Urban exploration: Codigoro

Ferrara 2857I was in Verona for Marmomacc on Friday and, as usual, I had planned to prolong my stay in the area, only this time my excitement was spoilt by two negative thoughts. This first had to do with a relative's state of health, which kept my mind uneasy as long as I was away from home. The second was the sinking feeling that this edition of Marmomacc would be the last I was attending because of a change of policy at work. I could always console myself thinking I could take a trip to where and when I decided, but somehow this was the end of an era. This tradition of mine dated back to quite a long time ago and it was doomed to end miserably.

After a convenient car-sharing drive, I was dropped at Ferrara train station, a Fascist style building lined with fine natural stones. I walked to the hostel following one of the streets that converge to the castle and spent the rest of the day gadding around the fascinating city. The conformation of the terrain is not Ferrara's strong point. A monotonous flatness characterises not only the town, but the whole stretch of the plain that I had driven across, and I took it as rather boring, coming from a town built at least partly on the hills. But to offset this feeling, there were the buildings of old Ferrara and the history gushing forth from every nook and cranny of the lovely centre. There, the bricks with their warm red colours and versatility of use are the omnipresent structural and decorative material.

However, if Ferrara was the declared conventional destination for my visit, I had a second rather more surprising and stimulating goal. In the aftermath of the photography trip at the former lunatic asylum of Mombello, I had read about the abandoned sugar mill of Codigoro, which promised loads of emotions. Online forum members warned prospective visitors to go in a group because the place was allegedly squatted by tramps and undesirables – and nothing could be more likely.

The local train left me at the station, all around me it was just disquieting flatness. I had located the sugar mill on a map, but its conspicuous bulk was there to welcome me a short way off the railway line. I backtracked out of the village and reached the entrance gate, all overgrown with briars and weeds. A large No trespassing sign had been placed in full view.

I would have to climb over the wall and sneak in, but what about surveillance, anti-intrusion systems, alarms or guard dogs? In particular, a tall pole towered at the far end of the compound, too new and shiny to be the same age as the rest of the decrepit building. Could it be fitted with a CCTV camera? I couldn't possibly pass unnoticed if I crossed the empty yard from the fence to the old mill. The dilapidated mill was standing in front of me, flooded by sunlight, tumbling down in such a fantastical way that the more it became battered the more it acquired fascination. I was dying to get in, but weighing the pros and cons I eventually propended for the reasonable option: stay clear of the risk of being apprehended.

I took a long walk to the back of the compound, and found no other access available – in fact a large irrigation canal practically functioned as moat. I returned to the front and all of a sudden I told myself that if I had come all this way I would be very disappointed with myself for not daring. This decisive thought clicked the resolution. I hung my big bag between the branches of a tree, and climbed the wall.

Ferrara 2831The inside of the ancient Eridania mill was up to my best expectations. A wing of the building was left without roofing and a blue sky could be seen through the metal structure that still existed. A flock of birds were perching on one of the bars, tens of meters overhead. I cautiously walked around the place, cutting my way across the tall weeds that encumbered the floor. I entered a side building and inside I was surprised by the sound of a door that seemed to screech and bang. There was not a breath of wind, probably even no door. I took it as the signal from the invisible occupant of the place that I had seen enough of the mill. After a final quick look round the premises I ambled to the fence and climbed out again. Mission accomplished.