In many European countries waterways are an important heritage asset. Canals and rivers are a significant part of urban and rural history, essential to expanding commercial networks, flood control strategies, agriculture and industrial development. Inland waterways have bequeathed fascinating artefacts to our built environments, including towpaths, bridges, locks, shipyards, slipways, river ports, warehouses, etc: an architecture that has sustained livelihoods for centuries and, more recently, offers opportunities for leisure and recreation. Canals have also served as sites of artistic inspiration, through literature, painting, poetry and song, and therefore are the focus of a unique heritage, both tangible and intangible. However, whilst the cultural heritage of major rivers and canals is well known and publicly accessible, the heritage of minor rivers and canals is not shared so readily. As a consequence, the contribution of this important hydrological asset to local and regional sustainable development in Europe has been quite limited until now. The EUWATHER project (European Waterways Heritage: Re-evaluating European Minor Rivers and Canals as Cultural Landscapes) aims to promote knowledge and rehabilitation of the cultural heritage of minor waterways and historic canals in Europe. Its objective is to develop new opportunities for eco-tourism and outdoor recreation as a driver for sustainable development. A number of digital itineraries have been co-designed with local communities, commercial stakeholders and the public sector to generate new ways of approaching this heritage. This includes informing policy-makers and entrepreneurs about strategic investments, drawing up an inventory of waterscape assets and enabling better management and planning of waterways networks. Today, with the spread of digital media and affordable smartphones with near-constant internet access and GPS technology, tourism has taken on new forms. Tourists no longer rely solely on human tour guides or books to introduce them to places of cultural and natural heritage, but have turned to web applications, providing them with maps, lists of attractions and descriptions. The availability of reliable online datasets related to cultural and natural heritage, is therefore of pivotal importance. A preliminary dataset devoted to European minor waterways has been made to provide input for tourist applications, but it can also be used for academic research and archival purposes. The creation of an on-line Spatial Data Infrastructure has resulted from the archival and fieldwork research by the academic teams involved in this project. It brings together the tangible and intangible cultural history of waterscape heritage relating to 11 pilot areas at European level. Such a database is easily accessible to private entrepreneurs in river tourism, to public/private institutions devoted to environmental education, to open air and other museums, and to rural tourism networks, particularly those involving hikers and cyclists. A key output of the project is the Waterways Explorer: an on-line platform where all digitized research materials are available, including a Tool Box for practitioners, in order to help local communities and tourist organizations to create their own itineraries along minor rivers and canals. To ensure that the full impact of the project is achieved, a number of Associated Partners have agreed to participate, using their specific expertise to guide and complement the research, as well as providing access to waterscapes. They have also ensured that the full social and economic impacts of the project are distributed across the four partner countries and beyond.


Project partners:

Università Ca’ Foscari, Venice, Italy (Project leader);
University of Brighton, United Kingdom;
Universitat de Girona, Spain;
Leiden University, Netherlands.

Principal investigators:

Francesco Vallerani (Università Ca’ Foscari, Venice, Italy),
Neil Ravenscroft (University of Brighton, United Kingdom),
Anna Ribas Palom (Universitat de Girona, Spain),
Kitty Zijlmans (Universiteit Leiden, Holland),
Henk Scholten (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam).

Research teams:

Francesco Visentin (Università Ca’ Foscari, Venice, Italy);
Paul Gilchrist, Abigail Wincott and Becky Taylor (University of Brighton, United Kingdom);
David Pavon, Dolors Roset, and Sandra Ricart Casadevall (Universitat de Girona, Spain);
Maartje van den Heuvel and Laura Bertens (Universiteit Leiden, Holland);
Mark Opmeer (SPINlab, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam);
Stephen Higham and Lucy Rogers (Canal and Rivers Trust)
Marleen Maarleveld and Jaap Brouwer (Waterrecreatie, Netherlands)

Project management:

Eriberto Eulisse (Civiltà dell’Acqua International Centre)



The UK case study includes the Rochdale and Ashton Canals.
These waterways reflect Greater Manchester’s industrial past and its post-industrial future.
The canals work through an evolving landscape of preserved red brick mills and warehouses and ambitious new architecture for modern urban living. These waterways were vital arteries to British economic power and carried coal and cotton through the world’s first industrial suburb; an area once densely packed with iron foundries, machine works, storage depots and crowded housing. The ghosts of labour haunt the scene and the itineraries help us to make sense of neglected architectural fragments, abandoned subterranean passageways, and the forgotten smells, sounds and atmospheres of the industrial past.

Ashton Canal

An area once densely packed with iron foundries, machine works, storage depots and houses for workers. Pause to consider the histories behind neglected architectural fragments and the forgotten sounds and smells of yesteryear as you pass through Holt Town, Beswick and Bradford.

Rochdale Canal

Discover a forgotten artery of the industrial past as you make your way through a rapidly evolving waterfront landscape of new and preserved buildings. Red brick mills and warehouses line a route that once carried coal and cotton through the world’s first industrial suburb.


The Dutch have a rich history of living with water. In the 17th-century fortified town of Enkhuizen, at the shore of the historical Zuiderzee, the Dutch East India Company and the old herring fishery come alive. Experience also polder landscape, water management and water leisure.
In Broek op Langedijk, islands were created out of muddy water
and exploited for agriculture. Visitors can experience the still functioning vegetable auction on water. Explore the Dutch culture of land reclamation, vegetable growing, dredging and shipbuilding.
Nieuwkoop is not only the area to meet with the history of Dutch peat extraction, lake drainage, reed-cutting and windmills. It was popular place among painters of the Golden Age and an artist colony of the 19th-Century Hague School of Painting.


The Dutch East India Company and the old culture of herring fishery come alive in the seventeenth century fortified town of Enkhuizen. It is situated at the shore of the IJsselmeer; the historical Zuiderzee.
A boat trip to experience also Dutch polder landscape, water management and contemporary water leisure.

Broek op Langedijk

In this area thousand islands were created out of muddy water and exploited for agriculture.
Visitors can experience the still functioning vegetable auction on water where cabbage and potatoes were auctioned, themselves! A visit to the Dutch culture of land reclamation, vegetable growing, shipbuilding and dredging.


Nieuwkoop is not only the area to meet with the history of Dutch peat extraction, lake drainage, windmills, reed-cutting and water management.
It was a popular place among landscape and still life painters of the Golden Age and an artist colony of the 19th-Century Hague School of painting.


The Lower Ter area is located in the province of Girona (Catalonia, Spain). It is an extensive plain, dotted with isolated hills, that expands on both sides of the river Ter until it flows into the Mediterranean Sea. Irrigated crops dominate a characteristic landscape criss-crossed by a complex network of canals. Some of these canals date back from the Middle Ages and several elements of hydraulic heritage are associated with them, like weirs and mills. The selected area includes the most representative canals: the Sentmenat canal and the Ter Vell canal on the left bank of the river; the Mill of Pals canal on the right bank.

Sentmenat Canal

It runs for 19 km on the left bank of the river Ter, from the Colomers weir to its mouth into the sea near the village of l’Escala. Cultural and natural heritage appear side by side along this itinerary running through fields and visiting rural villages like Verges and Bellcaire.

Moli de Pals Canal

The canal runs for 14 km on the right bank of the river Ter, from the Caner weir to its mouth into the sea, on the beach of Pals. It crosses cereal crops, orchards and paddy fields.
The area surrounding Gualta, the mill of Pals and the wetlands known as the Coll ponds confer character to this territory.

Ter Vell Canal

It runs for 8 km on the left bank of the river Ter, from the weir of Ullà until the former mouth of the Ter in the vicinity of l’Estartit. It flanks the town of Torroella de Montgrí, some fortified farmsteads and it reaches the singular environment of the Ter Vell lagoon.


The three pilot areas for the Italian case study include the Battaglia and Bisato canals, the Bacchiglione and Sile rivers. These navigable waterways reflect the varied hydromorphology of the Venice region: natural rivers, semi-natural water courses and artificial canals. Since medieval times, exceptional feats of hydraulic engineering have been carried out: a strategic asset of ‘liquid roads’ to connect the mainland to the Adriatic Sea.
A flourishing water commerce resulted in the building of castles, villas and fortified cities, as well as a unique set of waterscapes. Castles and Palladian villas testify the need to control waterways, whereas a number of Benedictine Courts remind us about the ceaseless efforts of monks to reclaim swampy areas.
Rivers and canals themselves are a coffer of memories of the many boatmen and horsemen who have been active for centuries on the waterways.

Bacchiglione River

The Bacchiglione is a river of strategic access to the Adriatic Sea from Medieval times.
A number of Benedictine Courts testifies the untiring work of monks to reclaim swampy areas. And the river itself is a coffer of memories of the many boatmen and horsemen who have been active for centuries in navigation.

Battaglia Bisato Vigenzone

As from medieval times, exceptional works of hydraulic engineering have been carried out to create a network of navigable canals at the foot of Euganean Hills. Thus, a flourishing water commerce become a magnet to erect castles, noble villas, and fortified cities to create a unique set of waterscapes.


The constant flow of the Sile river favored through centuries the flourishing of different proto-industrial activities along its banks and the fluvial transport. The fertile countryside nearby was the cereal storehouse of Venice, and its surroundings one of the preferred destination for its aristocracy.

Project Partners

Associated Partners