A captivating journey along the iconic River Po and through Italian history, society and culture.
The Po is the longest river in Italy, travelling for 652 kilometres from one end of the country to the other. It rises by the French border in the Alps and meanders the width of the entire peninsula to the Adriatic Sea in the east. Flowing next to many of Italy's most exquisite cities – Ferrara, Mantova, Parma, Cremona, Pavia and Torino – the river is a part of the national psyche, as iconic to Italy as the Thames is to England or the Mississippi to the USA.
For millennia, the Po was a vital trading route and a valuable source of tax revenue, fiercely fought over by rival powers. It was also moat protecting Italy from invaders from the north, from Hannibal to Holy Roman Emperors. It breached its banks so frequently that its floodplain swamps were homes to outlaws and itinerants, to eccentrics and experimental communities. But as humans radically altered the river's hydrology, those floodplains became important places of major industries and agricultures, the source of bricks, timber, silk, hemp, cement, caviar, mint, flour and risotto rice.
Tobias Jones travels the length of the river against the current, gathering stories of battles, writers, cuisines, entertainers, religious minorities and music. Both an ecological lament and a celebration of the resourcefulness and resilience of the people of the Po, the book opens a window onto a stunning, but now neglected, part of Italy.