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Agosto 2009
400 anni fa Manhattan si chiamava così, nella lingua dei nativi Lenape. Ed era un paradiso fitto di foreste, corsi d’acqua e fauna selvatica. La storia del più spettacolare insediamento umano è in mostra a New York.

di Lorenza Cerbini

File audio:

Manhattan, real and imagined
Manhattan, real and imagined
Sarah Henry
Sarah Henry


Last month President Barack Obama received a visit from the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, at the White House. At the end of their meeting the President reminded the press that “We are about to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson, on behalf of a Dutch company exploring Manhattan and helping to lay the groundwork for the United States.  And that’s going to be an incredible celebration that we’re all looking forward to.”
Henry Hudson first sailed into what is now New York Harbor in September 1609. New York is celebrating the anniversary (“NY400”) in a number of ways, but one of the  most interesting is the “Mannahatta, Manhattan” exhibition at the City of New York Museum. The exhibition concentrates on “the Mannahatta Project,” on which “landscape ecologist” Eric Sanderson has been working for several years. The Project (see interview below) uses modern computer graphics to show what the island looked like when Hudson arrived 400 years ago.


The results are surprising, to say the least. Today Manhattan is one of the busiest places on earth, but 400 years ago it was (in the words of a recent article by Edward Rothstein in the New York Times) “a verdant paradise.” It was, Rothstein writes (“Manhattan: An Island Always Diverse, New York Times, July 3rd) “a habitat of extraordinary diversity.”
It is well known that Manhattan (originally “Mannahatta”), like many place names in the United States, was a native American word. What is less known is its meaning: “Island of many hills.” According to Sanderson, it was home to “627 species of plants, 85 species of fish, 32 species of reptiles and amphibians, 233 species of birds and 24 species of mammals.”

the british are coming!

The British, who ruled the island from 1674 until the American War of Independence (1775-83), played a big part in transforming Manhattan’s beautiful landscape. British troops destroyed its forests and in 1781 George Washington complained that the island was “totally stripped of trees and wood of every kind.” As Sanderson observes: “If Mannahatta existed today as it did in 1609, it would be a national park — it would be the crowning glory of American national parks.” But, he adds, “The goal of the Mannahatta Project has never been to return Manhattan to its primeval state. The goal of the project is to discover something new about a place we all know so well.”

The Mannahatta Project


Speaker: Chuck Rolando (Standard American accent)

In many ways, September 12th, 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of New York. For it was on September 12th, 1609 that an English explorer, Henry Hudson, sailed into what is now New York Harbor. True, the city was known as “New Amsterdam” until 1674, but Henry Hudson was the man who found it for the European settlers.
To celebrate the anniversary, the City of New York Museum is hosting a “Mannahatta, Manhattan” exhibition. “Mannahatta” was the Lenape (Native American) name. It means “Island of many hills.” Indeed the island had over 500 hills and 60 miles of streams. These were populated by beavers, whose fur was what attracted the European traders.
If the island of Manhattan today is one of the world’s busiest places, then 400  years ago it was a wildlife paradise. In order to give an idea of what Manhattan looked like then, the exhibition is including a section on “The Mannahatta Project.”
The Museum’s Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Sarah Henry, explains:

Sarah Henry (Standard American accent):

The Mannahatta Project is a scientific study that has been going on for over a decade.
Dr. Eric Sanderson from the Wildlife Conservation Society, which is based at the Bronx Zoo, has been researching the natural ecology of the island of Manhattan and he began it... over 10 years ago with a map that was made by the British during the American Revolutionary War, that showed all of the elevations, the heights, of the over 500 hills, on the island of Manhattan, and he used that to begin to geo-reference and layer in information that was obtained from historical documents, additional maps, archaeological evidence, and then, on ecological principles, that would help to predict the details of what plant and animal life would have existed there.
And so the Mannahatta Project has made a three-dimensional virtual model of this island, with its geology, its geography, its topography and its soils, its plant and animal life. Over 100 layers of information contribute to this three-dimensional, virtual world, in 1609.

For further information, visit: http://themannahattaproject.org/

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Dutch - olandese.

on behalf - per conto di.

to lay the groundwork - gettare le basi.

sailed into... New York Harbor - navigò in quello che è oggi il porto di New York.

landscape ecologist - ambientalista dei paesaggi.

place names - toponimi.

totally stripped of trees and wood - totalmente spoglia di alberi e foreste.

the crowning glory - il coronamento.

goal - obiettivo.



marks - segna.

settlers - coloni.

indeed - in effetti.

streams - torrenti.

beavers - castori.

fur - pelliccia.

traders - commercianti.

heights - alture.

to begin to geo-reference and layer in information - per iniziare a collegare e mettere in prospettiva tra loro le informazioni geologiche.

soils - terreni.

layers - livelli.