Rovereto, Gaetano

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(b. Mele, near Voltri, Genoa, Italy, 15 November 1870; d. Genoa, 23 November 1952)

geology, geomorphology.

Rovereto was born into an aristocratic Genoese family, the son of Giuseppe Rovereto and Teresa Picardo. His formal education ended in the first years of secondary school. His early attraction to the natural sciences led him to attend, as an amateur, scientific meetings and geographical excursions. He thus met Arturo Issel, whom he eventually succeeded at the University of Genoa, and Senofonte Squinabol. They soon recognized his ability and encouraged him to study the geological sciences, in which he rapidly attracted notice. Rovereto had the advantages and defects of the self-taught: independence of judgment and originality in interpreting observed facts, but also a certain critical deficiency and an excessively personal and careless literary style that often rendered his arguments difficult to understand. He lived in Genoa, apart from a period in Argentina from 1910 to 1913, during which he conducted geological explorations from the Chaco to Patagonia. At the University of Genoa he was an assistant in the geological museum and then, from 1922, professor of geology, physical geography, and applied geology.

His first study (1891), of the serpentine regions of Liguria, was published after several years of research and was rich in original observations. Rovereto’s continuing interest in the complex and disputed geology of Liguria culminated, after a half century of research, in the monumental “Liguria geologica” (1939), a model of analytic and synthetic treatment. He was fascinated by new ideas, and in these studies, as in others on the Apuan Alps, Monte Circeo, Capri, and Corsica, he applied the nappe theory for the first time in Italy, arriving at results which, although often vigorously contested, nevertheless contributed to the progress of modern tectonics. The first such observations (1904) were on the Apuan Alps; his last work, on the origin and mobility of the ophiolites of the Alps and Apennines, appeared in 1951, shortly before his death.

A skilled geologist and a brilliant geomorphologist, Rovereto published three extensive memoirs between 1902 and 1906: on coastlines, with special reference to Liguria; on the valleys of Liguria; and on the Gran Paradiso, one of the largest massifs of the Italian Alps. A volume of geomorphological studies on various regions of Italy (1908) was followed by a series of five memoirs (1911-1921) under the comprehensive title “Studi di geomorfologia argentina. “Rovereto began his research at a time when the theories of W. M. Davis were becoming known; they differed from those of Rovereto, who had met him during a scientific excursion in northern Italy. In place of the concept of repetitive cycles—fundamental in Davis’ theory—Rovereto proposed a theory of continuous development, as much for fluviatile as for karstic and marine erosion. In 1923–1924 he published a geomorphological treatise entitled Fornie delta terra.

Rovereto’s interest was not confined to pure science. He dedicated a considerable part of his activity to applied geology, in Italy (railway planning) and in Argentina (hydraulic works for the irrigation of arid regions). He stimulated interest in the applications of geology by founding, in 1903 with Paolo Vinassa de Regny, the Giornale di geologia pratica. He also considered the practical aspects of geomorphology, especially in its influence on the character of towns.


I. Original Works. Rovereto’s writings include “La serie degli scisti e delle serpentine antiche in Liguria,” in Atti delta Società ligustica di scienze naturali e geografiche, 2 (1891), 325–346; 4 (1893), 97–141, his first study; “Geomorfologia delle coste, ossia appunti per spiegare la genesi delle forme costiere,” ibid., 13–14 (1902–1903), 1–189; “Geomorfologia delle valli liguri,” in Atti delta Unicersità di Genova, 18 (1904), 1–226; “Geomorfologia del gruppo del Gran Paradiso,” in Bollettino del Club alpino italiano, 38 (1906), 1–75; Studi di geomorfologia (Genoa, 1908); “Studi di geomorfologia argentina,” in Bollettino della Società geologica italiana: 1. “La Sierra di Cordova,” 30 (1911), 1–19; 2. “11 Rio della Plata,” ibid., 313–350; 3. “La valle del Rio Negro,” 31 (1912), 181–237; 32 (1913), 101–142; 4. “La Pampa,” 33 (1914),75–128;39 (1920), 1–48; 5. “La Penisola Valdez,” 40 (1921), 1–47; Forme delta terra, 2 vols. (Milan, 1923–1924); and “Liguria geologica,” in Meniorie della Società geologica italiana, 20 (1939), 1–744.

II. Secondary Literature. On Rovereto and his work, see S. Conti, “Gaetano Rovereto,” in Annali, ricerche e studi di geografia, 8 (1952), 173–182, with complete bibliography; M. Gortani, “Commemorazione di Gaetano Rovereto,” in Rendiconti dell’Accademia dei Lincei. Classe di scienze fisiche, 8th ser., 14 (1953), 336–337; and A. Sestini, “Gaetano Rovereto,” in Rivista geografica italiana, 60 (1953), 54–55; and “Gli studi di geomorfologia argentina del prof. Gaetano Rovereto,” in Bollettino della Società geografica italiana, 5th ser., 11 (1922), 123–125.

Francesco Rodolico