- FEBRUARY 2018 -
HOME - - Nature and Landscape - Terra delle Gravine nature reserve Among majestic canyons
Nature and Landscape
Terra delle Gravine nature reserve
Among majestic canyons
A breathtaking natural landscape: 60 canyons in two semicircles looking over the Gulf of Taranto, with abundant flora and fauna, many rare species, and stone settlements with priceless finds by Martino Miali
SHARE Facebook Twitter

Panoramic view of the Laterza Ravine (Taranto) towards the Ionian arc. Photo by Martino Miali

      One of the most fascinating natural parks in Puglia is that of Terra delle Gravine. That is the name of the large territory in the arc of the Taranto Ionian (from Ginosa to Grottaglie, with an appendix in the territory of Villa Castelli, in the province of Brindisi), included within the boundaries of the Regional nature reserve that was set up in December 2005.

      It is a territory that has seen profound transformations, with large areas given over to farming, and the consequent fragmentation of the natural environment and spontaneous vegetation.

      Its geo-morphological conformation is rich in Karst incisions, ravines, grottoes, marshes and depressions, created by the action of the water on rock fractures, and that span all the historical epochs back to the Paleolithic Age.

      On the calcareous rock faces we find the most significant species of Apulian flora, like the Apulian bellflower, Jerusalem sage, Greek sage, tree spurge and shining figwort. There is a significant presence of southern silk vine meridionale (Stipa austroitalica) and numerous species of orchids. The woods are dominated by Macedonian oaks, roverella oaks and holm oaks, with the species typical to the Mediterranean maquis: mastic, turpentine trees, strawberry trees, Mediterranean buckthorn and phillyrea. In the deeper and cooler environment of the ravines, there are deciduous trees like the ash, the manna ash, the hornbeam and the hawthorn.

      The presence of natural environments which are often rather inaccessible to man has allowed the most interesting fauna species in the Murge to flourish, like Egyptian vultures, short-toed snake eagles, Eurasian eagle owls, lanner falcons, lesser kestrels and common kestrels.

      There is an important presence of some mammals, like crested porcupines, badgers, foxes, beech martens, weasels and various species of reptiles and amphibians (the latter are bound up with the damp environment at the bottom of the ravines). In the territory of the ravines there is a widespread heritage of art and culture, witness to the “stone civilisation” (churches, crypts and sanctuaries) and the “peasant civilisation” (farmhouses, trulli and drystone walls) which, in harmony with the network of fields given over to farming and the natural environment, define a landscape with a strong identity, one of a kind.

      The ravines correspond to the riverbeds of ancient rivers that at one time ploughed their way through the Murge, connecting, from a hydro-graphic point of view, the inland areas of the Ionian. We are talking about real canyons, more than 60 of them, spread out over two virtual semi-arches facing onto the Gulf of Taranto, at different heights (the first, at 100-300 meters above sea level, and the second at 300-500 meters above sea level); the cliff faces are rather narrow and deep descending to 200 meters, like in the ravine of Laterza.

      The availability of caves and underground passages and the quality of the calcarenite rock gave man the chance to create whole villages along the rock faces and inside them, the famous stone settlements fitted with all the necessary infrastructures: paths, steps, terraces, systems of harvesting and the distribution of rain water and food provisions, apart from the rock churches and the monasteries built or dug thanks to the consistent presence of monks faithful to the Eastern rites. The human presence in this zone is evidenced also in periods previous to the diffusion of the stone civilisations (from VII century to XIV century); many of these proofs include finds of inestimable value, covering a period ranging from the Palaeolithic to the Mediaeval Age.

      There are numerous underground villages that can be visited in Mottola, in the ravine of Petruscio and in the village of Casalrotto, with grottoes and real stone sanctuaries, like Sant’Angelo, that stands on two superimposed levels, the lower one having a funereal destination, Santa Margherita, San Nicola, with “frescoed” walls (tempera on plaster) dedicated to saints and episodes and cycles of the Holy Scriptures.

      The Church of San Nicola has been defined the “Sistine Chapel of the stone civilisation in Southern Italy” for the beauty of its frescoes, which were restored in 1989. In the central apse we can see the Déesis, with Christ Almighty, between the Virgin and St. John the Baptist in adoration. On the side walls the frescoes of St. Nicholas, Saint Lucia, St. Pelagius, St. Parasceve, St. Basil, St. Michael the Archangel (dating from XI to XIV century).

      We must mention the rock churches of Massafra (Sant’Antonio Abate, San Leonardo and Madonna della Buona Nuova) and the rock villages of Accetta Piccola and Triglio, in Statte, along with “St. John’s Dolmen or Leucaspide’s Dolmen”, a megalithic monument from the Bronze Age.

      The great Park of the Ravines is organized in trails that enable visitors to discover the natural, historical, archaeological and architectural beauty that has been preserved down to our times, but there are also traditional food products (dairy and bakery produce, wine, olive oil) that make the area even more interesting to them as do the warmth and hospitality of the local people.

WHERE: Parco naturale Terra delle Gravine (Taranto)

Related articles
FLORA   The Apulian bellflower FAUNA   The Egyptian vulture
More articles