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Calabria - The Natural Environment

The morphological structure of Calabria is somewhat complex. Most of the mountains are massifs and isolated groups, separated by large valleys or cols. The Pollino massif, culminating in the Serra Dolcedorme (2,267 m.), lies on the Basilicata boundary, and its crests stretch southwest as far as the Passo dello Scalone (740 m.) where the Lucanian Apennines end, and the Calabrian Apennines begin with the Catena Costiera (Castal Chain) (or Paolana), stretching to the lower reaches of the Savuto River, between the jagged Tyrrhenian coast and the deep Vallo del Crati. This last divides the Catena Costiera from the Sila, a large upland area culminating with mt. Botte Donato (1,928 m.). South of the Sila, Calabria narrows at the gulfs of Sant'Eufemia and Squillace, in a low-lying isthmus (the Marcellinara depression, 251 m.), beyond which rise the Serre, two mountains ranges stretching southwest to join directly with the Aspromonte. On the Tyrrhenian side, the granite mount Poro (710 m.) group stands isolated, between the gulfs of Sant'Eufemia and Gioia. South of this vast hollow, lies Aspromonte, whose highest peak is Montalto (1,955 m.).

As a result of the elongated shape of the peninsula and the lie of the mountains, the rivers, with the exception of the Crati and the Neto, are not particularly large. The principal lakes are the artificial Cecita, Arvo and Ampollino, in the Sila. In the coastal zones, the climate is Mediterranean, with mild rainy winters and hot dry summers; towards the interior, it becomes progressively continental, particularly on the high mountains. Precipitations are plentiful, especially at an altitude, particularly on the Tyrrhenian flanks, but are scantier on low ground and on the coastal summits.

Calabria is one of the most heavily wooded areas in Italy (28.2% of its surface). The chestnut woodlands begin at 700-800 m., stretching up to 1,200 m., where they are succeeded by beechwoods, which give way to the conifer belt, with pines and spruces. The littoral and hills belong to the Mediterranean scrub belt.

Protection of the characteristic environment of the Calabrian uplands was undertaken in 1968 with the institution of the Parco Nazionale della Calabria, covering some 17,000 hectares and including the Sila Grande, in Cosenza Province, Sila Piccola in Catanzaro Province and Aspromonte, in the Province of Reggio Calabria . Large forests mantle the mountainsides, mainly stands of Sila pines, elegant trees that give the landscape a Nordic air. These are flanked by stretches of beechwood, with, in a few undisturbed areas, the Scots pine. Of particular interest is a stand of more than fifty pines and sycamores, known as the `giants of the Sila', some forty metres high and two metres in girth, at Falliestro, near Camigliatello Silano. The most interesting species of wildlife include roe deer, wild boar, wildcat, otter, marten and southern squirrel. The birdlife includes the black woodpecker, Bonelli's eagle, goshawk, peregrine falcon and the eagle owl.

A characteristic mountain environment is that of the Pollino, whose south flank lies in Calabria. The majestic pinus leucodermis, the finest of trees and of the greatest natural and scientific interest, grows on the most rugged limestone crags, while the beech is the most common tree on the mountain slopes. Some of the most attractive and little known features of the massif are on the Calabrian side: the Caldanelle river gorges, the Bifurto abyss, 683 m. deep, and the Ninfe cave, celebrated since Roman times for its sulphurous springs. But the most splendid excursions of all are those that lead one through San Lorenzo Bellizzi, to the awe-inspiring sight of the Raganello gorges, nesting site of the last surviving birds of prey, or from Cerchiara di Calabria to the Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Armi, associated with ancient legends of the hunt.

Of exceptional value and interest for its Nature is the Neto River estuary, one of the few stretches of Ionic coast which, though exploited by shooters, has miraculously escaped ruin. These are exceptionally valuable wetlands and still partly unexplored, a haunt of wildlife and rich in plant life. The vegetation is flourishing, at times luxuriant, with thick reed beds and tamerisk, hung with flowers, poplar trees, willow and alders, in a tangle of often impenetrable growth, to which cling the Mediterranean creepers, magnificent irises with beautiful yellow flowers. The interesting birdlife includes sandpipers, redshank, the collared pratincole and other waders as well as duck.

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