Exploring the Cavour Canal
Typology: Itineraries in the Rice
The rice-growing landscape of Vercelli is marked by a network of canals and extraordinary hydraulic engineering works that carry out to perfection the task assigned to them, that is, to bring the water that allows the cultivation of rice. With this itinerary that crosses the entire Vercelli plain, from the Dora Baltea to the Sesia, you will discover the Cavour Canal and the majestic hydraulic works of the Vercelli irrigation system. An incredible journey through canals, bridges, and monumental buildings along the waterways of the land of rice.
1 The Cavour Canal and the Vercelli irrigation network
Almost 85 km long, the Cavour Canal is a fantastic example of hydraulic engineering works that connect the Po River in Chivasso to the Ticino River in Galliate. Designed by engineer Carlo Noè and strongly wanted by Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, from whom it takes its name, the canal was built entirely by hand by thousands of men in just three years, between 1863 and 1866. This colossal work had and still has the purpose of bringing the necessary irrigation water to grow rice in the plains of Vercelli, Novara, and Lomellina. The Cavour Canal represents, together with other vital canals such as the Naviglio d'Ivrea and the De Pretis Canal, the backbone of an extensive and efficient irrigation network (about 10,000 km of artificial canals) that crosses the entire Vercelli plain and thanks to which it has been possible, over the centuries, to grow rice.
A small town that rises on a steep embankment to the left of the Dora Baltea, Saluggia is known above all for the excellent product cultivated here, its beans, much sought after for the traditional Vercelli "panissa" dish. The village, a point of passage for the pilgrims of the Via Francigena, hosts the ruins of the Castle, in the past an imposing fortification with six towers, and Palazzo Pastoris, now the headquarters of the Town Hall, surrounded by a deep moat. Near the village, one can admire a little jewel of engineering and hydraulic architecture of the nineteenth century, the intake of the Farini canal, an important and short canal built in 1868 to increase the flow of the Cavour canal.
3 Livorno Ferraris
A charming small agricultural village, Livorno Ferraris is known as the birthplace of Galileo Ferraris, an illustrious physicist and engineer of the nineteenth century, inventor of the rotating magnetic field and first electric motor. The charming historical center of the village houses more than nineteen churches. Here do not miss a visit to the majestic parish church of San Lorenzo that also hosts a beautiful organ of the eighteenth century and the Ferraris Civic Museum, dedicated to the scientist and his brother Adamo, Garibaldi's personal physician. Near the village, in addition to the ancient church of S. Maria d'Ysana, the only Templar church in the Vercelli area, there is the De Pretis Canal, an ancient canal of the eighteenth century, one of the first ones that allowed the irrigation of the central area of Vercelli, which has no major waterways.
4 Colombara Estate - Rice-Growing Conservatory
In the middle of Vercelli's rice fields and not far from Livorno Ferraris, the fascinating Colombara Estate hosts the Rice-Growing Conservatory. In the estate, a beautiful example of a farmhouse with an inner courtyard, in addition to the agricultural building and the modern rice mill, there are houses, taverns, stores, and a school. Several areas within the conservatory show the reenactment of the history and life of the rice world, boasting artisan workshops, houses, and the school and the beautiful dormitory of the rice-weeders. This is indeed worth a visit.
Among the major industrial and agricultural centers of the Vercelli area, Santhià has been an important road and commercial junction since ancient times crossed by the Via Francigena, of which it is the 44th stop. The city, where the oldest historical carnival of Piedmont takes place, preserves in the historical center proof of its medieval past, such as the Teodolinda Tower and the crypt of S. Stefano in the parish church of S. Agata. A short distance away from the city center, along the Naviglio d'Ivrea, there is the Experimental Hydrometric Station of Santhià, a beautiful building of the nineteenth century, one-of-a-kind and built to measure the flow and distribution of water of the complex Vercelli irrigation network.
6 Nature Park of the Lame del Sesia
In the Vercelli area, along the right bank of the Sesia River, among the municipalities of Oldenico, Albano Vercellese, and Greggio, one can find the Nature Park of the Lame del Sesia, a protected oasis of 900 hectares established in 1978. The Park's environment is typically fluvial with water pools, water sheets, and woods. It represents an ideal place for the settlement of rich fauna and luxuriant vegetation. The Park includes the islet of Oldenico, one of the most important ornithological oases in Italy and Europe for the presence of a large heronry and other important species of birds. At the headquarters of the park, in Albano Vercellese, in addition to the ornithological museum, several trails help to explore this fascinating natural oasis.
To see: Bridges, Siphons, and the Cavour Canal intake building
The Cavour Canal can be considered an amazing masterpiece not only from an engineering point of view, given the size and the water flow of the canal, but also from an architectural point of view since along the 85 km of the route there are 101 bridges, 210 siphons, and 62 canal-bridges. The most charming points to admire are those where the Cavour Canal crosses a watercourse (river or stream) by means of a canal bridge or a tomb-siphon. Among the most impressive canal bridges are those where the canal crosses the river or stream through a bridge, such as the canal bridge over the Dora Baltea near Saluggia and the canal bridge over the Cervo stream near Formigliana. The syphon-tombs are equally spectacular, that is the points where the canal passes under a river or stream, such as the syphon-tomb on the Elvo stream near Vettignè and the magnificent syphon-tomb of the Sesia River near Greggio. In Chivasso, there is the monumental Cavour Canal Intake Building. The canal intake building is 40 meters long and extends over two floors with 21 lights of three lines of sluice-gates.
How to reach the Cavour Canal
From Vercelli: take the SP 70 provincial road towards Serravalle Sesia. From Crescentino take the SP 37 provincial road towards Saluggia.
From Milan and Turin: Take the E25 highway and exit at the tollbooth of Vercelli Ovest. From the tollbooth exit, take the SP1 "Strada delle Grange" towards Crescentino. From Crescentino take the SP 37 provincial road towards Saluggia.