Territorial ridge trails

Reading and typology
via degli Dei

The territory has its own structure, independent of the presence of man, with its own precise characterisation in terms of geology, gold-hydrography, climate and production. Man has progressively taken over the territory in a series of acts that can be defined as cycles.

The first cycle, the most ancient, is the one defined as the anthropisation implantation cycle and sees the progressive adaptation of man to the natural elements; the first phase of this cycle consists in the most immediate way of taking possession of the territory in the form of travelling.

For mountain and hill areas, but also for largely flooded and marshy plains, ridge trails are therefore the easiest and most spontaneous use of the natural environment. Since they are dry, ridges can be travelled in any season, as they have no obstacles, no fords, no bridges, no footbridges, no deep tributaries, and they have continuity in height and always a free view. So there is maximum control of the route from above, as opposed to the fragmentary dominion of the area in valley routes.
Routes therefore also safe from a war point of view.

In short, ridges can be defined as the oldest territorial structure of anthropic space.

Seventeenth-century drawing highlighting ridges and main buildings
Seventeenth-century drawing highlighting ridges and main buildings

In all likelihood, small isolated settlements were originally located on these ridges. However, the nature of the main ridge paths in mountainous areas rarely lends themselves to the location of settlements, not least because the land is almost devoid of spring water and esplanades. Moreover, the very configuration of the land on the ridges almost always did not allow the structuring of large territorial fabrics as a substratum for inhabited settlements.

It is in fact only in a second later phase, involving the level of the resurgences and areas of wider plateaus, that we see the emergence of settlements on adequate tissues located mainly on promontories at the ends of secondary ridges connected with the main ridge. In this phase, the so-called counter-crinic routes between the anthropic settlements that intersect the promontories and the adjacent valleys parallel to the main ridge are also formed, later replacing its function as the main route.

Countercrinal pathway
Countercrinal pathway
Reading the forms of the territory

The ridge routes therefore constitute the primary framework for forming a territorial organism in a stringent logic according to which even the main cities achieve their own location, which derives from the so-called “ridge” structure.

The most important settlements, which for the most part still coincide with the present-day towns, are in fact always located at the heads of the main or secondary ridges or at their outlets on the plain and, in these cases, always at the crossroads with valley floor routes in a direct relationship with watercourses and their crossings by fords or bridges.

The occupation of the territory by man therefore has its fundamental pivot in the entire ridge system and its articulations and moves from upstream to downstream.

Understanding the territory in this way means breaking down the complexity of the territorial organism by reading its oro-hydrographic structure in relation, first of all, to the ramifications of the watercourses and the altimetric contours, even in the lowland areas where the rivers, as they flow and change their course, have created high areas at the banks and lowlands.

Lowland doxocrine
Lowland doxocrine

The configuration of the natural reality in its geographical (orographic or hydrographic) and physical (geological or tectonic) themes is formed according to the principle of scalar gradualness or “jumps in scale”, therefore always, as an incipit, from the matrix territorial paths on which the land and building fabrics are arranged within which the building types are realised.

For man, the first use of the territory consists in travelling along the ridge, be it mountain or plain, considering the river bumps and the raised “strips” in the often flooded lowlands; it is therefore the spontaneous route linked to the concept of “via” that can indicate a path, a track, a course, a step, while the road, which derives its name from the Latin “stratus” which means to level, to pave, already indicates a later phase in which the territorial routes are already related to the land fabric.

Main ridge
Main ridge used as a road in Roman and medieval times
Examples of building on matrix land routes

Territorial routes describe morphologically the natural space and measure it through the time factor. They connect, i.e. bind, the urban settlements by hierarchising them, they delimit and innervate the territorial tissues by coordinating them. In practice and in synthesis, they structure the territorial organism, that corpus which is often mistakenly referred to as landscape.

So much can and will change about the buildings or the fabric, but the road system, which buds hierarchically, as we have seen, from the ridge routes, remains and will remain as a basic organism that can never be completely erased and always to some extent conditioning. In this way it is characterised, in the course of history, as an operating matrix and continuous creator of the territory’s individuality.

One thinks for example of linear regional systems such as the land of Bari or Emilia and Romagna; in particular the region still hinged on the consular road of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus shows the main cities all positioned on the terminals of the ridges of the largest rivers, routes all orthogonal to the matrix ridge, descending from the Apennines and which are almost regular and cadenced in Romagna and more articulated in Emilia.

These routes are still able to condition and differentiate the building and urban-territorial transformation process in every part of the man-made territory.

The first cycle of land use through the ridge paths necessarily based on the natural use of the orography still constitutes, with its consequent developments, the prerequisite for every subsequent planned intervention in this incipit of the 21st century.

Andrea Capelli

Andrea Capelli

Architect, winner of the Edoardo Collamarini prize; scholar of territory history, student of Saverio Muratori school, author of several essays on building and territorial typology, he organized conferences and seminars on various topics in the field of architecture. He has been a university lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering/Architecture of Bologna; formerly officer town planner at the Modena Municipality and then architect at the Superintendence of Monuments of Parma and Bologna where he has held managerial roles. Author of restoration projects and direction of works on historical and artistic heritage in several Emilia cities.