In the 1700s, there were only very few Italian States that did not ask Leonardo Ximenes’s “advice on hydrometric issues. The Grand Duke of Tuscany entrusted him with reclaiming some of Siena’s swamp lands. The Venetians asked him how they could regulate the Brenta river. The people of Lucca went to him when they wanted to avoid their properties being frequently flooded by the Lago di Bientina. Genoa did not forget him… and even the Pope wanted to hear his advice…”.
This flattering account is taken from an 18th-century booklet, and speaks volumes about Leonardo Ximenes (1716-1786), the great Sicilian astronomer, hydraulic engineer and geographer who was responsible for the reclamation of Grosseto’s swampland in the second half of the 1700s.
Today’s Diaccia Botrona Natural Reserve, between Grosseto and Catiglion della Pescaia, used to be part of the Tuscan marsh that Ximenes drained. Its ancient Lake Preglio is now included in the List of Wetlands of International Importance, and welcomes a large number of water birds during the winter.
A red building stands out in the Diaccia Reserve: “Casa Ximenes” was built by the Taranto-born engineer, and is now the reserve’s Visitor Center.
Ximenes was a Jesuit, and obviously – considering his unflagging activity – lived by the motto of the congregation’s founder, Saint Ignatius of Loyola: “Work as if everything depended on you, pray as if everything depended on God”.