Text and pictures by Maria Teresa Tozzi
The monument dedicated to laborers from Ravenna is placed outside the walls of the modern Ostia Antica Village. During the 19th century Ostia was an unhealthy swamp area affected by malaria and other diseases. The territory has been drained thanks to laborers from Ravenna.
The Pontifical State tried to drain several coast areas between 1858 and 1868, but the result was not good.
New State interventions started when Italy was unified. In 1878 the government passed a law to hygienically improve Rome and to reclaim the areas of Ostia and Maccarese.
About 500 laborers from Ravenna arrived in Ostia in November 1884. They did not have a job because their territories were strongly impacted by the economic crisis and they constituted the first workers cooperative in Italy, called “General Association of workers and laborers”. The drainage of Ostia was very long and lasted seven years. During that period many laborers died of efforts and of malaria. They managed to dry up the swamps despite the difficulties, creating canals several kilometers long and many draining pumps. The swamps became fertile lands thanks to the sacrifice of the laborers from Ravenna.
The historical memory of that great effort is alive in the territory because there are several monuments and plaques dedicated to founding Fathers.
A commemorative plaque, entitled “Bread and Work” and dedicated to the cities of Rome and Ravenna, was placed in the Umberto I Square in Ostia Antica in May 1904. The plaque text was written by the socialist parliamentarian Andrea Costa. He was one of the founding Fathers of that extraordinary historical project and his bust was set above the inscription in 1912. Another promoter of the drainage was the socialist politician Nullo Baldini and his bust is placed under the inscription.