The Cava Bomba quarry - Cinto Euganeo

Cava Bomba is an example of environmental regeneration in a long-disused quarry. Quarrying activities, which began in the late 1800s and ended in the mid-1970s, had left a barren expanse of rock with no vegetation and a high, steep cliff where layers of Biancone white limestone and Scaglia rossa pink limestone were clearly visible, traces of the ancient clay ocean floor. When quarrying activities ended in 1974, signalling the beginning of a research phase studying the important fossils excavated there (dating back 92 million years and found in a dark shale mound in the middle of the quarry floor), the area became the object of targeted regeneration work featuring the sowing of plant species that grow in temperate climates and dry chalky soils (grasses and legumes as well as native trees and shrubs) that are particularly suited to the almost Mediterranean local environment and, in general, the south-facing slopes of the Euganean Hills. Over time, the environment gained other species such as Spanish broom (Spartium junceum), dog roses (Rosa canina), South European flowering ash trees (Fraxinus ornus) and many other grasses, trees and shrubs.

After the opening of the Cava Bomba geo-paleontological museum (1987), awareness of the use of quarry sites as part of an environmental regeneration plan grew in the early 1990s. It was then that a diurnal bird of prey, the common kestrel (Falco tinnunculus), once a common sight, was reintroduced. In 1993, the Paduan branch of the LIPU (the Italian bird protection league) and the provincial government of Padua, which owns the area, launched Project Kestrel and also began a series of targeted schemes for the constant and careful study and conservation of birds in the Cava Bomba area. Improvement work carried out on a pond on the quarry floor also proved extremely important, as was the creation of a stable environment equipped with nest boxes, feeding troughs and large-scale facilities set up to take care of animals that are too young or who have been captured in a poor state of health, where they are sheltered from public view. In this way, the LIPU has certainly encouraged the arrival of an extremely diverse range of bird species, some of which are only temporary visitors during annual migrations, while others stay during the winter or even come specially to nest and breed.

All those intending to visit the quarry are therefore asked to respect the private, fragile biodynamic balance of this oasis and its inhabitants, and visitors are not allowed to go past the wooden fence bearing signs indicating the LIPU area. Only a respectful and discreet level of observation from outside can preserve the fragile mechanisms that have allowed this place, once a barren expanse of rock, to come back to life.

General information on the Cava Bomba museum: the official website of Euganean Hills museums

 


The rhyolite column quarry - Mount Cinto, Cinto Euganeo

The lower half of Mount Cinto, approximately 281 metres high, is made up of sedimentary rock that formed on the ancient sea floor before volcanic activity began, while the upper half of the hill consists of rhyolite, a volcanic rock from the second phase. This spectacular quarry is characterised by a phenomenon known as ‘columnar jointing’, i.e. the separation of the rock into 40-50 metre-high prisms, caused by the gradual cooling of lava immediately after it has been expelled. When the hot rock comes into contact with a cold environment, it cools quickly from the outside in, and can – as clearly shown in this case – break up into highly regular prisms. An interesting feature is that the columns are bent into a hook shape in the top left-hand corner of the quarry’s cliff face, a change in their original position due to the fact that the lava bent over during the cooling phase and settled in a gravitationally balanced position. This quarry, one of the oldest in the area, was used up until the late 1800s for extracting volcanic rock (rhyolite and trachyte), commonly referred to as masegna and used in the construction industry, architecture, the paving of streets and squares (such as St. Mark’s Square, Venice) and in constructing river and canal embankments. Quarry work was very hard and was carried out in three different phases by quarrymen, stone-cutters and carvers.

 

Mount’s Fasolo beech tree – Mt. Fasolo, Cinto Euganeo

The presence of European beeches (Fagus sylvatica) in the Euganean Hills – the main tree found in broad-leaf 

The ‘great beech’ located along the ditch that runs down Mount Fasolo and is hidden by beeches, hornbeams, oaks and chestnut coppice, is 18 metres high, with a trunk that is noticeably slanted towards the west and was formed when two tree trunks grew into one. The canopy features a complex array of branches that form an umbrella shape.mountain forests growing in the Alps between 700 and 1400 metres above sea level – has something to do with the long phases of glaciation that characterised the Quaternary Period (from 1.6 million to 15,000 years ago). The Latin name Fagus comes from the Greek word phagéin (‘to eat’), because of the edible fruit it bears (oil-rich beechnuts). It is a very large, long-lived tree with a straight trunk, smooth grey bark and a thick canopy. The leaves grow in two rows and are a simple oval shape with a wavy and slightly toothed edge. Its flowers hang down and are difficult to spot. It flowers in April and May.

Beech trees are also found on the north-facing slopes of Mounts Venda and Vendevolo, Madonna, Grande, Rua, Ventolone, Ricco and Cero in the Euganean Hills.

As well as beech trees, silver birch (Betula pendula), bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus), cobweb houseleeks (Sempervivum arachnoideum), tiger lilies (Lilium bulbiferum), Turk’s cap lilies (Lilium martagon) and barrenwort (Epimedium alpinum) are all ‘glacial relict’ plant species of the Euganean Hills.

Mankind has always valued the properties of beechwood. It is an excellent fuel, as well as a good material for making chairs and small utensils. It is particularly suitable for making handles, so much so that the Venetians used it to make the oars for their ships.

 

The Mount Croce quarry - Battaglia Terme

The Mount Croce quarry, now disused and environmentally regenerated by the Regional Park of the Euganean Hills, is one of the most interesting sites due to the geological features visible there. Thanks to the excavation work carried out during quarrying activities, the structure of the cliff face made of volcanic rock (latite) can be seen from several different angles while walking round the quarry floor. It is easy to see ‘columnar jointing’ in the lower section of the cliff face – the sectioning of rock into regular prisms due to the sudden underwater cooling of magma – and, in this case, the columns have bent over due to the force of gravity. Towards the top of the cliff wall, the now compact latite rock is crossed by a clearly visible, semi-horizontal layer of sedimentary rock (marl) which, though thin, contrasts with the rest of the cliff face, also thanks to its lighter colour. Formed by deposits of materials (sediment) on the ancient sea floor during a break in volcanic activity, this layer is now being studied in detail, as fossils of marine organisms have been found in it that date back to approximately 33 million years ago.

The precise dating of these ancient forms of life is the most interesting aspect of this research, in that even the dating carried out on the volcanic rocks above and under the sedimentary layer led to the same result in terms of millions of years. The comparison between the ages of other volcanic rocks in the Euganean Hills has allowed experts to come to the conclusion that the eruptions that led to the formation of the Euganean Hills took place at the same time, approximately 33 million years ago. The excavations on Mount Croce have highlighted a scientific aspect that is fundamental if we want to reconstruct the history of the Euganean Hills.

The quarry floor – a maze of fairly flat areas, dips and mounds of fill material – was the object of a carefully planned regeneration project that led to the creation of an environment featuring a diverse range of plants and microclimates. Pioneer plants have colonised every inch of the old quarry which, at its lowest point, features a marvellous marsh area complete with rushes, one of the few found in the Euganean Hills.

Like in many other areas near the Horseshoe Trail, along which this quarry is a must-see attraction, there are many examples of Eastern prickly pears (Opuntia compressa, a species originally from Central America) found even on sun-drenched rocky crags, on the south side of Mount Croce, near the scenic spot on Battaglia Terme fitted with park benches.

Today, the Mount Croce quarry is a true open-air educational nature laboratory and the perfect site for environmentally friendly sports.

 

The marron trees of Venda – Mt. Venda, Cinto Euganeo

The cultivation of chestnut trees for fruit production (sweet chestnuts and marrons) in the Euganean Hills goes all the way back to Roman times, as Pliny testifies (first century b.c.) where he describes how chestnut grafting was taught to the Neapolitans by Corelius, a native of Este. Chestnut trees grow in siliceous soils like those derived from the volcanic rocks of the Euganean Hills and mostly cover the cooler north-facing slopes, though they can be found, as in this case, in other areas as well. The trees flower towards late May or June and emanate a peculiarly strong fragrance. The fruit, each produced from one flower, ripens inside its distinctive spiny burrs (to be precise, it is a chestnut when each burr ripens two or three fruits, while it is a marron if each burr only produces one fruit). Marron trees are grafted onto chestnut tree stock, a procedure that results in larger, more flavourful fruit. These majestic, centuries-old trees can also be recognised by the anti-clockwise spiral fissures in their trunks that make them look like they are winding around themselves. Large cavities inside the trunks that can be as much as a few metres long are clearly visible. Marron trees can grow to a height of around 13 metres, with a circumference that varies between 4-5 metres. Their pleasant-looking canopies spread out into a number of branches, branching out from the trunk at a height of around five metres above the ground. The cultivation of these trees – once widespread, as the delicious fruit was a source of wealth and a staple food – has now drastically fallen to a few specimens that are evidence of how the resources of the Euganean Hills were once exploited. As living witnesses of centuries of history, marron trees have survived adverse climatic conditions, natural disasters and, above all, the human intervention that has shaped the land. As well as being of scientific interest and of historical and cultural importance, these large trees are an open-air laboratory.

 

Mount Ceva – Battaglia Terme, Montegrotto Terme

Mount Ceva is the main peak in the group of hills that crown the footpath known as the Horseshoe Trail. These hills separate the plain of Battaglia Terme from the borough of Montegrotto Terme. Its southern slope in particular is characterised by extremely interesting geological features, thanks to the presence of lava rock (latite) that is quite exposed and south-facing. This habitat is listed by the Natura 2000 network as ‘Rupicolous calcareous or basophilic grasslands of the Alysso-Sedion albi’, and it is one of the Euganean Hills’ richest habitats in terms of the number of species found there. Among the hundreds of plant species growing there (around 1,200 if we take into account the entire group of hills overlooking the Horseshoe), it is worth mentioning the unusual co-existence of Eastern prickly pears (Opuntia humifusa), a species that thrives in hot climates, alongside the cobweb houseleek (Sempervivum arachnoideum), a glacial relict.


Rocca Pendice – Teolo

Unlike the walls of its many quarries, created by human intervention, Rocca Pendice is a natural cliff face. Geologically speaking, it is a vein of volcanic rock (trachyte) that has surfaced from the softer, eroded, sedimentary rocks below it. Recently acquired by the Euganean Hills’ park authority almost in its entirety, this site has always been used for rock climbing and is a favourite spot for enthusiasts of this sport. Nevertheless, Rocca Pendice is a place where history and nature are inextricably linked in a fascinating way that is unique in the Euganean Hills. The ruins of Speronella Castle lie near its summit, while the distinctive ‘cart’ carvings – symbols of the Da Carrara family – were found etched in the rocks. The presence of peregrine falcons, which return to this place every year to nest, is the most important ecological feature and contributed enormously to the inclusion of the park in the Natura 2000 network’s list of Special Protection Areas (SPAs). As a result, rock climbing is not permitted during the nesting season.

 



The Schivanoia waterfall – Teolo

The only real, natural and permanent waterfall in the Euganean Hills is fed from a stream of the same name along the Calto Contea gorge. It is a dramatically beautiful place at one remove from the most frequented paths and it is reached via the third bend in the road that climbs from Teolo to Castelnuovo, via a footpath. Along a recently repaired trail, you cross a magnificent grove of centuries-old marron chestnut trees and, after a short stretch downhill, you need to take care whilst walking as there are no safety barriers near the waterfall.

 

 

 

The San Daniene Biotope – Torreglia

A LIFE Natura site – which falls within the habitat category of ‘Natural eutrophic lakes with Magnopotamion or Hydrocharition-type vegetation’ – the San Daniele biotope takes its name from the nearby hill and is a typical example of marshland of enormous natural importance. It is located in an area that is partly set up for game fishing, also known as Lago Verde di Torreglia, and consists of several artificial ponds, the remains of a network of lagoons left behind by clay quarrying activities associated with brick production. The ponds have different depths; some are waterlogged all year round, while others partially dry up during the summer months. They are part of a water collection network connected to two canals: Rio Calcina, produced from the springs of Mount Rua, and Scolo Rialto.

Throughout the area between Torreglia, Abano Terme and Montegrotto Terme, water tends to accumulate on the edges of fields and fills many ditches, even in summer, creating the ideal conditions for the survival of many bog plant species, some of which are in decline (Cardamine pratensis, Oenanthe fistulosa, Euphorbia palustris) while others are seriously threatened throughout the Po River plain (Ludwigia palustris, Taraxacum palustre). The park authority has taken action to clear the area of rubbish, cut down weeds, repair and strengthen the banks where necessary and set up a circular trail that is suitable for everyone, including those with disabilities. Along the path, a boardwalk has even been built above one of the ponds, complete with a sheltered spot for bird watching.

Opposite the ponds, many native plants form a natural habitat that encourages the arrival of animals typical of marshlands, apart from those found in the ponds themselves. Many water bird, reptile and amphibian species populate the biotope today.

 

Costa Lake - Arquà Petrarca

Named after the road that runs along the southern flank of Mount Calbarina, the lake stretches out into a valley surrounded by wooded hillsides: to the south, Mount Riccio; to the north, Mounts Piccolo and Calbarina. Surrounded by a thick edge of rushes, many willows and cypress trees grow along its banks.

Costa lake is a site of enormous ecological and environmental interest as it is the biggest and most well-known natural body of water in the Euganean Hills. It is fed from hot springs. The water bubbles up in fountains that are sometimes clearly visible on the surface, with a temperature of approximately 45°C, ensuring that the lake’s temperature never falls below 17-18°C in winter. In the spring, following heavy rainfall, water from the countryside further up the hill feeds into the lake, as well as water from colder springs located at higher altitudes. The high quantities of peat in surrounding soil – a material derived from decomposing plants, mostly lake or marsh plants – not only gives the soil a distinctive dark colour; it also proves that the lake was once much larger and that it has been shrinking over time. These deposits date from the Quaternary period and were studied due to the presence of fossilised pollen from ancient plants that reveal the changes in climate and vegetation that have occurred following the Ice Age. It is generally about a dozen metres deep, though in some places, where hot springs feed into the lake, the depth can be as much as 17-19 metres. The lake is important due to the high quality of the mineral mud it contains, used for therapeutic purposes, making it the main location for mud extraction and its use in the geothermal spas of the Euganean Hills. From a historical point of view, it is important thanks to the interesting archaeological finds excavated there, which reveal the presence of palafitte settlements dating from the Bronze Age. It was also once known as the ‘lake of seven springs’ due to the many cold, hot, saline and sulphurous springs that fed into it. It is probable that an episode described in the Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis takes place here, as the author describes how Jacopo and Teresa go for a walk ‘along the banks of a stream till they reached Five Springs Lake’.

The site has inspired many folk legends and sayings, particularly as regards the mysterious look it takes on in the winter, when the steam produced by its warm water covers the lake in a spellbinding halo.