Roman shipyard of Stifone (Narni)

Roman shipyard of Stifone (Narni)

The Roman shipyard of Stifone is an archaeological find of Roman origin [The liable of the archaeological heritage of the municipality of Narni, Roberto Nini, has analysed some samples of mortar taken in the area determining the connection with the period. In add, the Roman origin of the site is confirmed from the words left by Tacito regarding the annexed river port ] recently discovered in Umbria, in the municipality of Narni, inside an artificial channel adjacent the Nera River, about 900 metres down-river from the village of Stifone. Its position is just behind the river port of the ancient city of Narnia, of whom some remains are still visible in the river bed.

The shipyard in the local historiography

Before the discover, it’s very indicative to certify how the local historiography had already motioned the ancient presence of a similar structure. The former major of Narni, Rutilio Robusti, have asserted:

« The origin of the word Stifone comes from the Greek and it was used to indicate a place where timber boats and rafts were built to be sent towards Rome » (Rutilio Robusti, "Narni, guida della città e dintorni", 1924)

That contribute has been taken up by other authors, as Italo Ciaurro [Ciaurro I., "La visita di Benito Mussolini a Terni", 1932] and Guerriero Bolli, both of them have motioned the origin of the toponym, with the second who talks about a "shipyard of Stifone" although he was thinking at the Byzantine period. [ Bolli G., "Narni, da Odoacre agli Ottoni", 1992 ] Without the support of the evidences, the story of an ancient shipyard has remained not very investigated, so it wasn’t possible to elaborate a cognitive frame beyond the simple quotes. Following the logic and the Robusti’s contribution, it has been normal thinking about a site fitted for the construction of river rafts designed for the transport of people and goods. Once the discover has come to the light, the frame has left open other interpretations, of whom suggestive that one which doesn’t exclude a connection with the events of the Punic Wars. [ More details at the voices bibliography and external links] This due to the significant dimensions of the structure and the human efforts perceivable behind its realization. For this reason, the volunteers who are trying to improve the knowledge of the area have hoped for more attention from archaeologists and public administrations. Being an evidence without similar corresponding on the territory, its importance risks to be underestimated if the exact dating will not be determined.

The ancient navigability of the Nera River

The ancient navigability of the Nera River, as a natural way to send farm produce towards Rome, following the Tiber River in Orte, is confirmed by the classic authors Strabo ["Geographia", Book V, 2, 10.] and Tacitus. The Greek geographer refers about "not big boats"; the Latin historian instead describes in detail the journey of the consul Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso and his wife Plancina who, in the 19, returning to Rome from the provinces of Siria, decided to leave the Via Flaminia and taking a ship at Narni.

« Starting from Narni, to avoid suspects or because who fears is uncertain in his plans, he followed the waterway of Nera River and then of Tiber. So he increased the popular grudge because, once landed with the ship at Cesari’s grave, in broad daylight and with riverside full of people, they advanced cheerful in face, him among a crowd of clients and Plancina with her following of women» (Tacitus, "Annales", Book III, 9)

However, the navigability of the Nera River is related only with the last part of its waterway, included between Stifone and the confluence of Nera with the Tiber. The narrow gorges below Narni, in fact, make this practice impossible.

The position of the river port and its rediscovery

The geographical coordinates of the ancient river port of Narni were revealed in the XVI century by the Jesuit Fulvio Cardoli, who saw in person its traces. Below his contribute: «About one thousand steps beyond Taizzano, there was time once a port along the Nera River, as demonstrated by some traces» (F. Cardoli, "Ex notis Fulvij Carduli S.J. presbyteri Narniensis de Civitatis Narniae, Origine et antiquatibus"). [In Giovanni Eroli, "Miscellanea Storica Narnese", vol. II, 1862.]

The river port was found in the same position in the year 1879, when an informer of the marquis Giovanni Eroli noticed the remains of two big pilasters used to fasten the boats. [G. Eroli, "Osservazioni sopra la lettera del Sig. Ettore Sconocchia intitolata il Navale dei Ternani del Nera", 1879.]

In the following contributes there wasn’t anymore mention about its precise location. So, with the construction of some dams up stream, and the consequent rise of the river level, the port was tacitly believed as submerged. The remains of it, unlike of the common believing, were however in the same place described by the Jesuit, although hidden among the bushy vegetation. Only in the year 1992 the port returned again to be quoted by the local historiography, when the archaeologist Roberto Nini wrote some reflections more pertaining to the story and the territor. ["Appunti sul territorio narnese", in Archeologia, Gruppo Archeologico Guardese, n. 18, 1992.] Some years later, the river port was visited by the superintended for the regional archaeological heritage, Daniela Monacchi, ["Iscrizione funeraria dal territorio di Narni", in Epigraphica, Periodico Internazionale di Epigrafia, Vol. LVIII, 1996.] but it’s strange to notice like nobody had realized the close presence of an ancient shipyard, also because of some stagnant water which obstructs the passage, this since the époque of the Jesuit who mentioned the difficulties for a comfortable exploration of the area.

The finding of the shipyard

Meanwhile, someone had decided to patrol the channel which hosts the remains of the shipyard, in particular a group of people from the close village of Nera Montoro who knew the old popular story regarding the presence of a similar structure. After perceiving its destination, they tried to reconstruct the hypothetical functioning with the help of a local artist who has produced some sketches, but despite its importance, the discovery has remained without any development. This till the beginning of the new century, when a young free-lance journalist, Christian Armadori, taken to the place by the entrant archaeologist Claudio Maturi with the prospect of an article, has been stunned by the find insomuch as undertaking an appropriate research. Then, in the year 2006, a group of volunteers has established the cultural association "Porto di Narni Approdo d'Europa" with the aim to put the archaeological site under the attention of the local government, and few time later also the major of Narni, Stefano Bigaroni, has gone to the area in order to check the plausibility of the discovery.

The non usability of the archaeological area

The remains of the shipyard, despite the pleas, are at the moment completely abandoned, with vegetation and stagnant waters to put its partial integrity under the risk of further damages. The area, subjected to the possibility of sudden floods due to the presence of dams located upstream, is under the management of the multinational energetic Endesa Italia, so nobody can get there for guided visits without particular authorizations. In add, the original destination of it has been strongly twisted in the medieval époque, this for the installation of several watermills.

Present state of the studies

At the moment the studies carried out by the free-lance journalist Christian Armadori, with the support of the other volunteers involved in the cultural association as Sara Uffreduzzi and Vittorio Budassi, are still in wait to be published. Despite having obtained the interest of a prestigious editor who manages archaeological subjects, with the endorsement of some experts of the University of Perugia arrived to the place to evaluate the credibility of the hypothesis, they didn’t find yet the essential economic resources for the publication. However, all the information above can be found out from the bibliography and external links listed below.


* "Endesa Italia Magazine", July 2007
* Giuseppe Fortunati, "Narni e Narnia", Heos Editrice, 2006
* Alvaro Caponi, "I segreti del porto etrusco e il cantiere navale di Narnia : ritrovamenti unici al mondo : Villa Pompeia Celerina", Ricerca obiettivo, 2006.
* Corriere dell'Umbria, 27 November 2005.
* Il Messaggero Umbria edition, 25 February 2006

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