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Lazio - The Natural Environment

The morphology of Latium is very complex but four main sub-regions can be defined: the Tyrrhenian coast, the inland plains, the mountains of the Latium Preapennines and a true Apennine area. The coast is mainly low and uniform, broken only by the spurs of Linaro point, Mount Circeo (541 m.) and the Gaeta headland: the Ponzian Islands, which are part of Latium, lie opposite the south coast.

Behind the coastal strip, to the north lie: the Latium Maremma (the continuation of the Tuscan), interrupted at Civitavecchia by the Monti della Tolfa (616 m.), in the centre by the Campagna di Roma and to the south by Agro Pontino. This area, once swampy and unhealthy, was reclaimed over the centuries (though work was finished only in the 1930s) for repopulation and agricultural exploitation.

The Latium Preapennines, marked by the Tiber valley and the Liri with the Sacco tributary, includes on the right of the Tiber, three groups of mountains of volcanic origin: the Volsini, Cimini and Sabatini, whose principal craters are occupied by the Bolsena, Vico and Bracciano lakes. Other mountain groups south of the Tiber also form part of the Preapennines: the Albani (or Latium) Hills, also of volcanic origin, and the calcareous Lepini, Ausoni and Aurunci Hills. The Latium Apennines are part of the Abruzzi Apennines: the Reatini mountains with Terminillo (2,213 m.), Mounts Sabini, Prenestini, Simbruini and Ernici which continue east of the Liri into the Mainarde.

The major river is the Tiber; its course, initially southeast in a valley lying longitudinally to the Apennines, deviates south-west across the Campagna di Roma. Various rivers are its tributaries: the Velino, Salto and Turano (through the Nera) and the Aniene. The courses of the Sacco and Liri are similar to that of the Tiber. Other smaller rivers such as the Fiora, Marta and Arrone flow directly into the sea and are relatively short. All the rivers in the region empty into the Tyrrhenian Sea except for the Tronto which crosses the Amatrice dip and flows into the Adriatic. Apart from the lakes already mentioned, others are Albano and Nemi, lying in the craters of two extinct vulcanoes in the Albani Hills.

The climate is temperate over all the region though with considerable differences between the temperature and humidity on the coastal strip, subject to marine influences, and on the higher zones inland, where there are greater extremes of temperature and rainfall is more abundant-often with snow in winter. The vegetation has been radically modified by man, and the once widespread woodlands now cover an area of 368 thousand hectares, little more than a fifth of the surface. Along the coast and in the lowlands stretches the Mediterranean scrub, with stands of wild laurel giving way, further inland and with increasing altitude, to cork woods and mixed woods of white oak, hornbeam, sycamore, elm, holly oak and chestnut. This is followed by chestnut, Turkey oak and white oak woodland up to approximately 1,100 m.; higher up lie beautiful beechwoods, which in some areas even stretch up to 1,800 m.

One of the most interesting zones as far as nature, human settlement and history are concerned, are Circeo, now a national park, including the Mount Circeo headland, the Sabaudia forest, the island of Zanone, the coastal lakes of Sabaudia (or Paola) Caprolace, Monaci and Fogliano and the Pontine coast, for a total of approximately 8,400 hectares. All these, together with sites of cultural and tourist interest, including paleontological, archeological and historical remains, sunny beaches, shady woods, and mineral springs, add to the importance of the national park. The vegetation is rich, varied and abundant in places. On the south side, called 'the warm zone', the headland is covered with Mediterranean scrub with holly oak, strawberry bush, myrtle, shrub heather and many kinds of other low bush; dwarf palms grow on the rocks. The northern side instead, known as 'the cold zone', is characterized by high underwood, with holly oak, white oak, hornbeam and broom. At the foot of this stretches a luxuriant oakwood.

The Sabaudia forest, a surviving tract of the Pontine forests destroyed by land reclamation, consists mainly of deciduous oak such as the Turkey and pedunculate oaks. Though some of the most characteristic animals (wolf and deer) have disappeared, there is still some interesting fauna, such as the wild boar (chosen as emblem of the park), and the fallow deer-introduced in the past and now being gradually replaced by the roe deer, and moufflon, still found at Zannone.

Still partly a wilderness, with broken hills, woodland and large stretches of scrub that contrast with wide areas of rough ground and grazing land for herds of half-wild cattle, is the Monti della Tolfa area, slightly to the east of Civitavecchia. The vegetation is profuse and varied, comprising Mediterranean scrub and coppices of white oak, hornbeam, sycamore, elm and chestnut, as well as riparian vegetation with poplar, willow, ash and tamarisk.

The fauna includes many wild boar, beech-marten and weasel. On the slopes of the Monti Lepini lie a splendid garden and the medieval ruins of the town of Ninfa: among enormous centuries-old pines, cypresses, holly oaks, poplars and olive trees, 10,000 exotic trees, including magnolias, Japanese cherry, maple, beech and bamboo have been planted.

An extremely beautiful little area is that of Lake Posta Fibreno, near Sora, with its veritable underwater forest of algae and macrophytes with beautiful blue-red-greenish highlights.

The lake is also the site of one of the strangest works of Nature in Italy: a floating island formed by the transformation of algae, weeds, bushes and trees into peat, which drifts over the water with the wind.

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