the History

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The history of the Port of Crotone

In this port you can breathe its history...

The testimony to a remote past: from the ancient Greeks to the unification of Italy

The origins of the town of Crotone are linked to its geographical position and to the nature of the place. A unique refuge along the Ionian coast, after Taranto and Messina, it was the ideal place to dock ships which in ancient times sailed the Mediterranean and for the accumulation of all the produce that flowed from the hinterland villages and from the Sila mountains.

The founding of Kroton, this the original name of the town, draws its origins from different historical and mythological sources which, in any case, all derive from the ancient Greeks coming from Acaia, a Poloponese region running along the southern shores of the Corinthian Gulf between 709 and 708 B.C.[1]

In identifying the location in which the port of the Magna Grecian citizen was first established there have been many hypotheses: some place it at the mouth of the Esaro river, others retain that the two lateral nooks of the headland where the town’s Acropolis rose up were used. However, considering the nature of the location and the extension of the urban centre, it is more likely that there were diverse docking points along the coastline, some of those being better than others.

Used by Hannibal, during the second Punic War, for provisions and to communicate with Cartagena, it was from here that he set sail in 202 B.C. for Africa after having paid homage to the glory of the Achean city and entrusted it to the Sanctuary of Hera Lacinia with the charge to remember his military achievements in Italy[2].

With the demise of the Greek civilisation and with the shrinking number of inhabitants on the hill of the Acropolis in the Roman period, the other docking points were abandoned and to better define this, they were positioned nearer to the aforementioned hill. It was in this period that, with the relocation of the commercial axes of the Tyrrenean and Adriatic Seas, the Ionian routes were penalised, even though Crotone, location of a Naval base which used timber from the Sila forest and the craftsmanship of the Bruzia, remained the embarking point of numerous hinterland products such as: timber, fish, wine, copper and sulphur[3].

Towards the end of the 5th century A.D., due to the conquering of Africa by the Vandals, Italy was deprived of its agricultural provisions by the dark continent and this permitted the economy of the south and especially the hinterland Crotonese villages, rich in the cultivation of vines, olives and cereals, to obtain marginal gains. The trade in question served the nearby port of Crotone, which permitted the ships with the greatest tonnage, the guarantee of a link between the coastal cities and the commercialisation of the entire Mediterranean area.

At the time of Cicerone, the port was one of the most used docking points for Greece but its importance had greatly diminished with the lessening of the economic and political role which Greece had brought to the town.

The demise of the maritime traffic however, did not diminish its importance, above all for its geographical position which rendered it a place of refuge from the storms and strong winds which made navigation of the Ionian, difficult and dangerous, especially in the winter.

In 547 A.D. in fact, Belisario’s fleet, sailing from Sicily to Taranto, found welcome repairs due to a storm, in the port of Crotone. It was for its strategic position (along the route between Greece and Sicily), that the town, during the Byzantine period, became important from a military point of view as being Calabria’s last defence.

In 1154 A.D., in his book entitled “Libro di Re Ruggero”, the Arab geographer Edrisi, in describing the town of Crotone, wrote of the port as being “a largeport where on can safely drop their anchor”[4].

The diminished Arab hegemony in the Mediterranean during the Svevi period, meant that the town became an important trade centre, thanks to Federico II, who, in 1239, in his project of strengthening the port systems of the Kingdom, reconstructed the ports of Crotone and Vibo Valentia. This new Crotonese docking point refilled the coffers of the State, for the rights connected to its activity, and allowed the town to insert itself among the strategic points heading for trade in the east, which had seen growth due to the phenomenon of the Crusades.

In 1259, King Manfredi confirmed a trade contract with the Venetians, which also extended to Ragusa and Zara, at the time Venetian colonies, whereas the rest of the trade was carried out by the Amalfis, Pisans, Genovese and Florentines who embarked with timber and other diverse agricultural products from the Sila.

During the Angioino period, Crotone became one of the most important embarking points for alimentary products, cereals and there were numerous provisions favoured by the town and the traders who frequented the port. This was, in fact, indicated in the “Compasso da Navigare” (one of the first pilot books of the Mediterranean) as being a good port for winds, but not for Greeks[5].

The maritime traffic in fact, flourished and the merchandise taken on board in the port by many foreign and local operators, was destined for distant markets such as Constantinople and Galata[6].

During th Aragonese period, the trade of the town was very much alive, the port was renovated, given jetties and among the older privileges, as Alfonso D’Aragona confirmed in 1445 to the Bishop of Crotone, were those of customs duties and anchorage. In these years, the port, hub of all the production from the Crotonese hinterland villages and the departure point for the most important maritime centres in the south, moved an enormous amount of merchandise to justify the edict, emanated by Alfonso in 1458 as the rules of port activity, just like those of the port of Naples.

The Ragusei, who bought grain and sold slaves were very active, used the slaves for cheap labour to repopulate the farmhouses, so that in 1455 this type of trade flourished and a Ragusean Consulate was established in Crotone being responsible for the whole of Calabria.

It became a major trade centre for the Region and the port of Crotone accommodated Genovese traders such as Gregorio Botzo, Neapolitans such as Gesualdo di Napoli and Puglians such as Leone di Taranto who came to trade in iron, timber, cereals, legumes and other products obtained in exchange for large exemptions from Alfonso. There were also Venetians such as Michele Pampino, whose ships offloaded iron and steel, Florentines such as Giovanni di Neri Collessio (called the Greek of Florence), who obtained the faculty to extract 200 bills of exchange for wheat, exempt from any type of customs duty, Ragusei, Catalans, etc...

In 1452, Alfonso had allowed the inhabitants of the town the privilege to directly and freely sell 500 bills of Exchange for wheat, using the money to repair the walls and to present a tax free system for the whole kingdom.

These exemptions, together with the fact of being the major granary centre of production and exportation, favoured the settlement of new families, who following closely the finding and storing of grain, became linked to the big markets in which operated: Leonardo and Valerio (Venice), Grimaldi (Genova), Amalfitani and Campitelli (Amalfi), Montalcini, Antinori, Baricellis and Camposacco (Florence, Pisa), Moncada e and Lopez (Spain) and Pipino (France).

After the ban imposed by King Ferrante I in 1477 on the export of grain by his own State, the main destination for the grain trade therefore became Naples from where it then travelled to other countries. The new honorary legislation in fact, prohibited the concession of an exportation licence to foreign countries, so as to firstly ensure provisions for the capital.

During the reign of Carlo V trade still flourished but from the second half of and for the entire 17th century the trade of the port diminished due to the presence of the Turks in the Mediterranean and from the opening of new maritime oceanic routes even though the sovereign, on request of the university of Crotone, started work on strengthening the Crotonese docks[7].

In 1558 in Calabria, only two port guardian offices operated: one in Rossano and the other in Crotone, in which every vessel that dropped anchor was subject to an excise duty for anchorage and mooring[8]. Furthermore, there were excise duties for construction, paid by those who took merchandise on board and lantern charges. In the 17th century, the port of Crotone, with the presence of the warships that observed the movements of the Turks, was an important military port, more so than for the grain trade.

There were Sicilian, French, Florentine and Genovese merchants in the town but these ultimately diminished in respect to the past to allow space for the Dutch competition. Only the grain trade remained alive and in the second half of the century, many ships left the port for other Calabrian locations or locations in the Kingdom due to the numerous excise charges. In 1639, 7,920 tons of cereal left for Genova, in 1654, a concession was made to the city of Reggio Calabria to import 2,684 tons of grain.

In 1658, another royal decree for the cutting of timber destined for the reconstruction of the port and to pay those who carried out the labour came into act.

At the end of the century, the town of Crotone, described as the centre of maritime trade, was very active especially for the transport of grain to almost all of Calabria, not having a secure port but just a harbour where the operations of loading and offloading were done in winter, when the storms were big and frequent.

At the same time as the dock construction, work went on to eliminate the low sea-beds and from two plans from 1765, one drawn up by the engineer Gennaro Tirone on the already existing port, where there is a sandbank which blocks the mouth during a north wind like a rig, thought of ten years previously by the military engineer Giuseppe Laurentis to impede sedimentation but did not come about due to all the extensions planned. Sedimentation was an immediate effect of the “collision between the murky billows of Punto Alice and the movement of the ebbing sea from Capo Colonna”[9].

To resolve this problem there came about firstly, a lengthening of the rigging up to the jetty, mediating an angular diversion from its original direction and then two new rock rigs from the beach, towards Capo Colonna: one a little distance from the entrance and the other with 150 reeds.

However, these works still did not resolve the problem, due to the position of the port and in 1777 its docking capacity was equal to a considerable number of merchant ships, but none surpassing the tonnage of a Cutter[10].

Despite the town being situated on the coast, fresh fish was scarce and, due to the absence of a local fleet as the inhabitants were inclined to doing other activities, the entire question of fishing was satisfied by only foreign fishermen such as the Pugliese who came to operate in the seas surrounding the town.

With the new reconstruction of the port, started in the second half of the 18th century, there still worked, in 1778, almost 400 convicts and a battalion of soldiers, whose hard labour was also used to transport material for the foundation of the quarry of the temple of Capo Colonna. The new reconstruction however, did not resolve all the problems that afflicted the town, linked, in part, to the transformation of the traffic and in another, to new marine innovations. From 1782 to 1786 in fact, the income of the port was 10,450 ducati, while keeping it functional cost 14,000 ducati (a sum destined to grow over time) and for this reason in 1796, someone proposed the construction of a new port, in a new location.

In 1797, Colonel Piscitelli (a hydraulics Captain) was sent to Crotone to try and find a remedy, but due to the military actions of 1799, he was unable to resolve anything[11].

During the French period (1806-1815), the port was made up of:

a cliff of Fabbrica; a casting cliff;

a casting cliff of tramontana; a quay;

a ship-wrecked Cutter;

a cliff on which a fort and a lantern will have to be built.

A new attempt was made in 1811 when it was decided to eliminate the two existing jetties and to build a new one further from the entrance using the hull from an old ship as its foundation, but strong seas destroyed it whereas the two existing ones remained where they were.

In 1817, the port of Crotone was 3rd class and remained in a state of abandon for many years and nothing came of the attempts made by the Hydraulic Lieutenant Domenico Cerviati in 1830, or the water and road engineer D. Federico Bausan in 1832 to revive the Crotonese docking point.

In 1859, near to the port, which by now had become a beach, the “Marina” district started to form in which 63 inhabitants lived, and seven years later, it was officially assigned to a boatswain, who took over from the Captain who was sent elsewhere. At that time, the maritime traffic consisted of 26 sailboats and 246 sail and steam ships but the new historical events linked to the colonisation of the African continent pushed the Italian government, in 1866, who had in the meantime been carrying out dredging, to raise the port of Crotone to a second class level, it therefore being acknowledged again from a political-military point of view[12].

The dispute between the Picci and Salvati Projects: The Origins of the New Port

In 1869, with the opening of the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean was again at the centre of maritime traffic and Crotone found itself again thrown into the basin of the western seas and the coasts of the nearby orient. It was in these years that the steam ships and big vessels imposed themselves on the traditional sailing ships consequently forcing the State to completely restructure their ports, especially those in the south. For that reason, in 1872, the Ministry of Public Works, planned the definitive system of the Crotonese port, and two proposals immediately came about:

  • abandon the South Port and the creation of a new lagoon with its entrance on the north side (the Picci project, estimated cost 3 million Italian Lire);
  • the reorganisation and enlargement of the existing South Port (the Salvati project, estimated cost 6.5 million Italian Lire).

The central commission for the port, from meetings held on 2 May 1878 and 7 December 1879, declared that they were all in favour of the creation of a new port with the entrance on the north side, rejecting therefore the Salvati project proposed on the 20 May 1873 despite the protests from the seafaring population and the Chamber of Commerce of Catanzaro.

In contrast to the actual structural configuration of the New Port drawn up by Picci, it was in fact the civil engineer L. Salvati from Catanzaro who finalised the project with the entrance on the south side to facilitate the entry and exit of ships but above all to avoid the probable sedimentation coming from the Esaro and Neto rivers.

On the 2nd July 1883 the construction tender came out but nobody took it up as the engineering companies and groups, not finding the offer convenient (it was too low) preferred not to participate. After the proposal of the 31st July 1882 and the executive directive of the 15th January 1883, the work was finally assigned on the 6th August 1885 to be finished within 5 years, to a Neapolitan company, the Fiacca Company, ignoring more serious and plausible offers. The building company did in fact, almost immediately show themselves to be ill prepared to carry out the project but also to be a source of long and damaging controversy[13].

On the 14th January 1888, during the reinforcement of the dam, the Chamber of Commerce, after an investigation and an accurate study carried out by the engineer Pecorini Manzoni, newly addressed the location of the entrance which was contrary to the project drawn up by Picci. From the minutes of the 16th December 1886 taken during the ordinary meeting in 2rd convocation, in which 8 maritime captains with lengthy experience were questioned, and the following is what was said regarding the building of the New Port:

“the water overloaded with clay and sand, not having an exit, builds up in the port in a very short time and overfills. If, instead, we take the port on the south side taking into account the surrounding geological terrain conditions and the absence of a river on that side, it guarantees the danger of sedimentation. The sedimentation in the old port of Crotone, having the entrance on the south side, is not the effect of the earth deposits of the surrounding terrain, but rather comes from the storms, which transport the murky water from the Neto and Esaro rivers, throwing it into the old port overflowing the north side defence walls, which have many holes due to lack of maintenance and is unable to sufficiently protect the port defence on that side”[14].

Unfortunately, the vote was not reached and, with the construction of the entrance made on the north side, the inconveniences that were feared of, started to manifest themselves. Successive protests following the approval of the Regulatory Plan of the Port of the 20th December 1906 and the drawing up of a new project of the 27th December 1911, did little to sustain the Salvati project. In fact a Commission, nominated by the Ministry for Public Works in a report from the 30th August 1912, the inspectors Rossi and Inglese concluded:

“difficulties for ships entering and exiting during storms occur in both ports with the difference that, the sedimentation in the New Port comes from the Pignatoro, Esaro and Neto rivers, whereas that of the old port with clay and sand comes from the erosion of the headland at Capo Colonna, this second case coming from a natural process makes it much harder to repair”[15].

The situation of the two ports, as described by the inspectors, actually results as being far from the truth as this sedimentation occurring in the New Port, 11 years after its construction, in respect to the old port, originated from a report made by the Chamber of Commerce in 1888.

Over the next few years and following the interests of the Public Works Office of Calabria, notable sums of money were spent on the construction of a jetty on the inside of the New Port, today known as the “Molo Giunti”, but not resolving the problem of sedimentation so as to definitively offer ships entering and exiting the port with the necessary safety to carry out their commercial operations.

There then came about many proposals for the resolution and consolidation of this. The idea, for example, to link the Giunta jetty to the breakwater jetty providing new access to the lagoon in the south port (by cutting through the dam which divided the two ports) but this was immediately rejected as it was impossible from various points of view, such as the diverse depths of the sea-beds of the two lagoons, (9mt. in the north port against 5mt in the south port), the diverse nature of the sea-beds which were not suitable for the excavation and the enormous difficulty of cutting through the dam itself.

It was still thought that the entrance to the New Port could be defended by a breakwater dam, so as to create a calm water zone and therefore to permit the entry of ships and impeding, in part, the accumulation of sediment coming from the rivers.

The south port instead, continued to carry out important functions for the sea traffic both in its role carried out from the hills that had originally constituted it, but also what it still does today, which is create a strong barrier against the strong winds and also, contrary to the fears put forward by the Salvati project, which worried the Commission, had a limited amount of sedimentation in respect to the New Port.

The port between the two World Wars

In 1913, the total traffic, between loaded and offloaded merchandise was a little less than 33,000 tons, destined in any case, to undergo a considerable drop during wartime. During World War I in fact, the Crotonese dock accommodated the Navy and in 1923, 5 years after the end of the war, the traffic was a little less than half of that in 1913 with a drop of around 53%.

Those were the years in which the National Economy, as with many other countries in the world, after a brief but intense war, were trying to revive themselves aiming at mainly the commercial traffic of maritime transport as it proved to be the cheapest regarding long distance.

Growth was quick in coming and by 1925, the port had registered a movement of merchandise equal to 27,753 tons. It was the beginning of a development destined to last for another three lustrum (15 years) at least.

In the years coming up to the Second World War, the movement of merchandise, in steady progression, reached figures equal to those of the other major ports of the south moving by 1928, a little more than 105,000 tons of merchandise with a growth of over 117% in respect to the previous year. In only 3 years, the port of Crotone managed to quadruplicate its dock activity up to registering in 1932, traffic of over 252,000 tons.

The data refers to the movement of merchandise in the port of Crotone, despite the remarkable shortages, and was higher than that of the the ports of Salerno, Civitavecchia, Taranto, Brindisi, Siracusa, Trapani and Olbia also regarding the movement of departing merchandise[16]The reason for the more proportional increment in activity from the previous 5 years, with respect to that of between 1925 and 1927 can be attributed to the appearance of the first industrial plants (in 1926), and to the reprisal of work to modernise and strengthen the New Port (in 1929)[17].

The restructuring project demanded huge sums of money and a valid guarantee that could legitimize such a huge investment within such a small area, which was in principle that which had convinced the ancient Acheans to colonise this place: its location.

Crotone, in fact, being an agricultural centre of excellence known as “the Granary Mill of Calabria”, extended from the Nicà river, on the natural borders of the Province of Cosenza, inclusive of the low Neto Valley up until Catanzaro Marina, occupying a geographical position favourable for the development of the entire region. It constituted the easiest way through the Sila mountain range and along a railway line running halfway between Reggio Di Calabria and Taranto, and during that time it was a the location of serious industrial growth. It was during this period that the port transformed itself from a commercial dock, exporting agricultural goods, to an industrial port.

A testimony to this growth were the statistics regarding the total traffic that the port recorded annually. The yearly average for merchandise going through the port of Crotone from 1925-1932 was 113,379 tons with a constant growth of up to 34.17%. Based on the statistics for industrial work, which saw 90,000 tons more in respect to 1932 and from an increase in local trade and from the surrounding area, it is possible to link the at the time traffic to over 300,000 tons of merchandise[18].

The remarkable shortages of the port, such as those relative to the railway links, seen as the only installation capable of limiting the costs of loading and offloading, did not impede the Crotonese dock from competing with the other ports of the south. Crotone actually followed Bari and Messina, matched Trapani and superceded Siracusa and Brindisi.

In 1933, there arose the need to constitute a unique governing body for the management and maintenance of the port equipment and to regulate its usage.

The industries present at that time, Meridionale Ammonia and Società Esercizio Stabilimenti Industriali, together with the Val Di Neto railway service, established for their own needs, a loading and offloading company.

There was however, a more general governing body such as those already existing in other ports, for example in Messina and Salerno, where the vessels were respectively managed by the Maritime section of the Economic Provincial Council and by the Workers Company. The Consortium for the management of working vessels, which should have been formed in Crotone, would have served to strengthen the port, being able to from one side, carry out small maintenance work, and from the other, facilitate the traffic for the ships, the industries and trade in general.

In those same years, with the drafting of a new Regulatory Plan for the port came about to strengthen the breakwater jetty, build new docking points along the port jetty, deepen the lagoon in the north port jetty and bring the depth down to 9 metres. The work carried out in 1934 remained incomplete due to the Second World War.

The devastating sea storm of 1940 along with the numerous air to sea strikes which Crotone was subjected to during WWII caused notable damage to the port, which right at that time, recorded the absolute record for total movement of merchandise[19].

Gli effetti devastanti del secondo conflitto mondiale del XX secolo, furono avvertiti per prima dal trasporto marittimo e, così come accadde per il primo dopoguerra, nel 1945 il traffico merci nel porto ebbe una diminuzione poco più del 55%, un decremento maggiore rispetto a quello registratosi vent’anni prima. Dal 1939 al 1945, infatti, le tonnellate complessive passarono da 403.621 a 180.467.

Fortunately for the Crotonese economy, the only reason given for such a drop was the war, as in the following years, its port returned to its former state, retaking the road towards development and by 1954, almost 10 years after the end of the war, the last update regarding recorded movement of merchandise in a year was near to 302,000 tons.

The Port After the Second World War

The Chamber of Commerce of Catanzaro, on behalf of the Provincial Statistics Office, in June of 1955, published a report regarding the port of Crotone and that of Vibo Valentia in which it stated the need to insert into the general programme of economic growth the reorganisation of these ports. Crotone because it was destined to become one of the main Mediterranean ports, and Vibo Valentia because it was the only port on the Tirrenean coastline.

The report, which summarised the at the time actual situation of the two most important ports for Catanzaro, attempted to attract the attention of the pertinent members of government and anybody involved in public administration regarding the urgent adjustment of the ports through the bringing about the plans destined for them.

The projects, regarding the extension of the foraneo jetty of the Crotonese port (necessary to avoid the backwash which placed the docked ships in danger), and approved on the 28 September 1933 by the Commission set up at the Ministry of Public Works and by the Merchant Mariners for Transport and Telecommunications, by 1955, were still not financed.

In those same years the New Port, with a total surface water of around 200,000 square metres was constituted by:

the Foraneo jetty measuring 880m in length and 20m in width complete with docks;

the Giunti Quay subdivided into three parts having the following dimensions 40m x 70m; 125m x 70m and 125m x 40m.

The docks, along which ran railway lines of the Val di Neto railway service (exclusively used by the industrial plants) and the Mediterranea Calabro-Lucana (coming from Policastro and serving the traffic from the agricultural zone), allowed two juxtapositions. Both jetties were respectively equipped with an electric crane, one with the capacity for 5 tons and the other for 7 tons which were nevertheless insufficient for the needs of very complicated manouvers.

The port possessed furthermore, three hydrants, four private warehouses, four covered areas with a total surface area of 13,380 square metres capable of containing 50,000 tons of merchandise and a privately built dock exclusively used for boat repairs.

The seabeds, 7m and 9m (modern scales require a seabed depth of at least 9.5m on average) were slanted towards the eastern dock reaching depths in some parts of only 3 metres.

The Old Port, having a water surface of 67,000 square metres, has a foraneo jetty of 480m in length and 40m in width. Inside there were two docks, the western dock of 170m x 25m and the northern dock of 86m x 25m doted with railway lines and a stone jetty of 75m x 22m, adapt for lateral docking. The sea-beds were extremely low going from 4m at the entrance to 1m towards the land.

The commercial and industrial hinterland of Crotone was characterised by a variety of merchandise, usually raw materials and semi-finished products for importation and exportation.

Regarding the flow of trade, from the port was transited:

Iron ore minerals coming from South America and phosphates from central Africa, destined for the chemical company Montecatini, located to the north of the port;

Zinc, copper and other non.precious metals destined for the Pertusola plant located in the same place just north of Montecatini;

Sulphur coming from Sicily which went to both plants; Cement destined for the zones of Crotone and Cosenza;

Grain of every type for the production of flour and animal fodder.

Regarding exports, the flow of merchandise consisted of:

fertilizer chemicals, nitrose, ammonia, commercial sulphuric acid and potassium produced by the Montecatini plant destined for both Italy and abroad (North America, France, Germany and Belgium); Zinc, copper, copper sulphate and commercial sulphuric acid produced by the Pertusola plant and destined for both Italy and abroad (mainly France); Timber from the Sila forest exported abroad mainly to England and India.

Over the last few years, the flow of alimentary products has induced the Cruiseship Company “Tirrenia” to include Crotone as a stop off point on its route 33, testimony that with the hinterland, the port has gained a notable increase both in the relationship between agricultural, industrial and commercial development as well as a notable maritime economy in respect to that of the terrestrial.

Any productive increase in any case, was preceded by the realisation of works to strengthen and adapt, so that the concessions provided by the appropriate Ministry, made it compulsory for the Tirrenea ships on route 33 to stop off. All of this permitted the port to take advantage of its geographical position, for which it boasts, and finally constitute itself as a first class maritime centre firstly for Italy and successively for the far east.

Dopo la crisi degli anni ‘80, quella curva non è più salita further

During the years of the Italian “Economic boom”, thanks to the insertion of the chemical, metallurgic and energy industries, Crotone, distancing itself from the Calabrian situation, gained important advantages regarding standard of living and social-economic growth. The city appeared to be rich, modern, a sort of industrial centre of the North until starting from the beginning of the 70’s, the national and international chemical sector crisis manifested itself locally under the form of an “investment strike”, therefore bringing about the gradual abandonment of the strengthening and renovation prospects of the existing plants, which still today lie obsolete.

The crisis hit the National ports around the 80’s, obviously not leaving out Crotone, and was also aggravated by changes made within the industrial plants present at the time. The decision made by the Montecatini plant to replace the importing of phosphates with phosphorous acid, originally produced by that same company and the contemporary crises of the Montedison and Pertusola plants are the reasons behind the anticipated decline of the port of Crotone.

These characteristic local companies were financially hit hard by the crisis regarding investment in the port companies of Italy and the sharp drop in maritime traffic in every port in the country. The second petrol crisis of 1979, generated from the same causes as the one at the beginning of 1973, frightened the maritime traffic of crude oil and it is worth saying that the political and military tensions with the middle east, causing the price of petrol to rise, created a sharp drop in the demand for crude oil and the tankers transporting it[20]. The first crisis served to stop the growth of world trade via sea-lines which, having started in the 60’s with 930ml of tons of merchandise moved, saw a growth of around 250% in ten years. The second crisis instead, 6 years afterwards, generated a less notable damage than the first, but certainly not irrelevant for the world port activity from the moment of the historic peak in 1980 of 3,714ml of tons, the maritime trade recorded a drop of almost 17%[21].

The result of all this was the notable redundancy which the Italian ports showed with the cost of almost 90 billion lire, and it is worth stating that the national funds regarding the works of ports show this in their annual turnover reports at the end of 1982. In March of the following year the Ministry of Marine Merchants decided therefore, to intervene with appropriate laws asking for 20 billion lire immediately, a loan of 60 billion lire and early retirement for 5000 dock workers[22].

The main problem, caused by the lethargy of the Italian ports in respect to their European competitors, was down to the elevated number of dock workers, who by creating a “vicious circle” regarding port tariffs, needed to pay their salaries and the consequential decrease in port traffic rendered the Italian ports inefficient from a functional point of view. The operators in the sector in fact, favoured the Northern European ports, even though they were not dealing with eastern trade. Those of Italy instead, lost competitiveness due to the lack an adequate infrastructure.

On the 2 February, 1984, around a year later, the aforementioned laws regarding the National funds still weren’t passed due to the closing of the legislature, aggravating an already unfavourable situation for the Italian ports.

[ ] the reduction of traffic in the port of Crotone, emphasised the fact that it would not come out of the crisis unless it found other means, that is, other merchandise and other work to substitute the original merchandise which year after year is seeing a drop [ ] [23]

In fact, in 1979, more than a million tons of merchandise was unloaded, transported by 509 ships and loaded on-board around 57,000 tons of merchandise whereas 4 years later, the number of ships had fallen to 365. From this was loaded and unloaded respectively, around 883 and 172 thousand tons of merchandise with a reduction of 15% in respect to 1979.

The main part of the unloaded merchandise was made up of mineral oils and phosphates, destined respectively for the thermo-electric plants of Rossano and the Pertusola and Montecatini plants in Crotone, whereas most of the merchandise loaded on-board, came from these plants.

The data from 1983, does nothing but express and confirm that which has many times been stated in the past regarding the “industry dependency” of the port of Crotone and therefore the absence of a commercial function working alongside that of the industrial, able to compensate for the insufficiency shown by the industrial sector at that time[24].

Coal was obviously not ignored, when someone wrote that new merchandise was necessary for the port of Crotone, substituting that which had traditionally been traded and this new traffic, acquired by the Crotone port in September 1987, together with exports without doubt served to halt the evident demise which had started 4 years earlier. The purchase of coal was made possible thanks to an agreement between the Crotone port office and three cement plants in Calabria, to which the coal was destined, who foresaw the application of tariffs convenient for the ships docking at Crotone, all doted with automatic off-loading cranes.

The Crotonese port in fact, according to the estimate made up by Agip-Carbone and by Coe-Clerici of Genova, would have silenced any discussion regarding turnover different to for example, the port of Taranto where it was necessary to rely on rubber dinghies to transport all the fuel to its port[25].

[ ] This merchandise arrives in Crotone by sea, and when the contracts are stipulated it could mean the movement of 12 to 15 more ships per year, with a quantity of merchandise just a little less than that which arrives for the Pertusola plant [ ].

In January of 1986, while the Harbourmaster for the port of Crotone was working out the data of merchant traffic for the recently concluded year, the town hall was for the first time, discussing the idea of a “maritime motorway”.

The initiative, coming from the town hall administration, regarded the installation of a line of coastal navigation between the city port and that of Ravenna on behalf of the Adriatic Company “Finmare”, with the use of a “ro-ro” ship. The achievement of the project during the operational stage was in any case linked to the overcoming of the culture, already widespread, of the “padroncino”[26].

It was instead, this type of merchandise that many would have wanted in the Crotonese port rather than the traditional type, as it was maybe the only type able to affront the inevitable closure of the factories which for many years had been the source and wealth of everybody.

The process of the port transformation constituted the starting point in re-launching firstly the Crotonese economy, and then that of the Region with Calabria becoming closer up till then a peripheral Region for the merchants of the Mediterranean basin.

The collective transport was the only form that could bring the costs of transport down and constitute, for local infrastructure, the modernisation and growth of the economy to cover the black hole in the local productive sector, created by the birth of the crisis.

By then the local Mayor Frontera, had understood and believed in the marketing strategies of Giancarlo Gasparon, giving a green light to the Maritime Authority with the application of competitive tariffs, just as many other operators in the sector had done, but due to the fears of D. Lucente, who intervened on behalf of the vehicle transporters left the installation of a navigation line in its study phase[27].

Two years later the Syndicate for the dock workers of Crotone had only 60 employees, 30 less than in 1984, after the passing of the bill to revive the National funds in the sector. The increase in port activity was down to, according to the Company, the increase in its productivity due the application of more competitive tariffs.

The data relative to 1987 in fact, blocked the lengthy decrease in maritime traffic summarised in figures with a drop of almost 30 % from 1979 to 1986 and at the time, revived the Crotonese port, above all for what regarded the loaded merchandise. Affronting the reduction of 30,000 tons of imported goods, justifying the reduction of the transportation of raw materials, it was exports that pushed the port activity to 938 tons of total movement.

Regarding loaded merchandise, the most relevant data was down to the variety of merchandise and copper cement followed what was produced by the Pertusola plant whereas regarding offloaded merchandise, the only exception was represented by cereals, whose increase demonstrates to be the expansion recorded by the industries of fertilizer and animal fodder[28]. È alla fine del 1988 che si ritorna a parlare di “via del mare” quando la Codek (Cooperativa depositi Kroton) propose un progetto d’interporto, approvato già di massima dalla Cee nel quadro dei Pim della Regione Calabria.

The project foresaw the creation of a terminal container, with the relative equipment for the activity of loading, at a total cost of around 6,750 million lire, made up from a public contribution equal to 75% of the total cost, paid for by European funding and Regional development.

Overall, while the port workers dealt with an unusual load for Crotone (some containers destined for the transport of zeolite phosphorous and tpf products from the Crotonese plant Ausidet for the far east), the Company from Trieste, Trpcovick, manager of the relative transport, persuaded, making use of the entry of Ausidet, to create a terminal container and the Town Hall of Crotone entrusted this charge to an engineering company who held the same interests[29].

Unfortunately, the initiative, which would have brought new opportunities to Crotone, was once again plagued by the sediment (the Achilles heel of the Crotonese port) which only permitted the berthing of feeder ships along with the absence of the necessary equipment already available now for some time from the industrial Consortium for the movement of containers. It made it inevitable, in part, for the development of infrastructure (derived from the work of smaller ships) with depths which instead allowed transhipment vessels into the port and also in part, resupplying in short, the docks of the port with every type of movement, also that of containers.

[ ]. The acquisition of new maritime traffic, without the necessary equipment becomes difficult if not in fact useless. The production of the ports is measured by the minimal time the ships take for these operations of loading and offloading, lateness having repercussions on the costs of the materials effecting the selling price of the products, rendering it uncompetitive within the national and international markets [ ][30].

The efforts made all the way through 1987, disappeared when in January 1989, the movement of merchandise in the port relative to the activities carried out was reported. The 40% drop was almost certainly the most negative result in the previous 10 years, essentially due to the reduction of products both for import as well as for export.

However, from the end of the 80’s up to 1992, something positive seemed to change for the port, which regularly continued to carry out its function of indicating the state of the Crotonese economy. In fact it was in this period that the running of port activities followed that of the world trade via seas which, after the shock of the two petrol crises, registered a notable increase which in 1992 surpassed the sum of 4,100ml of tons moved. The percentage of growth in maritime movement between 1981 and 1996 was 51,7%, that is, 5.5% less than the expansion which had interested the world economy in the same years[31].

The running of maritime traffic of the port of Crotone, which constantly grew during this period, made some of the big factories believe that the production recession which had happened over the previous 10 years, had just been an accident, in respect to the growth of movement both coming in as well as going out. It was written at the time:

"Such an increase is not linked to the big factories, it is instead linked to the new entrepreneurial reality essentially connected to local resources"[32].

It refers to the importation of grain and timber which without a doubt saw a relevant growth in 1989 in respect to previous years, but it is also true that that growth was followed by a more notable increase in merchandise loaded on board, close to 114% against the 12% from between 1991 and 1992. 1992 in fact, saw the departure of more than 303,000 tons, a historical record for the New Port which had not recorded, since being built, such a relevant figure for exportation. Once again, the raw materials and the production from the big factories made their importance known through the port of Crotone, dismantling the hopes of those who had faith in the capacity of the port to tolerate, without signs of failure, a brighter future and another disastrous industrial recession.

It was in fact, thanks to the positive data coming from the productive environment of the big factories that the port managed to surpass a million tons of merchandise moved just in 1992.

Legitimizing what has just been said, according to the data relative to the merchandise loaded and offloaded from 1993 a “drop which has its highest peak in the industrial sector” was highlighted[33].

The result of a 40% drop in traffic in respect to the previous year, which revived to the experts in the sector, those days from 1989, the imminent closure of the port came to mind, the only variant being that, from that moment onwards the port of Crotone did not show sustainable development.

[ ]. Certainly one can affirm that the more the port work drops, the more the city falls behind, and it goes without saying that when the work drops to a certain level, the “elimination” of the port will be inevitable, as the costs surpass its use and the equipment cannot operate in a convenient way. Equipment which still today continues to be unused and prey to thieves and vandals and that no-one wants to use anymore because there is no business, the movement of the port having ceased [ ][34]

It was the long agony of the port which, after having ceased with its movement of merchandise of over 500,000 tons for four years, continued to slide towards closure up to the present day, assisted at the same time by the factories, the only source of commercial trade. It seems irrelevant at this point to analyse the import and export trends of the following years for us to understand the reasons for which a crisis, having started in the 80’s, were fatal for Crotone.

From 1994 until 1998, the stationary position of the port activity, not going above the 500,000 tons of loaded and offloaded merchandise, made the experts believe that also in terms of the industrial crisis, that it could not go below that figure. This illusion lasted little more than a year because already in 1999, the movement of merchandise recorded a reduction of 48.4%, coming from essentially all sectors but which above all regarded the drop in liquid to be exported, which had fallen by a surprising 94%.

This way of thinking, distracted the white collar workers, who had done nothing to limit the possible damages happening to the new type of traffic after the realisation of the new structures and making sure that the “sea road” just remained an idea on paper. It had the same sort of initiative as Codek in bringing about a terminal container. In 1988, the installation, carried out by the Adriatic Company, creating a sea line with the port of Ravenna in 1986 and with Venice in 1995 inserting Crotone into a shipping line for ferries (passenger-merchandise) to and from Greece (Ausimar) for what regarded the Mediterranean cruise in that same year[35].

Therefore, in more or less a century, the Crotonese port became the protagonist of the birth and disappearance of three enormous industrial plants: in the after war period, where its existence and minimal level of efficiency was enough to begin a phase of industrialisation, and then at the end of the 80’s, when the industrial activity began a phase of delocalisation.

Today, the thousand year old port finds itself in front of the challenge of post-industrial reorganisation with new open spaces for tourism, ship-building, cruises, large vessels and fishing, but with many problems born from the past (dredging, sedimentation, management and public administration), and with a new Regulatory Plan for the port being drawn up, one hopes this time, that it will give the Crotonese territory the role it deserves in the Mediterranean.

Thanks for this study Domenico Carvelli


[1] La tradizione storica attribuisce il ruolo di fondatore di Crotone all’acheo Myskellos (Miscello) di Rhype (villaggio della montuosa Acaia in Grecia) appartenente ad una nobile famiglia del luogo. Il giovane, recatosi al santuario di Delfi per consultare la Pizia sull’avvenire della sua stirpe, ricevette dall’oracolo le indicazioni sul luogo dove fondare la città, ossia in una bella pianura dall’aria mite e salubre. Durante il suo viaggio, lungo le coste ioniche, Myskellos, attratto dal territorio intorno a Sibari, si fermò con l’intento di fondare lì la sua città, ma fu subito invitato a ripartire e proseguire il suo viaggio verso sud, fino alla foce del fiume Neto, dove poté obbedire all’oracolo e fondare la città di Crotone. Ancor più suggestivo è invece il racconto di Diodoro Suculo (storico vissuto tra il I sec. a.C. e il I sec. d.C.) che scrive della presenza di Eracle in queste zone. L’eroe durante un viaggio di ritorno dall’Iberia con una mandria di buoi, approdò nelle vicinanze di un promontorio denominato Lacinio, dove un ladrone dallo stesso nome razziava in quelle contrade. Costui, una notte, decise di rubare alcuni buoi ad Eracle che accortosi del furto lo assalì. Per sbaglio l’eroe uccise anche Kroton, l’amico presso il quale era ospite e, addolorato per ciò che era successo, gli dedicò uno splendido monumento funebre. Egli inoltre partendo predisse la fondazione di una città che avrebbe tratto il nome da Kroton e che sarebbe divenuta famosa in tutto il mondo. Secondo un’altra leggenda, Crotone sarebbe stata fondata dai guerrieri Achei che, di ritorno dalla guerra di Troia con le donne troiane, come bottino di guerra, sbarcarono nei pressi della foce del fiume Neto. Le donne, in assenza dei guerrieri e desiderose di porre fine alle lunghe persecuzioni, incendiarono le loro navi (proprio dalla parola greca “Néaithos”, che vuol dire “navi incendiate”, deriverebbe il nome del fiume Neto). In seguito a questi eventi, gli uomini furono costretti ad insediarsi nella regione ricca e fertile.

[2] Del santuario (tempio in stile dorico di 48 colonne e consacrato al culto della dea greca Hera), che sorgeva a 6 miglia dalla città sulla spianata del Lacinio, oggi esiste una sola colonna superstite che si trova all’estrema punta di Capo Colonna.

[3] Le numerose anfore ritrovate al largo delle coste crotonesi, da Capo Colonna a Punta Alice, sono una testimonianza di questo vasto movimento commerciale.

[4] Edrisi scrisse il suo testo geografico per incarico del re Ruggero. In seguito la lettura venne allargata per merito di M. Amari e di C. Schiaparelli con la pubblicazione di una traduzione italiana dal titolo: L’Italia descritta nel Libro di Re Ruggero compilato da Edrisi. Successivamente Norman Douglas, nel suo libro Vecchia Calabria, scrive del «vasto porto per l’ancoraggio delle navi». Gustavo Valente, Marina e Porto di Crotone nei secoli XVI-XIX, Imbarchi-Controversie-Naufragi, Vincenzo Ursini Editori, Catanzaro 1989, pp. 7-8.

[5] Ivi, p. 8.

[6] Le merci esportate sono costituite dalla tipica produzione rurale calabrese: legname, salumi e bestiame da macello della Sila e vino, olio, cereali, fichi, zucchero e prodotti armentizi del Marchesato.

[7] Con la scoperta dell’America, 12 ottobre 1492, il Mediterraneo perde la sua, fino ad allora indiscussa, centralità rispetto ai traffici marittimi.

[8] Termine derivato dall’antico latino phalanga che significa “palo”, nel tardo Medioevo era utilizzato per indicare un tributo che si pagava nel Napoletano ai fini di piantare sulla riva del mare o dei fiumi pali ai quali ormeggiare le navi o anche per potersi avvalere di quelli già piantati.

[9] Carmelo G. Severino, Le città nella storia d’Italia – Crotone, Editori Laterza, Bari 1988, p. 63.

[10] Veliero mercantile diffuso nel Mediterraneo sino al secolo XIX a velatura mista disposta su tre alberi (quello di trinchetto a vela latina, quello di maestra e quello di mezzana a vele quadre e, inferiormente con vela latina o vela di randa), dalla fine del secolo XVII portò gli alberi di un sol pezzo senza coffa né crocetta, caratteristica che contraddistingue l’attrezzatura alla “polacca”.

[11] Il 3 febbraio 1799 a Crotone viene proclamata la Repubblica da parte di una società segreta appoggiata dal ceto medio. Il 18 e 19 marzo ci fu la presa della città da parte delle truppe sanfediste del cardinale Ruffo che pongono fine al movimento giacobino. Il 3 aprile il tutto finisce in un bagno di sangue con la fucilazione dei quattro capi riconosciuti del movimento. Ivi, p. 68.

[12] Alla seconda categoria appartenevano tutti i porti che interessavano la sicurezza della navigazione generale con le spese a carico dello Stato. Ivi, p. 85.

[13] «La vicenda si concluderà con una realizzazione parziale dei lavori e un costo per l’erario di oltre 6 milioni, più del doppio rispetto a quanto previsto». Ivi, p. 89.

[14]Camera di commercio Industria e Artigianato di Catanzaro, Deliberazione e relazione tecnica intoro al progetto adottato dal Governo per il porto di Crotone, Catanzaro 1888.

[15] Unione Industriale Fascista della Provincia di Catanzaro, Il Porto di Crotone, Appunti dell’Ing. Ruggero Pugliese, Catanzaro 1933, pp. 8-9.

[16] Il movimento delle merci in partenza era costituito da prodotti esclusivamente locali, non esistendo, in Crotone, alcun commercio di transito.

[17] Nel 1916, grazie ad un decreto, si avvia un importante processo di industrializzazione con l’installazione della centrale elettrica Timpa Grande in Sila. L’energia elettrica, da quest’ultima prodotta, permette successivamente l’insediamento a Crotone di uno stabilimento elettro-metallurgico, la SESI del gruppo Pertusola, per la produzione dello zinco. Nello stesso tempo si colloca, nella medesima area, lo stabilimento chimico della Società Ammonia, del gruppo Montecatini, per la produzione di concimi e fertilizzanti azotati per l’agricoltura.

[18] Una siffatta previsione fu giustificata dal raddoppio degli impianti superfosfati e dalla creazione del reparto nitrato di soda della Meridionale Ammonia, gruppo Montecatini.

[19] Nel 1939, in porto si movimentano 403.621 tonnellate di merci, dato sorprendentemente superiore a quello registrato da tutti i porti meridionali della penisola, ad eccezione di quello di Napoli.

[20] L. Fadda, Cambiamento e valore nell’economia delle Imprese di shipping, Giappichelli Editore, Torino 2000, p. 92.

[21] R. Midoro, Dispense Egit I,  Unige  a.a 2003/2004, p. 3.

[22] A Crotone il prepensionamento riguardò 30 lavoratori sul totale di 120, necessario per portare a 12 la media mensile delle giornate lavorative, sotto, cioè, il limite di produttività che è di 15 giornate. D. Napolitano, I lavoratori portuali senza paga, in «Il Crotonese», IV-9, 1983, pp. 1-2.

[23] D. Napolitano, Appena una nave al giorno in un porto sempre più grande, in «Il Crotonese», V-4, 1984, p.

[24] Per funzione industriale si intende quell’attività di terminale le cui operazioni portuali, svolgendosi al servizio di un complesso industriale situato sulla banchina ovvero in posizione adiacente a quest’ultima, sono inserite nel ciclo produttivo del complesso industriale. U. Marchese, Lineamenti e problemi di economia dei trasporti, Ecig, Genova 1997, cit. def. p. 35.

[25]Il carbone, proveniente dall’Africa e trasportato presso un deposito sito in località Passovecchio (Crotone) gestito dalla società genovese, era destinato ai cementifici di Catanzaro, Vibo Valentia e Castrovillari.

[26] «A fronte di un parco di 400 unità ne rimarrebbe uno di altrettanti semirimorchi, con meno di un centinaio di

trattori». D. Napolitano, Autostrade del mare al servizio dei trasporti, in «Il Crotonese», VII-2, 1986, p. 3.

[27] Ivi, pp. 1,3.

[28] D. Napolitano, Sono aumentati i trasporti via mare, in «Il Crotonese», IX-3, 1988, p. 5.

[29] Città di Crotone, Sistema portuale crotonese, 1989.

[30] D. Napolitano, Verso l’Oriente e Progetto interporto e ritorna la via del mare, in «Il Crotonese», IX-40;41, Crotone 1988, p. 3; p. 5.

[31] R. Minoro, Le strategie degli operatori trasportistici globali, Ecig 1997, pp. 32-33.

[32] D. Napolitano, Tutto il porto in cifre, in «Il Crotonese», XI-3, 1990, p. 5.

[33] D. Napolitano, Il porto cola a picco, in «Il Crotonese», XV-4, 1994, p. 1.

[34] Ivi, p. 7.

[35] L’idea di inserire Crotone in un itinerario crocieristico non era certo una iniziativa nuova per il suo porto, visto che il 18 settembre 1981 approdò la motonave passeggeri, la Regina Mars, in crociera nei luoghi dell’antica civiltà Magno-greca. Ma quella non fu la prima, poiché nel 1976 un’altra motonave passeggeri, l’Itaca, fece rotta, per la prima volta nella storia del porto, su Crotone. Queste, in ogni caso, restarono due occasioni isolate. D. Napolitano, Nave passeggeri a Crotone, in «Il Crotonese», 1981, p. 4.

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