With its 192,565 hectares, Pollino National Park, the largest protected area in Italy between Calabria and Basilicata, has a wealth of landscapes to offer: great areas of wilderness where the cuirassed pine -the true emblem of the park- clings to the rocky slopes as the wind shapes its twisted trunk; not far away, rolling hills and valleys, lush slopes with flowering plants in springtime, and then endless upland plains where the sheep still graze like in ancient times.
From east to west, the eye meets the sea and the coast is within easy reach despite the considerable altitude of the mountains. The solitude of the highest peaks dominated by the majestic flight of the golden eagle is juxtaposed to the common reality of the anthropic environment: small villages where the old women still wear their traditional garb not far from larger towns hosting important cultural events that attract visitors. In this territory survive groups of ethnic Albanians that tenaciously preserve their Arboreshe (Italian-Albanian) cultural and linguistic traditions as well as the archaeological remains of civilizations that have dominated this area over the centuries.
Thus, a visit to Pollino National Park becomes a worthwhile experience for various reasons: you will find an unusual natural environment, in many ways still wild; you will encounter the culture, customs and folklore of the people of Southern Italy; you will get to know a nature reserve that aims to valorize its natural resources and can offer its visitors a wide range of ways to enjoy a holiday in the midst of a beautiful countryside where they can make discoveries and sample the pleasures of the olden days.
The environmental program of the Park has as its priority the safeguarding of its natural resources so varied, precious and at times even rare such as the autochthonous roe of Orsomarso, the wolf of the Appennines, the golden eagle, and the cuirassed pine. Development based on conservation aims to carry out specific actions to protect the diversity of the existing natural systems, their ecology, biology, and functions, and to assure a sustainable utilization of renewable resources by balancing the environmental burden with the capabilities and limits of Nature.
In view of this, besides the activities aimed at environmental protection , initiatives for furthering the economic growth of the local population have been planned with incentives and financial supports being provided for environmentally-friendly enterprises. Heading in the same direction is the creation of a trademark for the Park, the implementation of organic agriculture, and the setting up in every community of at least one project for the construction of “park houses”, visitor centers, ecohostels and info-boards. Particularly young people are encouraged to see the Park as a chance to invest by setting up small and medium enterprises that can provide the needed services and take up the many opportunities for new professions that may arise thanks to the National Park.
This prevalently mountainous territory is composed of three main mountain ranges from the Ionian to the Tyrrhenian Sea, reaching their highest altitudes in the southern Appennines.
The Pollino Massif has the highest peaks in the Park: Serra Dolcedorme (2267 m), Mount Pollino (2248 m), Serra del Prete (2181 m), Serra delle Ciavole (2147 m) and Serra di Crispo (2053 m). These two ranges, at an altitude of almost 2000 meters, open onto the Grande Porta (Great Gateway) leading to the Piani di Pollino (Pollino Plateaux) the best-known and picturesque high altitude plateau skirted by ridges where the oldest specimen of cuirassed pine stand out , overlooking a territory crossed by many rivers and streams –Raganello, Frido, Peschiera, Sarmento– whose waters rush into very narrow gorges with lofty cliffs, winding their way onwards from eddies to waterfalls, through woods with centuries-old trees, becoming wider as they flow into stone-strewn white river beds. The Piano di Campotenese at a lower altitude separates the Pollino Massif from the Orsomarso Mountains rising with their lush vegetation in the southwestern part of the Park not far from the Tyrrhenian : the Cozzo del Pellegrino (1987 m ), La Mula (1935 m), La Montea (1825 m), Mount La Caccia ( 1744) and Mount Palanuda (1632) dominate a landscape of untouched beauty. Here valleys furrowed by uncontaminated watercourses (Argentino, Abatemarco, Lao, Rosa) flow between cliffs and down cascades, creating an utterly fascinating landscape.
The spectacular monolyths and rock formations like Pietra Campanara, Pietra Portusata and Tavola dei Briganti highlight the magnificence of one of the most striking natural scenarios in Southern Italy. In the northern part of the Park rises in complete isolation Mount Alpi ( 1900 m) whose unique geological origin differs from that of the Pollino Massif and Orsomarso Mountains. Farther to the west stands Mount La Spina.
The rocks that make up the territory are dolomitic limestone of sedimentary origin which 200 million years ago in the Triassic Era constituted the seafloor of the Tethys, that is the sea which separated the two great primordial continents that were to become the African and the European plates. Signs of submarine volcanic activity in the Tertiary Period during the Mesozoic Era may still be observed in the volcanic rocks of Timpa delle Murge and Timpa di Pietrassasso, in the area of Terranova di Pollino – places that are part of a rare and striking geological garden with pillow lava and greenish ophiolite rocks cropping up here and there that cooled down and solidified on contact with water.
Successively, during the compression of Tethys, the European and African continental plates moved closer together, causing the corrugation of the territory and the very slow formation of the mountain ranges. Five million years later, movements in the opposite direction of distension led to fractures in the emerged rocks known as faults, an example of which is in the southern wall of Timpa Falconara. After that, the collapse of huge boulders caused great rift valleys of which the Valle del Mercure, once covered by a large lake, is a clear example.
Other natural events have contributed to characterising the morphology of the Park’s territory: among the decisive factors is the erosion of the limestone rocks caused by water that brought about karstic phenomena on the surface such as plateaux and dolinas, as well as underground where tunnels and deep gulfs wind for kilometers deep through the rock, creating a wealth of subterranean formations such as caves and pots like Grotta di Piezze “ i trende ” near Rotonda, the Grotta di San Paolo in the vicinity of Morano Calabro and the Abisso del Bifurto at Cerchiara di Calabria, famous for being 683 meters deep. Water erosion has also cut deep into the rocks of the mountain ranges, creating the spectacular gorges and canyons characterising the most striking places in the Park: The Gole del Lao, Gola della Garavina, the Gola del Barile and the renownedGole del Raganello at the foot of Mount Civita whose walls are so steep and close together that the light hardly filters through, creating an atmosphere of most suggestive beauty.
The coming of the glaciers during the last Ice Age of Wurm which occurred 100,000 to 12,000 years ago, further eroded the valleys and high altitude plateaux, thereby defining the morphology of the peaks. The many formations from the Ice Age demonstrate how the territory evolved: the accumulation of huge masses of ice resulted in cirques that may be observed on the northern side of Mount Pollino, Serra del Prete or Serra Dolcedorme, in the hollow of Fossa del Lupo and on the southern side of Mt. Mula where morainic till was left behind by the slow withdrawal of the glaciers that transported stones and debris. In some cases, huge masses of accumulation materials came together, forming small morainic hills; in other cases, the withdrawal of the glaciers left behind huge isolated masses known as erratic boulders – splendid examples of which can be observed in the area of Piano di Acquafredda and of the Piani di Pollino.
Noteworthy paleonthological remains are also to be found in the Park: in the limestone rocks, fossils of rudistids – molluscs that lived in the seafloor of the Tethys and disappeared 65 million years ago – can be seen.
In 1979, a very well-preserved skeleton of a large example of Elphas antiquus italicus was found in the Valle del Mercure.
This was a 4 metre-tall pachyderm that lived between 700,000 and 400,000 years ago and was found on the banks of the lake which covered the whole valley when the area was affected by the subtropical climate as the glaciers retreated.
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