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Puglia - The Natural Environment

Although Puglia comprises a diversity of morphological zones with clearly defined characteristics, it retains a precise uniformity, conferred by the underlying rock and its structural constant, for the Puglia landscape consists prevalently of horizontal lines and gentle contours, which rarely take on the appearance of mountains, even at higher altitudes. These forms owe their existence to the large extensions of limestone rock in vast horizontal or sub-horizontal strata. As a result, there are few water courses, and consequently considerable karst phenomena.

From north to south, four geographical regions, Gargano, the Tavoliere, the Murge and Salento (or Salentino peninsula) blend into each other with little contrast; to these can be added the so-called ppennino di Capitanata', ie. the Apennine belt rising with the Monti della Daunia (1,152 m.), blocking the Tavoliere to the west, and the flat coastal amphitheatre extending in the immediate hinterland of Taranto.

Gargano is a blunt compact promontory with a rolling landscape and steep or terraced slopes. Between the Candelaro and Ofanto rivers and the Apennines lies the Tavoliere, a vast plain on the Adriatic, with a low sandy dune-fringed coastline. Towards the south-east, lies the Murge tableland, formed of great limestone blocks which, to the south-west, drop steeply towards the Fossa Bradanica (in Lucanian territory) though sloping gently to the Adriatic coast. The Penisola Salentina landscape, south-east of the Soglia Messapica, is very similar.

The Fortore and the Ofanto at the two ends of the Tavoliere are the principal rivers, both flowing into the Adriatic Sea. In Gargano, Murge and Salento, surface and underground karst phenomena are widespread (the Castellana Caves). The largest lakes are the Lesina and Varano coastal lakes.

The climate is entirely Mediterranean, with mild wet winters and hot dry ventilated summers. The precipitations, falling mainly in winter, are somewhat scarce, with a minimum of only 400 mm./year on the inner coastal belt of the Gulf of Manfredonia. Long ago most of Puglia was probably covered with Mediterranean scrub, composed of evergreen bushes and trees, but today only 67,000 hectares are wooded, 5% of the entire territory of the region.

One of the most beautiful parts of Puglia is Gargano, the `heel of Italy', the large promontory which juts into the Adriatic Sea, and culminates in Monte Calvo (1,055 m.). It is likely that, in Roman times, the whole promontory was a magnificent forest, though little now remains, the most important traces being the Aleppo pine woods on the coast, oaks in the valleys and at medium altitudes, together with beech higher up. An exceptionally interesting characteristic of Gargano are enormous trees, such as the evergreen oaks at Cappuccini di Vico del Gargano, the Bosco Quarto Turkey oaks, the Baracconi beeches in the Umbrian Forest, the yews and the centuries-old San Michele at Monte Sant'Angelo, together with the two tallest Aleppo pines in Italy (the higher of the two, known as Zappino dello Scorzone, is over seven hundred years old, and has a circumference of five and a half metres).

An entirely different environment caused by high salinity is that of the Saline di Margherita di Savoia, salt pans obtained by transforming the old Salpi lake, slightly south of Gargano, characterized by vast evaporation pans and picturesque mounds of salt. The large lakes are the habitat of large numbers of birds: duck, members of the rail and stork families and waders, and it is interesting to note the presence of shorebirds such as the oystercatcher, and gulls, in close proximity to marshland species including the ringed plover, avocets, herons and the black-winged stilt.

Between Massafra and Mottola lie the Murge Orientali, a wild zone with dense low woods, survivors of the great forests that once mantled the entire plateau. The finest part is the Gaglione forest, mostly great oak trees, some hundreds of years old and covered with ivy. Another of the most singular environments in Southern Italy is the Bosco di Tricase, the sole Italian habitat of the quercus aegilops; other interesting species here include the white oak and, in particular, the quercus coccifera, from whose cochineal insect galls scarlet dye was once obtained.

The Grotte di Castellana, slightly south-east of Bari, is a famous and much visited series of caves.

Discovered in 1938, they extend prevalently on the level for nearly 2,000 m., and consist of five large and immensely high caverns, linked by tunnels and corridors, all with splendid stalagmites and stalactites.

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