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The Balena and the Barafonda

There’s a wonderful walk, turning right on the river Marecchia banks just before the new bridge on Via Enrico Colletti (heading out of the city through San Giuliano Mare). Aside from the natural beauty of the Marecchia River banks, with long reeds and sea-birds giving it a wild edge, there’s also an open air art gallery, in the form of a series of murals painted on buildings that back on to the path.

One of these, on the way to Piazza Balena in San Giuliano Mare, captures the mythological moment that still resonates in this part of Rimini, when a whale was washed up on the shore.

The Balena of the Barafonda in Rimini - A mural as part of the lungofiume dei artisti initiative

The story dates back to the 1943, when on the 4th of April a whale was beached in the shallow waters of San Giuliano Mare (known, affectionately, locally as the Barafonda). Various stories appear about the event – including one theory that nervous local military were responsible for dragging the whale up fearing that it was a type of submarine. According, though, to historian Guido Lucchini, the whale was discovered by fisherman Pino Bignardi early in the morning when he went to check his nets. The whale was large – about 12 metres long, 2.7 metres high and weighing up to 6 tons (63 quintals).

Quickly word spread about the beached whale, and the Barafonda – which was still sparsely populated at this point. Crowds started to gather to view the spectacle (and, with true romagnolo spirit, locals set up various paid conveniences like bicycle deposits and guided tours for the curious).

Attempts to move the whale failed – with up to 150 menu and some oxen involved, to little avail. The giant creature resisting their efforts.

The story ended sadly – these were different, less kind or environmentally conscious times, and in war-time to boot. The whale was shot, with its carcass sold to local soap-maker Malatesta (though its reported that, in war-time scarcity, plenty of local women managed to sneak away their own portion of blubber for soap production).

Another art work commemorating the event is the Whale foutain in Piazza Balena (Balena is Whale in Italian)


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