From the sixteenth century forward, the banks of the Arno would welcome “navicellai,” boatmen who rode on vessels called navicelli. At the helm of their boats, they’d carry various goods ranging from food items to wood and bricks. The small navicelli boats had a flat shape with rounded sides and were able to carry loads up to a maximum of 25 tonnes.
In the seventeenth century, these boatmen began to expand their work, focusing on cast net fishing; the conical shape allowed them to collect considerable amounts of fish, which they then sold.
This was a tiring job, one that involved the whole family. But with the sacrifice and initial investment came a pretty guaranteed livelihood.
The exhausting efforts were always rewarded by evening sunsets, the kind that can still be seen today when you’re wandering under the trees along the Arno river – and in Calcinaia, they really have their own special charm.
The navicellai work also
involved transporting sand, clay and lime, all very important materials in this
area, given that the ancient name of Calcinaia was Vico Vitri, which alluded to
the production of glass dishware throughout the territory.
Today you can get a glance at the old-style kilns in the Museum of Ceramics named after Lodovico Coccapani. It holds artifacts found during the reconstruction of the building, and traces the history of Calcinaia. However, it was also once an important center for cereamic production, founded by Coccapani after he had numerous conflicts with the Carthusian monks working in Montecchio.
The connection to the Arno river didn’t end with the work of the navicellai: just consider the Historical Regatta that has been taking place in Calcinaia since 1835, a faceoff between the three districts: La nave, Montecchio and Oltrarno. Each year at the end of May, during celebrations for the patron saint Ubaldesca Taccini, they vie for the coveted victory through their strokes.
And, of course, it’s right along the banks of the Arno that the descendants of the navicellai gather today to support one of the competing districts. They also enjoy a delicious nozza, a traditional cone-shaped sweet eaten during the May festivities.