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Marche - The Natural Environment

The region is mainly mountainous, although the groups are not particularly high: the highest mountain is Mount Vettore (2,476 m.) part of the Sibillini Mountains on the Umbrian border. From the ridge of the Apennines it slopes gradually towards the Adriatic coast, which for long stretches is flat and straight, a narrow ribbon of sand lying against the fringes of the hills beyond. Elsewhere it is steep, rocky and majestic. The mountainous interior was subjected to complex orogenic phenomena of subsidence and settling which over the centuries led to the formation of clefts and faults, and the landscape now has a great variety of forms with longitudinal and transverse valleys of alluvial origin in the Apennine range.

Apart from Nera, which flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea, the main rivers feed into the Adriatic. However, due to the proximity of the Apennines to the sea, the conformation of the river valleys and the irregular rainfall, their flow is rather short and of a torrential nature, catchment basins are underdeveloped and the rivers are not navigable. The most important rivers are the Marecchia, Conca, Foglia, Metauro, Cesano, Esino, Musone, Potenza, Chienti, Tenna, Aso and Tronto. The Marecchia and Conca debouch in Romagna; the high valley of the Tronto lies in Latium while its lower course forms the Abruzzo administrative boundary.

Temperature, winds, intensity and distribution of precipitations very considerably throughout the region, depending on the lie of the mountains, exposure to air currents and the marked differences in altitude of the coastal belt and inland mountains and between valley floors and the peaks. Along the coast the climate is mainly maritime with a limited temperature range and little rainfall; towards the interior, the temperature range increases as do precipitations, reaching as much as 2,000 mm/year in some limited mountainous areas. Snow is frequent in winter, mostly inland, while the rainiest seasons are generally spring and autumn.

The natural vegetation has been greatly modified by man, originally to obtain arable land, later for tourist resorts. The woods that once spread over most of the area now cover only 16.2% of the region.

A typical coastal environment is Mount Conero (572 m.), an isolated massif rising on the Adriatic Coast, composed of calcareous rock, marl and sandstone. The massif is steep towards the sea but slopes smoothly inland. In ancient times it was covered with thick woods, in perfect harmony with the vegetation and fauna of both Apennines and coast. Nowadays, as a result of the extensive urbanization of coastal and hilly areas, it stands like a green island surrounded by wasteland. The famous woods were cut down at random and have almost disappeared, though interesting examples of luxuriant vegetation still survive. Holm oaks grow plentifully together with cane apples and rare examples of Mediterranean maquis. In the most despoiled areas, the Mediterranean maquis has been replaced by garigue with rockrose, sharp cedar, broom and helichrysum. The Portonovo lakes have a mass of ditch reeds, sedges, water-weeds and pondweed. The fauna is scanty, and mainly consists of foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, some weasels and nocturnal birds of prey.

Sibillini Mountains on the Umbrian border is a typical Apennine environment, though partly spoilt by tourist resort construction. Woods of white oak, manna-ash and hornbeam mantle the lowest slopes, while on the peaks lie large beechwoods, together with sycamores, yews and holly oak. The mountain flora is rich and rare; outstanding examples are the Apennine wormwood, the Apennine edelweiss and the fritillary. In spite of a decline in wildlife of over the last few decades, a few examples of local fauna still survive: Apennine wolves, wild cats and otters together with larges numbers of foxes, martens, stonemartens, badgers and weasels, as well as porcupines, which have recently increased in number. Remarkable birds are the golden eagle, falcon and goshawk; reptiles include Orsini vipers and smooth snakes. A distinctive indigenous denizen of the Lake of Pilato is the Marchesoni chirocephalus crustacean.

Recently, the important underground environment of the Frasassi caves was discovered. These caves are situated in the Valley of Sentino near Frasassi Gorge, north of Fabriano and, as far as is known, extend for 15 km. underground. They are still being explored, and form an extraordinary karst group, with pits, swallow holes, underground lakes and phantasmagoric shapes, stalactites and stalagmites, marble columns and cascades of alabaster crystals that are an extremely beautiful sight. On the walls of Frasassi Gorge a rare example of flora can be found: the ephedra major, a true relic of the Cenozoic Era.

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