To know where you’re going you have to know where you’re from    

Serafini Island is the smallest village of the Municipality of Monticelli d'Ongina, in the province of Piacenza, characterized by the particular division in the middle between the administrative border of the regions of Emilia Romagna and Lombardy.

This small detail actually hides a great history linked to the strong landscape changes of the Great River, the Po, which has always characterized the island as a place in continuous evolution.

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Landscape evolution of Serafini Island



"The Serafini Island of my memories is a fair and industrious village of the Municipality of Monticelli d'Ongina. At the time the rural economy prevailed, composed of different farms, with different sizes, which gave work to numerous family groups. In addition to the production of fodder for livestock feed (meat and milk), the most common crops were cereals (wheat, maize), vegetables (garlic, tomatoes), industrial plants such as sugar beet and tobacco.

I also remember the cultivation of peanuts, in a plot of land right in front of the grandparents' house, and the numerous poplar plantations for the production of timber and timber products. Among other activities (blacksmith, blacksmith, carpenter and cobbler), the sawmill Fermi was the operator of greater weight. Fishing was also used as a (sometimes exclusive) source of family livelihood."

Historical memories of

Gianni Cattivelli

"The river in Serafini Island has always been a source of livelihood. Apart from the professional fisherman, in every family, two or three times a week, someone would go fishing using the Ligonsa (large net) and the fish was partly consumed by the family and partly sold in neighboring countries, which were reached by bicycle.
The canyons (which included Savino, Speranza and Bonissima) that today are cultivated intensively, were once forests of willow trees from which were obtained the poles used in vineyards.

Between the years 30/’50 of the island was inhabited by about 600 people, located in the various farms. On a weekly basis two walkers crossed it on their horse-drawn bars (a half later replaced by a truck), and brought to the resident families the most disparate products, which they could not produce themselves.

The beginning of the construction of the hydroelectric power plant (in 1956) did not bring any particular changes in the lives of the inhabitants of the island, since they were not involved professionally in this work; In addition, part of the local population had already moved to the village, to Monticelli, for example the new generations after marriage.

Historical memories of

Valentino Cattivelli



Gilles Clément defines the Third Landscape as the set of remnants, that is those elements of landscape to which no function is given, which derive from the abandonment of a previously exploited land. They can come from different environments: urban, agricultural, rural, industrial and include any type of ecosystem that can ensure the maintenance of diversity.
The main characteristic with which the Third Landscape can be defined is in fact that it is a meeting point of diversity.

In more general terms, Serafini Island has in common many features that bring it closer to the reality of the Third Landscape and can also be considered a residue, an abandoned territory that derives from a will aimed at the intensive exploitation not only of the agricultural soil, but also of the river that surrounds it.

The result is that of a place without its own identity in which coexist a series of different realities that together generate a confused and uneven landscape.

How is the island landscape defined by the institutions?


Serafini Island is part of the SIC-ZPS IT4010018 River Po from Rio Boriacco to Bosco Ospizio, an official classification established by Regional Council Resolution E.R. n. 167/06 of 13/02/2006, which connotes it as Site of European Community Interest and Special Protection Area.
This title comes from the presence of habitats protected and recognized at European level, but which are increasingly threatened by the current natural emergencies, resulting in most of human interventions.

Compared to the historical memory we have received, Serafini Island no longer presents wooded expanses of willows and poplars of rare beauty, nor even most of the native local fish, almost completely disappeared because of the barrier that interrupted its migratory routes for more than half a century.
What has remained is a place devoid of identity, whose equilibrium has been interrupted by an excessive exploitation of its resources, without a real compensation that maintained its regular harmony.

    Hydraulic works    

The Hydroelectric Plant


The conformation of the territory

Among the power plants located along the Po, that of Isola Serafini has summed up more than any other a mixture of opportunities and fundamental problems for the life of the great river. At the base of this originality is the same conformation of the territory in its position in front of the mouth of the river Adda. Here the river, after the village of San Nazzaro d'Ongina, turns north, making a turn of over 12 kilometers to return to the end of the bend 500 meters from the point of deviation with a difference in altitude of just over 2 meters.
A peculiarity that already in remote times had fed hypothesis to trace a channel to bring down the water directly and use the energy produced by the fall. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the engineer
Giuseppe Lodola from Caorso, descended from a family of millers, theorized a work inspired by ancient milling techniques to exploit the fall of water achievable in Isola Serafini for energy production purposes.

The initiative of GianMaria Terzi

Serafini Island was back to the present at the end of 1955, on the initiative of engineer Gianmaria Terzi, who succeeded in the concessions of 1928 to the firm Bormida. The ancient project had undergone the necessary updates and was presented again with an estimated cost of around 12 billion lire to realize, together with the ancillary works, a central production capacity of 300 million kWh a year. Third party proposed to involve some Italian hydroelectric companies (there was also talk of a Swiss company) and had two years to start work, under penalty of the forfeiture of the concession.

After a succession of voices, in the summer of 1956 there was a first concrete act: The Civil Engineering affixing of a manifesto to Monticelli d'Ongina and in the neighboring municipalities of Piacenza and Cremona with which the request submitted by the company Terzi was announced to obtain a water derivation for the purpose of producing motive power, and deadlines were set for any objections. Some visits to Serafini Island by technicians of civil engineering and the company Terzi made even more tangible what was announced in the manifesto.

The fish in danger

A serious problem caused by the barrier of Serafini Island was that of fish fauna. It was raised by the few fishermen left in the area, a feeble voice compared to farmers and inhabitants flooded. But the effects of the dam on the future of fish species and fisheries were dramatic.
The sturgeons, the cheppies, the eels that periodically went up the course of the Po river for the reproduction, saw compromised the traditional vital cycle from that artificial obstacle. Starting from the construction of the complex of Serafini Island the life of the fish and in general the fishing upstream of the plant would have been something different, a real change in the ecosystem.
In spite of everything, the works had also brought the desired beneficial effects for the occupation and the local economy, mitigating with these the protests and the disappointments towards a work that had been anyway long awaited.


April 11, 1962 the power plant "turns"

The controversy would continue for years, but the day April 11, 1962 at 6.40 p.m. the hydroelectric plant of Serafini Island went into operation officially after over a semester of experimental operation. […] The work involved 5 years of work, cost 18 billion lire, engaged 800 people between technicians and workers, with 6 million hours worked, the use of 930,000 quintals of reinforced concrete and 150,000 quintals of iron. For the construction works a high price of human lives has been paid with the death for accidents on the job of three workers: Alberto Bulla, Giuseppe Gibin and Leone Pandante, to which Alfredo Casalini joined in April 1963, mortally hit by the piece of a turbine.

Text taken from: "That Serafini Island on the great river"

by Paolo Brega

In order to rebuild the road to Serafini Island, interrupted by the construction of the drainage canal, a reinforced concrete road bridge was built, 180 meters long, which crosses the drainage canal itself.
In the works carried out between 1956 and 1962, a navigation lock was also built alongside the power plant to allow boats to overcome the obstacle represented by the dam barrier: the lock of navigation has been out of service for many years because of the lowering of the riverbed downstream of the same. To allow the restoration of navigation between Piacenza and Cremona, within the programs for the strengthening of navigation on the river Po, the Emilia Romagna Region through AIPO - Interregional Agency for the river Po - has arranged the realization of the new navigation basin at Serafini Island, in substitution of the previous one.

The new Navigation Basin


The river Po back to be navigable

The creation of the new navigation basin of Serafini Island on the Po River between Piacenza and Cremona, along the section that connects Locarno, on Lake Maggiore, to the Adriatic Sea and to Venice, is an important step forward for river navigation in Northern Italy. […] The project, which was inaugurated on 23rd March 2018, was made necessary because the first basin, created in 1962, along with the hydroelectric plant, could no longer be used due to the lowering of the river depth which had occurred over the previous 50 years due to the uncontrolled excavations, the blockage caused by the plant and decrease in solid intake from the affluent rivers. The activation of the new basin, therefore, will allow navigation all the way to Piacenza and, potentially, all the way to Pavia from where, thanks to the “navigli” canal system from Pavia to Milan and Milan to the Ticino River, it will be possible to reach Locarno on Lake Maggiore.


The Isola Serafini navigation basin, located in the municipality of Monticelli d’Ongina (Province of Piacenza), is the only one on the Po River and the most important in Italy due to the difference in altitude to overcome across the block, varying from 4 to 13 meters according to the river flow. It is made up of a reinforced concrete basin with a navigable surface of 115m x 12,50m, with mobile barriers (“porte vinciane”, Da Vinci gates) on each side. These characteristics allow the passage of Va class European Commission Transport Ministry vessels (110, length, 11.50m width, a full-load draught of 2.50m with a maximum load of 2000t, equal to 70/100 trucks).


The project is located along the river network of the Po Valley and Veneto area which are part of European programs aimed at creating sustained mobility for commercial transport and tourist navigation along with environmental and safety objectives. The project also relies on another, currently in the executive planning phase, of the low-flow riverbed of the Po River from Cremona to the sea, to allow safe navigation, according to EU standards, for at least 300 days a year on average.
The executive project, drafted by Binini Partners as group leader and in association with RMD, Studio Paoletti and Studio Zermani, includes the most recent and innovative solutions, also on a European level, and was the winner of the tender set out by AIPO thanks to the high level of technological complexity and specialisation of the project.

The basin and connected stairs for the fish will connect the upstream area of the Po River to the Adriatic sea with a view also to the fauna, the environment, the landscape and the waterway system. Sustainability, attention to the environment and the landscape, development and innovation are therefore the key words in this project which, through the waterways, connects Italy to Europe.

Text taken from: "New navigation basin at Serafini Island"

by Binini Partners

The passage for fish


A European project to protect biodiversity

From Monviso, where it is born at 2,020 meters above sea level, to the Adriatic Sea where it flows, the Po river flows for 652 kilometers. It is the longest river in Italy and is fed by 141 tributaries. The vastness and complexity of its catchment area, the geographical location and the direct connection with the sea make the Po a unique river ecosystem, with a fish biodiversity among the highest in Europe: the native species are at least 45. For over half a century, however, since the beginning of the Sixties, the course of the river was interrupted, about 300 kilometers from the sea, in the locality of Monticelli d’Ongina (Piacenza), by the dam barrier of Serafini Island, which prevented the natural displacement of migratory fish species, causing its decline and, in some cases, its disappearance.

The Con.Flu.Po project, funded under the European Life programme, has finally addressed this situation. Thanks to it, an ecological corridor was built in 2017, an alternative waterway to the main course of the river, which once again allows the free movement of fish upstream and downstream of the dam. This fundamental project is completed by breeding and repopulation of endangered species of European interest - Sturgeon cobice, Pigo, Lasca, Barbo and Savetta - aiming, in the long term, to rebalance the entire fishing community of the Po.

Inaugurated in March 2017, the ecological corridor built at the Serafini Island hydroelectric plant is the largest and most complex passage for fish to successive basins ever built in Italy. It allows to restore the migration routes of fish for hundreds of kilometers from the Adriatic Sea to Lugano Lake, also in synergy with other projects of similar function carried out in recent years in the Lombard regional territory (like the artificial passages near the dams of Panperduto and Porto della Torre).
The solution studied consists in a double passage in the form of "Y", able to connect the river upstream of the dam barrier with the two branches (natural and artificial) of the valley, an effective "blue infrastructure" for any native species, regardless of size and capacity.


Testo tratto da: "The Return of the Sturgeon"

di Progetto Con.Flu.Po Life11nat/it/188


Thanks to the agreement signed between Aipo and the Municipality of Monticelli d’Ongina on January 10, 2020, will soon be developed educational, cultural and promotional actions and initiatives aimed at the enhancement of the fish passage, which will finally be open to the public.