logoquadrato-calabriadreamin qu


A holiday to live in colour


What to see in Italy: The Tracciolino of purple coast

2020-06-04 23:41

Dr. Domenico Bagalà

Costa Viola, palmi, what to see in calabria, purple coast, palms, tracciolino,

What to see in Italy: The Tracciolino of purple coast

the tracciolino of purple Coast: from waterworks to nature trail

What to see in Calabria:

The Tracciolino of the purple coast

The earliest known prints of the Sant'Elia Mountain in which the Tracciolino appears were published in the volume Visioni di Calabria (Visions of Calabria) in 1929, one year after Theodore Brenson's summer tour of Calabria. The editors and the introductory essay, written in light, collected prose, were Luigi Parpagliolo, an art historian and environmentalist from Palmi in Calabria, who was attentive to the dynamics of the landscape and the author of important works such as La difesa delle bellezze naturali d'Italia of 1923 (one of the first manifestos to protect nature in Italy).

Theodore Brenson "Visioni di Calabria" vista della Montagna di Sant’Elia e del Tracciolino anno 1928


The hydraulic engineering work known as 'Tracciolino'.


It is likely that already in the 16th century, between the vineyard terraces on the Costa Viola and Carlopoli (the first nucleus of Palmi), there was already a path used mainly for agricultural purposes. We believe, in fact, that at that time the communication between the inhabited centres was guaranteed not only by the sea, but above all by paths and roads, the most important of which was the Roman Annia-Popilia road, which today partly coincides with the Strada delle "Regie Poste"[1] and the National Road 18[2], whose route still passes at the height of the Piani della Corona.

The Tracciolino, along the ridge of Mount St. Elias was built or presumably expanded, to build a hydraulic system of capture and conveyance of springs, which from the most important source, that of the Elm near Ceramida di Bagnara, brought water to Palmi, and, as brought to light by some recent excavations, probably also to the monumental Fountain of the Palm placed at the centre of the Market Square (now May I) year 1669[3]. This work of hydraulic engineering was commissioned by Marquis Andrea Concublet, founder of the modern city of Palmi, to increase the flow of drinking water, which at that time was only supplied by the sources of Vitica. At the present time, it would appear that this waterworks, which is about 8,4 km long[4] as far as the source of the Olmo, is the most important waterworks for public use in Calabria at that time [5].

With regard to the water infrastructure of Palmi in the seventeenth century', Andrea Concublet proceeded to reorganise the water supply in both urban and suburban areas, introducing the concept of water as a 'public good' and 'primary' for all citizens, providing the city with fountains and wash-houses (some of which are still rebuilt on the same site near the sports ground and behind the Canals). On the other hand, for the industries of the time: mills, oil mills, carpentries and tanneries, some of which can still be seen in the area still known as the "Tannery" (where the Tracciolino begins), a real "distribution system" managed by the "Water Masters" was organised.[6] Thus the terraces of Palmi became a lush garden.


[1] Alcuni tratti sono stati individuati dall’Associazione “Indietro Tutta” di Barritteri.

[2] Vincenzo Spanò “La Via Annia - Popilia in Calabria” Laruffa Editore 2010

[3] Antonio De Salvo “Ricerche e studi storici intorno a Palmi, Seminara, e Gioia Tauro” 1899

[4] La distanza è stata misurata con dispositivi GPS da Carmelo Arfuso, Presidente dell’Associazione “Indietro Tutta” di Barritteri

[5] Domenico Bagalà, ricerche e studi storici presso la Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli, 2014  - Biblioteca Nacional de Espana, 2015.

[6]  Nel Regno dei Vice Re Spagnoli nel Sud Italia, con il nome di maestri d’acqua erano noti gli attuali fontanieri (o idraulici), che per lunghissimo tempo furono aggregati alla maestranza dei muratori. Si narra che a Palermo le due fazioni, litigavano continuamente per ragioni di precedenza e prestigio, finché nel 1644 i maestri d’acqua decisero di costituire una propria corporazione, con un proprio console, un determinato posto nelle processioni ed un proprio servizio di guardia militare (questi erano i servizi a cui ogni maestranza aveva diritto), questo modello si diffuse rapidamente in tutto il Sud Italia.


What remains of the ancient Palmi Fountain


The hydraulic systems for the distribution of water that were put in place were an inheritance of the Arab culture, which was more widely spread in the West by the Eastern monks (also known as "Byzantines or Basilians"), who took refuge in our territories, administered by the Byzantine Empire, from the 5th to the 11th century, to escape the iconoclastic struggles and the advance of the Arabs.

Along the Vallone S. Michele in Palmi (which we call the Valley of the Mills), among the works still visible, in addition to the very interesting ruins of several mills, trappeti (oil mills), some of Byzantine-Norman origin, we can see the irrigation system, of Arab inspiration, characterised by numerous "Mastre" and sluice gates, which had the function of diverting water from one machine to another or to a vegetable garden, managing the supply through the use of the "gèbbia" (basin, in Arab: gébiya) which made it possible to store and release the necessary water at the required time and in the required quantity.

Particularly interesting from the point of view of industrial archaeology, the qanāt (in Arabic: قنات or Persian: كاريز , kārīz), are a water transport system used to provide a reliable source of water supply by capturing water scattered from San Michele di Vitica, along the Tracciolino ridge and in the Vallone San Michele. These are narrow, T-shaped underground tunnels dug into the water table, connected to underground tunnels or covered canals, which through highly refined techniques of water extraction, drawing, accumulation, adduction, distribution and administration were aimed at supplying the "Macchine" and the gardens downstream. Some of these structures can still be found along the first part of the Tracciolino and at San Biceli (s. Michele di Vitica). In order to build them, the water masters (the plumbers of the time, already in the 17th century organised in a corporation), used different tools: from simple hoes to wooden wedges to split the granite (the rock that mostly contributes to the composition of the soil in the Montagna di S. Elia)[7]. Originally, the water masters only carried out the hydraulic structures, but in the 17th century, similarly to what happened in Sicily, due to the need to manage the resource "water, good for all", they gradually took on a public function very similar to the one that still exists in Venice, "the magistrate of waters". [8] It was the master who operated the sluice gates and decided to whom the water should be directed: to the mill rather than to the oil mill, rather than to the vegetable garden and for how long, it was his decision, the assessment was unquestionable, but also wise, it was based on the evaluation of needs and the season. Water in Andrea Concublet's time was public.


[7] Domenico Bagalà, ricerche e studi storici presso la Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli, 2014  - Biblioteca Nacional de Espana, 2015.

[8] Il Magistrato delle acque non è una persona fisica ma una istituzione pubblica che si occupa della gestione, sicurezza e della tutela idraulica. Così il

   maestro d’acqua nel sud Italia, si occupava della manutenzione e gestione delle acque e della loro fruizione.


Valle dei Mulini - Marinella

Mulino ad acqua Saitta (mbutu)


Gèbbia (tank) - Valle dei Mulini, Torrente S. Michele - Palmi


Hydraulic path called 'Tracciolino


The water systems of Tracciolino date back to at least three different historical phases: as already mentioned, the one from the second half of the 17th century, built by Concublet and consisting of internally glazed terracotta pipes, in use until the 17th century, probably made in Seminara; the one from 1800 with cast iron pipes almost certainly coming from the Real Ferriera di Mongiana and the one from 1900 where several sections were modernised with iron pipes, these probably by the young Consorzio Acquedotto Vina which in 1929 reorganised Palmi's water systems in a modern key. To stay on the subject, the new aqueduct supplied water to two important and monumental fountains: the Fontana della Palma in Piazza Amendola, designed by the architect Jommi,[9] inspired by the "Fontana della Palma". Jommi,[9] inspired by the fountain placed in the centre of the Piazza in 1669, made by Concublet, and the Fontana dei Canali, where two types of water flowed, different in taste as well, i.e. from the older source coming from Vitica, which served the Carlopoli then Cittadella, and from the Olmo source, which still reached Palmi even after the removal of the ancient Concublet fountain from the Piazza del Mercato (which took place to popular discontent in 1886). Above each fountain, bronze plaques were placed indicating the sources[10].

Recently, the seventeenth-century phase of the hydraulic systems of the Tracciolino has emerged from history; as we have been able to ascertain, in fact, the terracotta pipeline, settling tanks and stone artefacts protecting the pipeline itself are visible in some sections, including works to cross depressions and valleys such as bridges and walls. Some of these works, the oldest dating from the 17th century, have been brought to light following the restoration work on the path as part of the project called 'Dorsale verde': a major route of slow mobility for the enjoyment of the landscape and historical and cultural heritage of the Fata Morgana tourist destination, which involves the municipalities of Palmi, Seminara, Bagnara and Villa S. Giovanni.


[9] Domenico Ferraro “Palmi - immagini, cronaca, storia” Istituto Zecca dello Stato – Banca Popolare di Palmi 1982 

[10] Nel 2011 la benemerita Associazione Prometeus di Palmi ha restaurato con la passione e con l'amore la "Fontana dei Canali", offrendo una veste impreziosita e del tutto rinfrescata col bronzo, col marmo e con l'arte degli artisti: Fabio Belloni - Maurizio Carnevali e Achille Cofano

The Fountain of the Canals


Nameplate with reference to the source of the Olmo


Along the Tracciolino, vertically, a glazed earthenware pipe which had a volumetric filling function: during the filling phase of a pipeline "the vents" allow the air inside the empty pipes to escape, thus avoiding the danger of air pockets forming.


Near the Olmo spring, it can be seen that the pipe is inserted into the wall at a height of about 120 cm from the walking level of the path, in order to ensure that the water flows by slow fall; at the top one can see a layer of brick bricks protecting the pipes, measuring 10 x 5 cm and 3 cm thick. Considering that the same bricks can be found by the hundreds along the route, we can suppose that this system was extended to the whole route[11].

[11] These photos were taken in 2016 during an excursion with my friends Sergio, Vincenzo, Lillo and Antonio.


Olmo aqueduct, located on the border between the municipalities of Seminara and Bagnara


Clay pipes, as water pipes, have been known since ancient times and are well described by Vitruvius, the Roman architect and plumber (1st century BC) in his De Architectura (Liber IX, ch.11) as "tubis fictilibus" (clay pipes). In ancient Greece, they were known as 'katos'. In Sicily and Calabria they became very popular in the Arab and Byzantine period (9th-11th centuries) under the name 'al-qadus', from which the name 'cat' derives. from which the name 'catusi' derives. They are terracotta tubes with a slightly conical longitudinal section so that one end fits inside the other and so can form a long pipe. The most common cultural and technical Italian term is 'gargoyles'. Used to transport drinking water, recommended by Vitruvius, as opposed to toxic lead pipes, they had different sizes depending on their use: domestic pipelines, gutters and "incatusati" water pipes etc. Glazed terracotta pipes were in use until the end of the 17th century, when they fell into disuse and were replaced by pipes made of cast iron and iron and today of polyethylene PE. Terracotta, a very ancient clay material, made of Pleistocene clay and water, although poor and low-tech, is characterised by good technological properties such as mechanical resistance to compression and traction, durability and extraordinary durability, ultra-secular.

These water systems remained in place for centuries, as evidenced by the Roman clay vent similar to the one at Tracciolino, brought to light in the archaeological excavations at the Parco dei Tauriani 'Antonio De Salvo' in Taureana di Palmi, located inside the cavea of the show building, which was flooded for the staging of the epic naval battles.


This building in Tauriana dates back to the 1st century B.C., and was probably built for recreational events such as gladiator fights. However, the structure was 'multifunctional' as it was also intended for theatrical performances and had a capacity of about 3000 spectators.

The hydraulic engineering system along the Tracciolino, briefly described, is a model to be included among the elements that constitute the historical, ethno-anthropological and landscape heritage of our territory. Today there are still some remains, but they must be saved from vandals and the continuous destruction of the paths and protected as an asset of the hydraulic culture of mankind, to prevent the memory of the ancient model from being lost in the space of a few years and a fundamental period of our history from being definitively cancelled.

Tubis fictilibus from the Roman era on display in Mainz (Germany)


Trekking tra cielo e mare: il percorso del Tracciolino

Today, the Tracciolino has become a popular excursion destination. A breathtaking trekking route between sky and sea.

The path develops altimetrically from about 280 m above sea level at its junction, south of the town of Palmi, to 445 m above sea level at the source of the Olmo along the typical rocky coast with cliffs overlooking the sea known as the "Costa Viola", of great interest from the point of view of nature and landscape, through the municipalities of Palmi and Seminara.

Along the route, the typical terraced landscape is visible, consisting of terraces once cultivated with vines or their remains, supported by dry stone walls (armacìe).
The impressive engineering work of dry stone walls has been carried out over the centuries by generations of farmers and only a small part of the terraces are still cultivated today.
The hiker will be able to admire an enchanting scenery over the Strait of Messina, being able to see Mount Etna to the south and the Aeolian Islands to the west. You can also admire the beaches of "Cala Leone" and "Cala Janculla", which are only accessible from the sea, nestled between inaccessible rocky spurs.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.