It was first mentioned as Rodigo in 838, then as Rudi and Ruuigo. The name comes from the Germanic first name Hrodico. According to scholars of the past, it came from the Greek rhodon, “rose”. This gave Rovigo its traditional nickname, “City of roses”. Very few archaeological remains have made it to the present day, but the area was certainly visited by ancient Venets and later by the Romans. The first reliable historical document is from April 24th 838, when Rovigo was described in Latin as villa que nuncupatur Rodigo, “hamlet known as Rovigo”. In 920 the bishop of Adria, Paolo Cattaneo, had a fortress built in this village. He used it to temporarily move the bishopric to a place safe from the Hungarian invasions. The first fortress was finished in 954.
The House of Este was already preset in Rovigo in 1117. Presumably, they promoted the expansion of the 12th century fortress. At the time Rovigo was already spread on both sides of the Adigetto Canal, which was a full-sized river at the time. The castle’s keep was known as Donà tower. It was 66 meters tall and it’s one of the tallest medieval towers in Italy – definitely the oldest masonry tower of its time. The rule of the House of Este over Rovigo was mad official by Emperor Henry VI of the Holy Roman Empire in 1194. Azzo VI was named count. Excluding some brief interruptions, Rovigo remained under Este for almost three centuries. The 15th century was a time of hardship for Rovigo and all of Polesine. It was fought over by the Venetian Republic, which was expanding in the mainland around that time. In 1482, during the Salt War, the Venetians captured Rovigo. Aside from when it was captured by the Cambrai League (1508 – 1511) the city remained under Venice for about three centuries. To leave a mark of the Republic, the civic tower was built in piazza Maggiore (currently known as Vittorio Emanuele II square). The bell which had been used in the castle’s keep was moved to the civic tower. In 1519 the pillar with the Lion of St. Mark was built.
At the end of the 16th century the Venetian Republic celebrated its rule with the temple of the Holy Virgin of Rescue, as designed by Francesco Zamberlan of Bassano. It’s also known as Rotonda. Its interior is decorated with valuable artwork with allegoric messages. The paintings depict the Venetian mayors that ruled Rovigo until the 1660s. In the 18th century the Cathedral was expanded, and the façade was left unfinished. Private construction companies built small masterpieces such as Roncale palace and Angeli palace. In this time the St. Bortolo district began to take on its new identity as a suburb. Rovigo maintained its pentagonal plan. It was surrounded by walls and crossed by the Adigetto (which in lost its importance in the following centuries). In the early 19th century, after the fall of the Venetian Republic and with the French rule, Rovigo witnessed a new social and cultural impulse towards growth and development. In Piazza Maggiore a prestigious headquarters for the Academy of Concordi was finally found. The historic church of St. Justina was demolished. A minor square took its place, and was dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi. During the Austrian rule the Social Theater and the stock exchange were built to face this square. Four of the six doors to enter the city were demolished, in an attempt to promote the city’s growth outside the walls built the House of Este.
The economy was mainly based on agriculture and animal breeding. The horses of Polesine breed became famous throughout Europe as the best horse breed to pull carriages. The annexation to the Kingdom of Italy pushed the city to develop further. In 1866 the city was positively affected by the construction of the Padua-Rovigo railway line, which was promptly extended to Ferrara. In 1927 the municipal territory was expanded, engulfing the previously independent lands of Boara Polesine; Buso Sarzano; Sant’Apollinaire con Selva; Borsea; Grignano di Polesine; Concadirame. The institution of the Commenda district and the new health center encouraged the city’s northward development. In the southeast, Tassina became a suburb of the town. In 1938 the Adigetto’s course was diverted westward. By then it had become a small river of minor importance. The project was to build a grand celebratory road in fascist style in its place. It was actualized only partially, as the work was interrupted by World War II. Some of the noteworthy buildings were the imposing post office and the INA building. The castle was turned into a public park after the war. The two towers, what remained of the citadel, became a symbol of the city. With the 1950s and 1960s, Rovigo witnessed remarkable growth, both as a traditional agricultural market, and as an industrial center. This was made possible by the annexation of economically depressed areas to Polesine. The new San Pio X district and parish were instituted with the city’s westward expansion. The Commenda church was built and the district grew eastward. In the southeast, between the city and the Borsea hamlet, an industrial area has developed. It communicates with the newly built Canalbainco port. With the 1980s the recovery of the city’s urban and architectural heritage began. The new hospital in the east and the business area in the north were developed very recently. The northern business district also features the Fair grounds and the University headquarters. In these years the urban recovery of the former Jewish ghetto is being finished. It begun in the 1930s. Thanks to its classification as an economically depressed area, it received a positive economic push. This managed to free the city and part of the province from its dependence upon agricultural economy. A fair number of manufacturing plants have sprouted in the city’s industrial area.