PARKS AND NATURE RESERVES -
Parco di Colfiorito
Instituted in 1995, this smallest of Umbria’s regional park extends over an area within the jurisdiction of Foligno. Since 1977 the important wetland habitats contained within the park have been listed as part of the Ramsar Convention. These include the Piani di Colfiorito or Altipiani Plestini (Colle Croce, Annifo, Arvello, Colfiorito, Palude, Cesi and Popola, Ricciano), seven karst basins with unique water deposits – particularly in around the Colfiorito marshes – and a number of other minor water deposits. Apart from a cistern built in the 16th century during the draining of part of the marshes, all the water deposits in the area are naturally formed by rainfall, which is channelled through natural cavities in the mountains.
The marshy plant species that live within the park’s boundaries are rich in biodiversity. Besides the reed beds that flourish throughout the area, there are many species of rare flowers such as water orchids, water lilies and water irises. The hills are largely wooded – chiefly Turkish oak, hornbeam and beech – although plentiful meadows offer good grazing for cattle and sheep. The special environmental conditions are ideal for farming and the area is known for its production of red potatoes, lentils, spelt and a broad variety of more common vegetables – all grown organically.
The park also supports a rich and varied number of aquatic birds, both migratory and non, such as the extremely rare Eurasian bittern, an endangered species. This is also a crucial resting place for swallows before they fly the last section of their migratory journey to African from Northern Europe. A team of biologists is currently working on a major project to mark the birds for classification and study.
The many karst cavities present in the area, including that of Rasiglia near Pale and Capodacqua, ensure an abundance of natural water springs.
Colfiorito: a crossroads of civilisations
Given its crucial strategic importance as a communication route from the inland territories of Central Italy towards the sea, the Colfiorito plain has been inhabited since prehistory. Many ancient castles still stand, including the fortified town of Monte Orve that remains one of the earliest examples of urban planning to have survived intact. Further proof of early human settlements in the area comes from the many burial grounds, some of which date back as far as the 10th century BC.
The Roman dominion is well represented by the ruins of the flourishing city of Plestia, while the marshes are where Hannibal and his troops set up camp on their way to Rome, after defeating the Roman army at Lake Trasimene.
The strategic importance of these uplands continued into the Middle Ages, as indicated by the proliferation of fortified hamlets and towers. A series of abbeys and monasteries offered rest and shelter to pilgrims on their way to Assisi over the Apennines and were hence named terapeutici. Among the most notable religious figures to have been canonised are St Mary of Giacobbe and St Mary of Plestia.
Food and produce
The Parco di Colfiorito is particularly known for its organic farming produce, which includes the red potato, recently awarded the Indicazione Geografica Protetta quality provenance denomination by the European Union. The area is also known for its production of spelt, lentils and cheeses.
"Umbria...Cuore verde d’Italia. Umbria delle acque e dei Parchi, Agenzia di Promozione turistica dell'Umbria, Perugia, pg. 72, by kind permission.
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