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Toscana - The Natural Environment

This area has a varied and complex morphology; ranges of mountains and hills alternate with intermountain basins and strips of plain, scattered in an apparently irregular distribution. The true Tusco-Emilian Apennines can be distinguished from the mountainous and hilly groups of the Preapennines, separated by an imaginary line linking Montecatini Terme to Chiusi.

The highest chains along the watershed strip, the Pratomagno group (1,592 m.), the Chianti mountains and the southern chain, which stretches between Casentino and Val di Chiana to the west and Val Tiberina to the east, are part of the Apennines; the Apuan Alps (1,945 m.) branch off from the ridge on the inner side.

The trachyte massif of Mount Amiata (1,738 m.) and the Colline Metallifere belong to the Tuscan Apennines. The intermountain basins are of particular interest, especially for their settlements; the largest and best defined are Lunigiana, near the upper Magra valley, Garfagnana (upper Serchio basin), the basin of Florence, Mugello (upper Sieve valley), Valdarno Superiore, Casentino, Val di Chiana and lastly, the upper section of Val Tiberina. The most extensive plains are Valdarno Inferiore, Versilia (at the foot of the Apuan Alps) and the coastal plains of Maremma).

The rivers in Tuscany are irregular in size, torrential and winding, for they have adapted to the morphology of the region. With the exception of the upper courses of the Reno, Santerno, Lamone, Marecchia and Foglia, which enter the Adriatic, all the other Tuscan rivers flow into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The most important are the Tiber (only a stretch of its upper course in Tuscany), the Arno with its tributaries, the Sieve, Bisenzio, Greve, Pesa, Elsa and Era, the Magra and the Serchio, respectively flowing through Lunigiana and Garfagnana; the Cecina, the Ombrone and the Albegna, which flow through the Preapennine range.

The climate is temperate but there are considerable zonal variations depending on the distance from the sea, altitude and the position of the mountains. Generally speaking, the temperatures decrease from the Maremma coastal areas (to the SW) towards the Apennines (to the NE). Precipitations fall mainly in spring and autumn.

The wettest zones are those of the north-western Apennines and Pratomagno, the Catenaia Alp, the Chianti mountains, the Mount Amiata group and the highest parts of the Colline Metallifere, while the driest are the coastal belt, the plains and the intermountain basins.

The mantle of natural vegetation has been greatly modified by man though various characteristic aspects still exist. Common along the coast is the Mediterranean scrub, an Underwood of aromatic evergreen shrubs, which spreads though, increasingly sparsely, into the Arno Valley as far as Florence. There are still beautiful pinewoods on the coast as well as holly woods and cork trees. Inland, up to approximately 900 m. grow white oak and chestnut woods; higher up lie beautiful mountain forests of beech and fir, and beyond 1,700 m. wide alpine pastures. Tuscany has far more woodland than any other Italian region (866,211 hectares). Most of these woods are coppices of low trees which are felled at intervals to provide logs and charcoal. There are, however, tall forest trees providing timber for building, such as the conifer forests of Abetone and Vallombrosa: most common, however, are chestnut groves which make Tuscany the fourth Italian region for chestnuts.

One of the most important mountain areas is that of the Casentinesi Forests, on the boundary with Emilia-Romagna (one third lies in that region), where the nature of the ground and the high humidity level provide excellent conditions for growth: towering silver firs, majestic centuries-old beeches and a whole variety of other trees ranging from the mountain maple to the European aspen, from the lime tree to the smooth-leaved elm, from the Turkey oak to the common hornbeam. The lower areas are full of white oak, chestnut and in the damper zones alders, willow and laburnum.

Another characteristic and beautiful mountain area is that of the Apuan Alps, an extraordinary chain of mountains which winds for more than 50 km, towering over travellers along Lunigiana, Garfagnana or Versilia like brilliant white marble and which from a certain distance resembles enormous snowfields.

Beside the woods of evergreen oak and Corsican pine, hornbeam, beech and chestnut, there are extremely rare species such as an austral fern.

Little wildlife survives, however marmots and pine voles are present, and the rich variety of birds includes the European partridge and the raven; interesting amphibians include the Apuan and the Italian newt.

The Maremma lies on the south Tuscany coast, one of the outstanding environments on the peninsula, still well conserved and with a rich variety of scenery, plants and characteristic animals.

The flora is typically Mediterranean, with thick mastic and strawberry bush scrub and various heathers and junipers. Here the evergreen oak is in shrub form, but a splendid tree farther inland; the cork trees too grow to majestic heights. There are strips of riparian and mixed vegetation as well as interesting rare survivors such as the dwarf palm. The characteristic Maremma wildlife abounds: wild boar, roe deer, badgers and porcupine. Birdlife is plentiful and varied including birds of prey such as the harrier.

Of the Italian regions, Tuscany, together with Sardinia, has the most interesting mineral deposits. There are seams of cinnabar (Mount Amiata), iron ore (Island of Elba), pyrites (Grosseto area), lead and zinc, antimony, rock salt (Volterra) and lignite (San Giovanni Valdarno). The most characteristic of the Tuscan underground resources are the borax geysers at Larderello, violent continuous jets of steam at high temperatures gushing from deep holes bored in the ground. These are used in producing boric acid and generating electricity (geothermic energy).

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