The Lago di Paola represents an area of outstanding natural beauty and environmental interest, located in the most precious spot of Circeo National Park.
The Lago di Paola is the southernmost of the four Pontine Lakes (Lago di Caprolace, Lago di Fogliano and Lago dei Monaci). It is separated from the Tyrrhenian Sea by a sand dune (about 200 meters wide) and consists of a main body, oriented NW to SE, parallel to the coastline. The lake is 6.7 km long, has an area of 400 ha, a perimeter of 20 km, a volume of 14,000,000 m3 and an average depth of 4.5 m, with peaks of about 11 meters. The Lago di Paola has five inlets, residues of the beds of ancient rivers that flowed in the area.
The water exchange with the coastal marine environment is accomplished through two channels: (i) at the southern mouth of the Torre Paola, primary liaison with the sea, already channeled by the Romans and restored in 1721; and (ii) at the northern mouth (so-called “Caterattino”), excavated during the recent reclamation of the Pontine Marshes (1925-1935).
The Lago di Paola is stocked with fresh water through few channels which collect rainwater, made during the land reclamation, and a few sources, the capacities of which are currently limited due to heavy withdrawal of groundwater for irrigation.
Until 1980, most of the eutrophying substances consisted of the sewage of the City of Sabaudia and of the effluent produced by some farms devoted to livestock activities. Later in 1980, the sewage has been diverted and, after cleaning treatment, discarded in the sea. Currently, only the waters of the lake’s catchment area, partly wooded and partly cultivated, flow in the basin.
The Lago di Paola has been designated as Special Protection Area under the “Birds” Directive 79/409/EEC. With the European Commission decision 2006/613/EC of 14 July 2006, the lake was included in the list of Sites of Community Importance (SCI Zone) for the Mediterranean biogeographical under the “Habitats” Directive 92/43/EEC. In addition, the Lago di Paola is included in the wetlands protected under the International Convention of Ramsar. Since 1977, the lake and the whole Circeo National Park are included in the list of “Biosphere Reserves” prepared by UNESCO. Large areas of the Lake, notably the Roman Channel (Nero’s era) and some areas adjacent to it, are subject to archaeological and hydrogeological constraints.
The first evidence of rustic villas on the lakeshores goes back to Imperial Age (Silla – first century BC.). Roman ruins of the Republican Age, consisting in a circular pond (piscaria paulae), are located below the slopes of Monte Circeo (known as the “Lucullus’ Pool”). In that period, the effluent of the Lago di Paola was not yet fully excavated, and therefore the fishing structure should be fed through pipes that communicated directly with the lake.
The realization of the main channel is inserted in the grand scheme (most likely attributed to Nero), which aims to unite all coastal lakes directly from the port of Ostia to Lake Avernus (between Cuma and Pozzuoli). This project tended to create a navigable route, about 160 miles, fast and secure from all weather-related dangers. It certainly was when the Empire’s capital was moved to Constantinople that the work on completion of this waterway was abandoned, with the decline of the ancient capital, soon victim of the barbarian invasions. With the passing of years, the expansion of the swamps and the progress of malaria caused depopulation and, subsequently, the complete abandonment of the area.
In the fourteenth century, with the purchase by the Caetani family, validated by Pope Boniface VIII, born precisely the Feud of Circeo.
This Feud remained in the availability of the Caetani family until it passed to the Ruspoli family. In 1713, the Pontifical Administration, through the Reverend Apostolic Chamber, redeemed the lake and finally started work on the transformation of the basin in a real fishing valley.
Purchased the availability of the basin (at the time called “Lake of Sorresca”), from mid-700 the Pontifical Administration began works on the model of Comacchio fishing valleys (bought by the Holy See in 1718).
The derivation of Comacchio works is clear in the architecture of the “Fishermen’s Huts” (the “Casone dei Pescatori”), exactly the same – even in size –of the Comacchio’s huts. The first person who rented the fishfarm, Cav. Romualdo Cinti, came precisely from Comacchio.
Subsequently the death of Clementino Battista, the fishfarm is rented to third parties up to about half of the twentieth century, when the Scalfati family reunited the ownership and the management. Scalfati Alfredo Sr. and his son Giulio, in the 50s, also with public funding, restructured the activities. In this phase, the Azienda Vallicola del Lago di Paola (the Scalfati’s company) employed more than fifty families of fishermen.
Since the early ’80s, however, the activities were largely reduced, almost to disappear, mainly due to: (i) pollution caused by discharges of sewage into the Lake Paola, (ii) the depletion of fresh waters, with the resulting increase in the salinity and (iii) the impact of the illegal activities on the lake (intensive presence of motorboats).
Following the decease of Giulio Scalfati, in September 2007, the heirs have reconstituted the Azienda Vallicola del Lago di Paola and have implemented a project of environmental and productive requalification of the Lake Paola, which provides for measures to restore the activities (aquaculture and mussels cultivation) and to develop sustainable tourism activities, restoring the old tradition that links them inextricably to the history of the Pontine territory.
The Lago di Paola has a natural fish production, focused on mullet fish, sea bass, sea bream, eel and sole.
Two different types of fishing are carried out in the Lake of Paola: with fishing nets and with fixed structures (the so-called the “lavoriero”). Of great interest is also the extensive production of clam along the shores of the lake.
The “lavorieri” are fixed fishing tools, placed in the channels which communicate with the sea. These tools exploit the migration of euryhaline species in the lake that periodically tend to return to the sea. The lavoriero in its operation applies the principle of the net. Both channels of communication with the sea are fitted with lavorieri.
The sea mussel farming is practiced intensively in the main body of the lake, between the arms of “Molella” and “Bagnaia”. The cultivation of mussels starts in the months of September-October, with the release of juvenile mussels (Mitilus galloprovincialis), and ends in the months of May-June with the latest sales of commercial product. The summer break of this activity is necessary because of the high temperatures reached by the water of the basin.
Guests may buy fish and sea mussel directly at the fishing plant (close to the Casone dei Pescatori).