PLACES TO VISIT IN THE FRIULI VENEZIA REGION
Towns and Villages to visit during your travels to the Northeastern regions of Italy.
Towns and Villages to visit during your travels to the Northeastern regions of Italy.
This reserve is entirely within the municipality of San Dorligo della Valle (Dolina). It includes the highest peak of the Karst, Mount Cocusso, which is 670 metres high, and the deep crevasse of the Rosandra valley, formed by the Rosandra torrent. With its 30-metre waterfall, this torrent marks the presence of the fault formed where limestone and flysh meet. From this point on, the torrent runs on calcareous soil and forms small waterfalls, lakes and gorges. Of exceptional value are not only the Karst woodland, the non-spontaneous Austrian pinewoods and the particular characteristics of the moorland of Mount Stena, but also the different habitats of the Rosandra valley ranging from watery to rocky landscapes. This valley’s morphology is unique, and besides the north-west, south-west direction allowing an easy passage for the Bora wind, also the mountain ridges are different.
Its vertical rocky walls exposed to sun to the right contrast with the huge alluvial fields to the left, thus creating nearly completely contrasting microclimates. In particular, there is a pioneering vegetation along the “macereti” consisting of mountainous and rocky species, with a high concentration of rare species from alpine and oriental areas. This is the only area in Italy where species such as the Moehringia tommasinii, a very rare oriental chickweed, grow. The thistle variety, Drypis spinosa ssp. jacquiniana is a tertiary species which survived the glaciations thanks to these extremely selective cliffs which provided protection for many species.
Despite its wild and apparently inhospitable aspect, this valley has been densely populated since prehistory.
The remains found and the fortifications strategically built on the opposite mountain sides so as to control access, together with the roman aqueduct transporting water to Tergeste (the ancient name for Trieste) the small medieval church of St. Mary in Siaris and some other remains, represent this area’s history and traditions over the centuries.
The biotopes are small protected areas which aim to safeguard the local habitat and the rare species of flora and fauna often subject to extinction. Since 1996, when a regional law on protected areas was issued, 24 biotopes have been set up so far.
They mainly cover coastal resurgent areas, the magredi plains and hilly areas, where natural habitats are rare and greatly reduced. Together, the areas represented are the “magredi” (poor meadows), the wet coastal regions, low-lying peat fields and the hill and mountainous marsh areas.
The combination of different soils in today’s Friuli plain is due to different types of fluvial-glacial sediments which have been further modified by man while exploiting the different natural resources over the centuries. In the past, any traveller who visited these areas would see arid meadows spreading over large areas of the high plains, wide marshes in the resurgent areas and woodland on the low plains. Land reclaiming and rationalisation as well as improved farming techniques have helped increase the exploitable agricultural areas and created more uniformity of landscape among the plains.
Today’s traveller can satisfy his curiosity by visiting the biotopes of the magredi of St. Quirino and of the marshes of Flambro and Virco: they not only exemplify those habitats which have nearly become extinct today but are also the only remnants of the ancient Friuli plain.
The huge alluvial sediments carried by the Cellina and Meduna torrents have certainly formed the part of the plain which has been less influenced by man. Its primitive soils, together with seasonal grazing of livestock, have contributed to form and maintain large expanses of poor pastures, the so-called “magredi”. This kind of landscape was very common in most of the Venetian-Friuli high plains. The progressive rural development has lead to conserve almost only these areas which are under military ownership or near the shores of torrential rivers. The biotope of St. Quirino covers and protects an area of about 20 hectares. Although the “magredi” could seem uninteresting, the flora is rich in species from the Mediterranean, Illyric, Alpine and Central-European areas. The abundance of flowers in spring includes many orchids and rare species of plants such as a particular type of cabbage (Brassica glabrescens), which is endemic to the Friuli “magredi”, and the Crambe (Crambe tataria), probably introduced by the Barbarian invasions and today perfectly integrated in the habitat. Its closest stations are in Hungary. As a matter of fact, there are different types of meadows to discover, which stretch from the river shores up to the higher terraces, where a layer of infertile, leach soil characterises the ground and has caused the partial stagnation of water.
The fauna includes many species of birds of prey. Its landscape is certainly remarkable: during clear, winter days, these meadows seem to blend with the snowy peaks of the Carnic pre-alps. The slight inclination of the alluvial cones to the south allows a wider view nearly up to the sea. The river beds which are usually dried-up unless some significant flood occurs, give the impression of being on a steppe, similar to that of Central Asia. Nowadays the arid meadows need to be looked after to prevent bushes from completely overgrowing the area, now that seasonal pasturing of livestock is no longer common, thus avoiding the extinction of fauna and flora.
The low-lying alkaline peat fields and the ancient landscape around the Friuli resurgence are a rare sight these days. The two biotopes of Flambro and Virco are probably the best preserved areas. The springs are formed of water which runs under the gravel in the high plain, and emerges thanks to a different consistency of the substratum. Pools, springs, moats and rivers form a complex water network on the surface. Among the most significant habitats, are the so-called alkaline peat areas and the small areas of purple moor grass “molinieti”.
Those poor areas had little to offer to their inhabitants. The grassland was mown at least once a year and the carts were carried along small, raised cattle-tracks. In the past, these areas were more extensive and the huge quantity of water could guarantee their preservation.
Today, the ground water table has retreated and the grassland is neither mown nor produces straw. The ever growing bushes suffocate the rarer species. Armeria helodes and Erucastrum palustre are two plants of European relevance which grow only in few small areas of the Friulan alcaline fens. There are also some other rare species such as the round leaf sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), a carnivorous plant which makes up for the lack of nitrogen, characteristic of peaty soil, by eating insects. These habitats house many birds of prey as well as many amphibians and rare insects. The dynamics of this environment have made it necessary for an active part to be played in the management of the biotopes, bushes need to be cut back and the grasslands mown so as to protect the environment which is becoming rare and on the verge of extinction.
By walking along these areas you understand how complex the agricultural habitat of this plain could have been: with its marshes, peat fields and arid plains, which were often enriched with organic fertilizer and alternated with cultivated fields, woodland and hedges which grew in patches depending on the quantity of water available. Today, water is channelled into ditches or canals along the fields, it is a driving force as well as a key element to better understanding this habitat, whose skyline is almost always interrupted with trees or with orderly hedgerows.
This biotope covers roughly 10 hectares on the west-side of the Fusine plain, between the Julian Alps and the Caravanche. As in all the Tarvisio area, eastwards of the Camporosso Pass, the water flowing down from this area reaches the Danube basin. The climate of the Fusine plain is similar to that of Central Europe as it is colder and drier than the Prealps.
The habitat, which is characterised by marshy meadows and peat fields interspersed with numerous streams, is dotted with Scotch pines, and recalls the landscape of the Central and Northern Alps rather than that of the marshy lowlandsSome rare species of plants such as the white hellebore (Veratrum album subsp. album) and the white beak sedge (Rhynchospora alba) carpet this biotope. Extensive blossoming of Siberian irises (Iris sibirica) and marsh gentians (Gentiana pneumonanthe) enhance the flora. Among its fauna there is the oriental hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor roumanicus) and many other small mammals. Of great interest is also the wide mown grassland, which is often very wet and covers almost all the plains adjacent to the biotope. Some traces of the ancient railway, which was inaugurated in 19th century and linked Tarvisio with Jesenice and Lubiana, can still be seen here.
Riding or hiking near Redipuglia on the way or leaving Trieste, where the highlands bends to the right away from the sea, the landscape changes dramatically: it gives the impression that a huge limestone rock, the Karst, had fallen out of the sky and embedded itself on the extreme edge of the Julian plain. Today, the Karst, which is a precious as it is vulnerable to degradation and unauthorised building, is partially protected by the setting up to five regional nature reserves which are representative of the whole area. These reserves were formally established by a Regional law on protected areas, issued in 196, in the light of a future “Karst national park”, which is to encourage and to promote this complex and fascinating ecosystem.
The reserves of Mount Lanaro and Mount Orsario, which are part of the municipalities of Sgonico (Zgonic) and Monrupino (Repentabor), exemplify the main characteristics and the history of the whole Karst plateau. The main characteristic of Mount Lanaro is its woodland, ranging from the hornbeam, which is hardly present in the deeper dolinas, to the solemn turkey oaks and durmasts, which provide a rare example of what the Karst may have looked like before the Neolithic age, when the mild climate encouraged the first humans to settle in the area. The end of nomadic life marked an important step for the evolution of the natural landscape. Initially, man cleared parts of the Karst woodland to provide land for agriculture and grazing land for sheep rearing. This caused the woodland to be fragmented, eroded by polluting agents, more and more impoverished and finally replaced by moorland, providing a semi-natural habitat rich in, often very rare, wild life.
In fact, these deforested areas started to host meadow species mainly originating from the oriental steppes, which soon adapted to being eaten and trampled on by grazing animals. It was a centuries old process of contemporary evolution and speciation, where man has played, and could still play, a determining role. However, the oak woodland dominated for centuries until sheep rearing and coal mining during the Middle Ages sped up the deforestation process, leaving a completely barren, Bora-wind-swept moorland by the beginning of the nineteenth century.
The huge reforestation process lead by the Hapsburg Empire over the last two centuries with the reintroduction of the Austrian pine as well as the abandonment of traditional rural activities due to the economic boom have marked a dramatic turnaround. Deprived of man’s interference, nature has activated its own imposing natural process towards woodland reforestation.
Today, the Karst is dominated by lush woodland made of hornbeam and sessile oak, interspersed with small portions of moorland which is becoming increasingly more overgrown with smoke-bush and juniper. This is a huge loss if we consider that this habitat is an excellent example of biodiversity. Mount Orsario still has areas of moorland which is tinged with multicoloured flowers at the beginning of spring or during late autumn. During summer, it emanates the typical scent of aromatic plants such as savory (Satureja subspicata liburnica), which is endemic to the western border of this area.
Besides the woodland and the moorland, the typical architecture blends harmoniously with the natural landscape thus turning it into an intimately complex, even secretive ensemble, just like the Karst houses and the dry-stone walls, which have been built with ancient stones and delimit roads and estates.
As part of the municipality of Duino Aurisina (Devin-Nabrez?ina), this reserve includes an area of high coastland made of fossil limestone and is the only example in the whole of the Northern Adriatic coast. Its calcareous walls interrupted by turrets and short strips of low bushes of aromatic plants “macereti” are a sheer drop from the cliff to the sea. Their height, together with the thermal-reflective characteristic of the sea and the fact that they are not affected by the “bora” wind, make these cliffs a valuable refuge for the Mediterranean vegetation and a testimony of the xerothermic age (2500-800 BC) when man, on the nearby mainland, started to manufacture metals.
Walking along the “Rilke route”, the only path across the reserve which winds its way along the cliff, one can notice how the deciduous plants gradually give way to the sclerophillous species. Some Mediterranean species such as the holm-oak blend with Illyrian species such as the manna ash and the hornbeam. These plants can be found in Greece as up to the Leme Canal, in Istria, and again along the Triestine coast.
These cliffs house many rare flora species such as the kartschiana Centaurea which is endemic to the sea cliffs and is exclusive to this area. The hot, dry rocky landscape is the ideal habitat for reptiles as well as the most suitable nesting place for the peregrine.
Together with the naturalistic and landscape peculiarities of this area we should not forget the coast of Duino and Mount Hermada, which protected the Austrian troops during World War I. The panoramic outposts along the Rilke path provided fortifications from which an eventual landing of Italian troops in the Sistiana bay could have been signalled.
The natural Park of the Friuli Dolomites which covers an area of 37,000 hectares incorporates one of the most beautiful areas of the region. It includes the municipalities of Andreis, Cimolais, Claut, Erto, Casso, Frisanco and Tramonti di Sopra which are part of the province of Pordenone; and Forni di Sopra and Forni di Sotto which are both in Udine.
The main area of the Park, which in the past was not easily accessible due to its complex mountain network, has been preserved thanks to limited intrusion by humans. Its habitat and its spectacular landscape offer a high degree of wilderness, which makes this area a paradise for excursions, trekking and mountain climbing.
Many itineraries have been carefully modified and provided with accommodation facilities. They are spread over a territory of great geological interest, probably the most complex territory of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Due to erosions caused by pollution, the rocks of the Dolomites have been re-modelled into different, spectacular shapes whose range of colours modifies according to the different light.
The “bell-tower” of Val Montanaia is the symbol of the Monfalconi area, which is part of a typical dolomite landscape. It is an imposing rocky tower which was climbed for the first time in 1902 by the two Austrian alpinists, Saar and Glanvell.
An easy route made by the Alpine troops at the beginning of the 1900s, leads you up to the Casera Casamento, where dinosaur footprints have been recently discovered embedded in the rocks. This discovery is of great interest.
The footprints belonged to a two-footed animal with three digits on each foot, which probably lived in the Triassic era 215 million years ago, when the area was covered by vast mud flats.
An easy panoramic route from Costa to Casso, also known as the ancient “coal road” (Trui dal Sciarbon), leads you to the Zemola Valley, which is important from natural, historical and ethnographical viewpoints. Its pleasant landscape blends with the ancient and severe architecture of Erto and Casso, unfortunately, the images evoked by the tragic dam-burst and flooding of the Vajont valley inevitably dims the charm of this place.
At the end of 1600, the road was used by women who carried heavy panniers of coal on their shoulders. The coal was produced in the coal mines (poiàt) and transported down to Longarone. From there, it was loaded on to rafts which transited along the Piave river to Venice. This exhausting activity took place until the fifties but only in the last years was a cable car used to transport the coal down to the Piave valley.
It is easy to see many wild animals along the route from the Settimana to the Cimoliana valleys leading to the park or while stopping at the many, recently refurbished refuges. The patient and careful watcher is rewarded by the unforgettable sight of bucks, deer, chamois, and, higher up, of rock goats and marmots which often peep out from the vegetation and the rocks of their habitat. More easily discernible is the silent but spectacular flora of the Park. Its important species are surely one of the reasons why this territory has become a protected area. The following endemic species such as the sandwort (Arenaria huteri), the Daphne blagayana, a species of Thymelaeacea, the Froelich gentian (Gentiana froelich), the Primula tyrolensis and the Primula Wulfeniana are but some of the many valuable species of plants growing in the area. We should not forget more common species such as the splendid lady’s slipper (Cypripedium calceolus), a kind of orchid which blossoms profusely at the beginning of summer. Besides the flora and the fauna, the park also offers some fresh springs which turn into streams and small torrents and break into the silent woodland, remodelling its landscape and its rocks.
Some promotional projects for the Natural Park of the Friuli Dolomites have been set up particularly in schools. Over the last years, many students from all over the region and surrounding areas, have learned more about this naturalistic area thanks to the guided tours which take place throughout the year and are available to everyone. This is an interesting way of learning how the environment mutates in the different seasons. To help the visitor appreciate and enjoy the nature reserve, six visitors’ centres have been set up in the territory, some of which are open all year round, others by appointment only and only during high season (summer time). They all give additional information about the protected area.
The visitors’ centre at Cimolais is an important point of reference for tourists who wish to have information about the many excursions around the Park, which are ideal for those visitors venturing into the Natural Park for the first time. In particular, there is an educational tour which offers additional information about the fauna, flora, rock formations and vegetation. A brief interlude to familiarize the visitor with the surrounding, natural environment. The visitors’ centre at Erto is entirely dedicated to the floods which happened after the Vajont dam burst in 1963. The area is divided into two sections, one of which hosts an exhibition of old photographs which take us back over the centuries, to discover the traditions and habits of the Vajont inhabitants prior to the tragic event of 9 October 1963 and then to that fatal night, when a huge rockslide from mount Toc fell into the artificial lake, causing the dam to collapse and the death of 2,000 people. The other section gives a detailed analysis of the whole event, starting from the hydroelectric project of the Vajont right up to the court hearing following the tragedy. The story is narrated on descriptive panels; it is also possible to consult technical charts and examine and compare the plastic models of the area. The multimedia room offers a cd-rom which makes it possible to have a more general view of the catastrophe through the computerized reconstruction of the rockslide and original films dating back to that period.
The area of Andreis hosts a bird-life sanctuary, which was set up by an association for the care of wounded birds in cooperation with the local vet association. The area consists of a research centre, a study area, and a network of aviaries. The most interesting part is surely the aviaries, which can be found to the north of Andreis. They host different species of birds such as hawks, kestrels, buzzards, tawny owls, sparrow hawks, one goshawk and one golden eagle. Some of these birds have been so badly injured that will have to remain in captivity; others are freed once they are fully recovered. During convalescence, they are kept in special cages which are kitted out with rehabilitation equipment. When these birds are set free, the Park organises events, which are attended by adults and students, with a view to making them more environmentally aware. In the upper Tagliamento valley, the visitors’ centre at Forni di Sopra hosts the exhibition “La vegetazione del Parco”. It is about the vegetation of the area and is combined with excursions tailor-made for children, such as the “children’s pathway”. The visitors’ centre at Forni di Sotto has an exhibition on the different species of woodland, which is named “Le tipologie forestali del Parco”.
It also includes interesting itineraries concerning the archaeology of the woodland, such as that of the “Teleferica della Val Poschiadea” (Cable car of the Poschiadea Valley). An additional visitors’ centre is to open soon at Frisanco and it will host an exhibition about dairy farming. The idea of an educational tour about the ancient dairy techniques was carried out after a former local dairy was refurbished. The tour describes the activities in a shepherd’s hut and the production of typical products.
The nearby “Forra del Cellina” Nature Reserve is adjacent to the parkland which extends over the municipalities of Andreis, Barcis and Montereale Valcellina. This Reserve includes the mountainous area between Barcis and Montereale which has been eroded into a gorge by the Cellina torrent. It carries the sediment into the Pordenone area where it is deposited, forming wide river beds.
This narrow gorge is similar to a canyon and is characterized by fluvial erosions which over the centuries, have created appealing rock sculptures such as the “marmitte dei giganti”. A winding road crosses the left side of the gorge for about ten kilometres up to the green lake of Barcis. Today, this attractive trail is not open, but it is due to be refurbished thanks to European Community funding. The tormented aspect of this valley led the most prominent poet of the Cellina valley, Giuseppe Malattia della Vallata (1875-1948), to believe that Dante may have found inspiration for spirals of his Inferno right here.