not change in flow, be it summer or winter, the level of its waters is always constant.
– the sources that originate it are so pure that most widespread brands of Italian mineral water draw their famous bottled water from these aquifers.
– in a few kilometers the course becomes so wonderfully swollen to become navigable also for large boats, today as it has been for thousands of years.
The Sile is “born”, but it would be better to say “emerges in a thousand springs” called “fontanassi”, in the territory of Casacorba, in the countryside between the provinces of Treviso and Padua, and flows into the Lagoon, in Portegrandi, from artificially cut canals.
In all, 95 kilometers of river, on a vertical drop that does not exceed, from the sources to the mouth, the 30 meters, the height of one of the many bell towers of the villages that surround it and that, since the first human settlements, found, from its waters, food and protection.
First among them, the city of Treviso, historic “city of water”, still crossed by dozens of canals that have, in the blue of the Sile, their fulcrum.
Parco Naturale del Sile
For some years now, the territory that welcomes this wonder has become a Regional Park, thus safeguarding the river from the effects of an anthropization and industrialization that have made Veneto a unique, immense “widespread city”.
All around the River Sile, there are places where modernization has not affected magic.
Founded in 1991, the Natural Park of the River Sile measures a total of 3000 hectares and is characterized by the copiousness of springs and the woody richness of the surrounding area. A unique ecosystem that counts many small animals but also aquatic plants, reed beds, shrubs and even forest vegetation: an ideal place to breathe nature while enjoying a walk along the banks or a slow boat trip.
Along the river path, a cycle-pedestrian network called ‘GiraSile, La GreenWay del Parco del Sile’ has been built.
For lovers of ‘slow’ naturalistic cycling tourism, the itinerary is simply fantastic – 125 km long, an ecological corridor that runs through the entire Park from the springs to Portegrandi, intended for slow mobility – cycling, pedestrian and boat.
In some parts the route is almost on the water, along the “Restera” or “Alzaia”, the road that runs parallel to the river, once destined to the transit of horses and oxen that dragged the boats loaded with goods coming from the lagoon headed to Treviso.
Many activities have been carried out in time along the narrow banks, exploiting the driving force of the water.
The artifacts still present today bear witness to a millenary culture that owes its sustenance to the exploitation of watercourses.
Water mills, machines for grinding cereals, moved by the hydraulic pressure of rivers, a valid substitute for the hard driving force produced by man and animals. Furnaces which produced the bricks to build homes.
The cleanliness of the waters allowed fishing, a bath in the warm summer months and the washing of clothes. The shores were fortified by the planting of shrubs and willows whose roots held firmly the land of the banks.
The evidence of this ancient activity is everywhere along the riverbanks. Not least the surreal place that is the “Cemetery of the burci”, the mirror of water in which the old unusable barges were sunk. The Burci were the large wooden boats used for river transport.
The Day Trip on the Sile
Navigazione Stefanato organizes many different boat day trips and the one we had the pleasure of boating on was the “Navigar sulla rotta degli Antichi barcari” – boating along the route of the ancient river people.
We started in Quarto d’Altino, cruising along the river for about an hour while one of the Stefanato brothers told us the history of the Sile: here the river, between watchtowers, villas, ancient monasteries, quietly connects Treviso with the lagoon, crossing ancient Roman roads and settlements, large farm estates, in a singular “memory path” where history, archeology and nature are admirably added.
We eventually reached Casale Sul Sile where we stopped for a guided tour of the town.
Casale Sul Sile
Casale sul Sile is a small Italian town in the province of Treviso counting nearly 13,000 inhabitants and it is located within the area of the Parco Del Sile.
A first nucleus of the city arose in the Middle Ages around a castle with a tower.
La Torre Carrarese is one of Casale’s most renowned sites. The cylindrical tower was built by the Carraresi family in 1380 and was part of a larger defensive system placed to guard and control the Sile. Lately the tower has been restored and inserted into a private park owned by a local Veneto family.
The eighteenth-century parish church of the Assunta presents an artistic relevance to the ceiling frescoed by Giandomenico Tiepolo. The centuries-old parish archive testifies over the centuries the importance of the church both as a place of worship and commercial traffic through the Sile and is a source of fundamental research for local historians.
In the past, one of the most important economic activities was that of raftsmen and barge men, due to the importance of the Sile as a trade route. In 1559 they were even organized in a confraternity and were devoted to S. Nicolò, to whom they dedicated an altar in the parish church of Casale.
Once the guided tour was finished we set off again.
Just before entering the outskirts of Treviso, the Sile expands into large buckets of water created by the excavation of gravel that has changed, over the centuries, the environment and even its path. Nature, over time, has turned these violence into places of great beauty, ideal for canoeists and birdwachting.
The trip finishes in the lovely town of Casier: from here you can continue by car or coach to nearby Treviso, or you can hire some bicycles and ride back along the GiraSile, to discover the territory on land.
But Roberta and I were in for a final surprise – the best part yet: while the rest of the people on board disembarked and went to Treviso by coach, we got to ride back with the Captain and his crew!
Seated at the front, we even got to ring the bell and enjoyed the trip back slowly, chatting to the Stefanato family members. We heard what happened to many family members during the WWII, of the horrible killings which were perpetrated by the Nazis along the river. About the hunger and misery which the Veneto people had to endure during the occupation.
We were shown the old houses of the family and to each point on the river, a new story was told! It was like talking a walk in the past, on a boat!
The Stefanato family comes from generations of boatmen, who have worked with the burchi on the Sile for centuries.
They recently transformed the traditional activity of boatmen, now obsolete. in a tourist navigation company with boats of a capacity of up to 150 people as well as private taxi service for 12 people.
They offer river cruises on the Sile and in the Venetian lagoon that can be taken all year round.
For more information, click on the link
So why should you take a River Cruise on the Sile?
Because the Veneto seen from the water takes on a magical appeal, offering unprecedented perspectives, in the name of slow and sustainable holidays, lulled by the slow movement of the water in search of beautiful nature, with its wonderful landscapes and plenty of history too!
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