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Umbria - The Natural Environment

Morphologically, Umbria consists of mountains (29%) and hills (71%). The deep divide formed by the Tiber Valley and Valle Umbra separates the Apennines (to the east) from the Pre-Apennine hills (to the west), the former being higher and steeper while the latter are low and rounded. Some of the highest mountain ranges and massifs are the Sibillini Mountains, on the border with the Marches, Mount Maggio (1,416 m.) and mount Subasio (1,290 m.).

In the region tectonic hollows of varying sizes are found; early in the Quaternary they formed lakes, gradually silted later by fluvial deposits. Only the Trasimeno hollow, the largest in the area, is still filled by a lake of the same name. The other hollows, true intermontane alluvial plains, are the Ternana Plain, the Valle Umbra (with the Topino River), the Tiber Valley, with the S-shaped extension of the alluvial Tiber Plain and the innermost plains of Gubbio, Gualdo Tadino and Norcia. The major river of the region is the Tiber, with tributaries Nestore and Paglia discharging from the right, and Chiascio and Nera from the left; the latter also channelling the waters of the Topino and Velino. The biggest lake is Trasimeno, situated near the Tuscan border; it is the fourth largest Italian lake and the principal basin on the peninsula. Mention should also be made of the picturesque lake of Piediluco.

The climate of Umbria is transitional and prevalently Mediterranean. Winters are not unduly cold and summers are cool and ventilated. There are, however, wide variations in temperature and precipitations in the inland hollows and more or less high mountains. The tendency is for precipitations to increase gradually towards the mountain slopes, directly exposed to moist air currents and where rainfall can exceed 1/400 mm., year. Described in holiday brochures as `the green heart of Italy', Umbria has 260,000 hectares of woodland, 30.8% of the whole surface area. The Apennines of the Monti Sibillini massif, on the Marches border, the highest mountains in the region, are covered with white oak, flowering ash, black hornbeam and other deciduous trees on the lower slopes, then large beech woods, together with sycamore, yews and holly.

The flora on the slopes of Monti Sibillini includes a number of interesting plants such as the martagon lily, Apennine potentilla and bearberries, as well as the Apennine wormwood and edelweiss, found only on the summit of Monte Vettore, and in restricted areas of Gran Sasso and Maiella. One of the most remarkable features of the Monti Sibillini, and particularly of Piano Grande, is the magnificent display of flowers in late spring, when the severely green hollow becomes a mass of colour, an incredible carpet of yellow buttercups, red poppies, snowy-white lilies and daisies. The Sibillini are the habitat of a variety of animal species. Mammals include the fox, badger, marten, beech-marten and weasel.

Another typical Umbrian mountain is Mount Subasio, the mountain of St. Francis par excellence, dominating Assisi. The peak area is bare and worn, the middle slopes are wooded and the low ground has olive groves. The beautiful little forest surrounding the Eremo delle Carceri, now rigorously protected, is an indication of how different the vegetation on Subasio must have been at the time of St. Francis: giant evergreen oaks, flowering ash and quercus pubescens dominate the luxuriant undergrowth. Alviano Lake is an extremely interesting biotope. Situated in West Umbria, on the Latium boundary, it is a large basin formed by damming the River Tiber, subsequently transformed into an excellent refuge and breeding ground for waterfowl, along the middle Tiber Valley migration route. There is a wealth of vegetation which, in the marshes, includes reeds, cat's tail, sedge, rush and bulrush, while the tiny streams are carpeted with pondweed and duckweed.

The springs of Clitunno, where the waters of this tributary of the Topino gush from numerous pools, amidst willows and poplars, are a remarkable tourist attraction, as are the Marmore Falls not far from Terni; just before the Velino flows into the Nera, with three series of falls, for a total drop of 165 m.

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