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A NATURAL TREASURE

Nature is our best resource, let’s have a walk in our natural paradise.
From a biological point of view, the Gargano promontory could be considered an island, divided from the peninsula by Tavoliere delle Puglie plain. It is rich in karst structures like caves and dolines. While in the past the promontory was entirely covered with forests, now they represent only the 15% of its original surface area: the most important woodland in the Park is the Foresta Umbra. The Park preserves an extraordinary concentration of different habitats: rocky coasts, the big and hot southern valleys rich in rare flower and wildlife species, the central beech woodlands situated at low altitudes, Mediterranean pine forests with Aleppo pines, with specimens more than 500 years old. As far as wildlife is concerned, the peculiarity of the promontory is given by the presence of the roe deer (one of the very few autochthonous nucleus in our Country) and several kinds of woodpeckers (very rare, they live in Italy only in protected areas): they enhance the naturalistic value of these forests. Both the undergrowth of Gargano forests and the prairies are very rich in flowers. Gargano is the richest location in orchids in Europe and in the Mediterranean basin, with 56 species and 5 sub-species. In the past, the Foresta Umbra was part of the original and millenary forest of Gargano promontory.

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Today, it still is the most representative area of the Gargano hinterland. Despite the devastations and the foolish tree cutting carried out in the latest three centuries, which led to the disappearance of the woodland from the hills and the mountains, the Forest preserves his majesty and variety with a rich variety in species, trees and shrubs. The origins of the Forest name are not clear: the number of explanations that have been given are all acceptable: for example one of them wants that the name “Umbra” comes from “Umbri”, an ancient people belonging to the Celtic branch, who used to live in the forest robbing and pillaging the shepherds; a more simple explanation argues that the name of the forest comes from its characteristic darkness (as a matter of fact, the Italian term “ombra” means “shadow”). One of the main reasons of the Park establishment is without a doubt the presence of important wetlands declared biotopes of Community Importance, like the Lesina and Varano lagoons, the marshes in Frattarolo and Daunia Risi, the mouth of the river Fortore, the lake area of Sant’Egidio, and the marsh of Sfi nale. The presence of springs and temporary water pools called “cutini”, as well as the traditional “little pools” in the northern area of Gargano and along the coast between Vieste and Peschici is very interesting for the survival of amphibians, reptiles and migratory birds. The wetlands of Gargano and Capitanata have always raised the interest of scientists and tourists for the different environments they offer and for being situated in a strategic position on the migratory routes of aquatic birds between Africa and central-eastern Europe. In the 14th century, the Emperor Frederick II of Swabia was fascinated by these places, inspiring his famous treatise “De arte venandi cum avibus”. Gargano National Park covers about 121,118 hectares: in this territory we can find a series of unique habitats. From thick and very large forests, for which it is famous, to the Mediterranean maquis, from the great karstic plateaus rich in dolines and swallow holes to the steep cliffs overhanging the sea and scattered with fantastic caves, from the steep valleys covered with woods and descending towards the sea to the coastal lagoons of Lesina and Varano, from the steppelike hills and plains to the Marshes of Frederick II.
The four Tremiti Islands are part of this jewel: they are surrounded by a crystal-clear sea and they are rich in caves. Probably you will not fi nd along the Mediterranean coasts another place with such a limited area but such a rich biodiversity like Gargano National Park as a matter of fact, it is a microcosm, a real biological island.
Over the millennia, the territory of Alta Murgia National Park has been shaped by the erosion phenomena. The canyon of Gravina in Puglia, sloping down towards Matera and Bradano, marks the south-western board of the protected area. Near Altamura, you will find the impressive karstic Pulicchio and Pulo dolines, respectively of over 100 and 70 meters of depth. Although the Park landscape has been transformed over the centuries by man, Alta Murgia preserves a fauna and flora of great interest.
It is one of the largest sub-steppe areas in Italy, with Festuco-brometalia herbaceous vegetation. Here lives one of the largest population of the priority species of Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni) present in Italy. The deep changes caused by the human action have shaped the status of the original vegetation in a way that is today very difficult, quite impossible to carry out a precise and certain analysis of the potentialities of this territory without the disturbing action of man. Deep, fast, and particularly widespread changes involve today the pastures of Alta Murgia, because of the techniques and technological means used, enabling the breaking of the outcropping rock with ecological, hydro geologic consequences that are still not clear.
The wildlife populating these environments has adapted to the conditions of the vegetal covering, although hunting and environmental changes have led to the extinction of several species since the beginning of the century (the wolf, the Egyptian Vulture, the wildcat, and the Little Bustard). The Park territory is also interesting from an architectural point of view, with its charming buildings different for purpose and architectural style. Among the buildings linked to agricultural activities and stock rearing, we mention the so-called “Poste”: they are buildings surrounded by dry-stone walls, used above all by the shepherds to protect the animals from bad weather. The so-callled “Jazzi” are structures used for sheep rearing, situated in steep areas and with a southern exposure. The area is also rich in archaeological finds of great importance, like the fossil skeleton of the “Man from Altamura”, a skeleton of hominid, entire and well preserved, who lived 150 thousand years ago. It was found in Lamalunga Cave, near Altamura. The fossilized finds of the man, belong to an archaic species of Homo who lived in a period between Homo erectus and Neanderthal Man.