The Museo dell'Agro Pontino (Museum of the Pontine Marshes) was officially opened in 2011 in Pontinia (Piazza J.F. Kennedy). The building, in which the museum is located, was created during the 1950s and initially used as a covered market. Now it can be also labeled as a fine representation of the Rationalist architecture despite of the renovations which have been made on it. The museum is divided in five sections: malaria through legend and reality; the set up before the drainage of the land; the drainage and the colonisation; the war and the postwar period; the malaria nowadays.1
The collection held in the Museum is made up of the greatest evidences of the sanitary struggle against malaria, fought between the 1930s and the 1940s by people who lived in the Pontine Marshes.
In addition to that, in the museum there are some tables and charts that were also exposed in the “Mostra Nazionale della Bonifica” on 22th December 1938 in Rome by the “Comitato Provinciale Antimalarico di Littoria”. They were used in that occasion to show the success of the Fascist Regime in the sanitary field. They were realised by Pietro Antonuccio who was supervised by the provincial physician Gaetano Del Vecchio who also scientifically put them in the same order that can be seen today in the Museum.2
Among the 19th and 20th centuries the malaria affected 63 provinces in Italy: 2 millions hectares remained uncultivated and wild especially the ones in the Ager Romanus and in the Pontine Marshes and that's why the drainage was needed; it poisoned 2 millions people and 15 thousands were killed.3
The first organization dedicated to the scientific study of this illness was the "Società italiana per gli studi della malaria" (1898-1914; 1926-1945) in which Giovanni Battista Grassi, Ettore Marchiafava and Amico Bignami worked and it dealt with the awareness campaign against the disease and the quinin administration. Their researches were based on the previous results made by Alphonse Laveran, who first isolated the plasmodium of the malaria, and they end up understanding that the broadcasting of the disease was caused by the Anopheles claviger, a particular mosquito. The malaria can now be considered officially defeated in Italy due to their work.4
The main and the back entrances to the building
The quinin supply in Pontine Marshes started in 1902 after a law was legally ratified in 1900, thanks to Giovanni Battista Grassi and to the "Società italiana per gli studi della malaria".5
Some antimalarial drugs used in the Pontine Marshes
The quinin was given orally as salt obtained through the reaction between quinin and acids; an examples is the "Bisolfato di chinina" shown in the following picture.
Also used together with the quinin there were arsenic and iron in their chemical compounds.
Some containers of DDT used against mosquitos in Pontine Marshes
Another method to fight malaria was the DDT (dicloro-difenil-tricloroetano) which was used to kill mosquitos but, it was first used in 1943 by Anglo-American troops against lices in Naples. The DDT, once used, lasted on the land for five months.6
Some of the tables and the charts realised by Pietro Antonuccio 7
The following two pictures show the amount of quinin used for treatments and preventiveness in the Pontine Marshes from 1930 to 1938. The decrement seen during the last three years is related to the decline of signs of the previous endemic.
Here there are the dates on the morbidity caused by malaria in the Pontine Marshes. It is not a case that the decline of the sick rate for this illness, from the 82,28% in 1932 to the 0,47% in 1938, is coeval with the drainage of the marsh.
The graphic shows the results of the epidemic campaign in 1937-38, during which 2158 people were examinated and the largest part of them still attended school.
The chart explains the decrease of the mosquitos between 1934 and 1938 both in rural and external ares of the Pontine Marshes.
Through the graphic it can be considered the death rate from 1932 to 1938 and it can be seen how it vanished at the end.
A sample of a bats nest
The bats, feeding on insects, were used to struggle against the mosquitos so some special structures, as shown in the picture, were built in order to allow them to hide in during the day.They can be found in Nettuno, Terracina and San Felice Circeo.
An accurate model of the Anopheles claviger mosquito
Postmarks released by several Postal Services worldwide 8
Considering the malaria global impact, lots of stamps concerning the epidemic were and still are delivered worldwide.
- Photos and main text by Silvia Mantua moc.liamg|autnam.aivlis#| and Elena Onorati moc.liamg|0aneleitarono#| (November 2014)
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- Direzione dei Servizi Antimalarici dell'Agro Pontino - Croce Rossa Italiana (a cura della), Istruzioni Popolari sulla Malaria, Arti Grafiche Medaglia, Roma 1934, pp. 3
- Claudio Galeazzi e Chiara Barbato, La Malaria e la sua Storia - Museo Comunale di Pontinia, Novecento Editoria d'Arte, Latina 2004, pp.79