Majella –All Things Wild and Wonderful
The Majella National Park is one of Italy’s newest national parks. It was founded as late as in 1993, and stretches over some 86,000 hectares of spectacular terrain in the provinces of Pescara, Chieti and L’Aquila. Steep mountains, deep valleys and canyons combine with plateaus to provide natural habitat for a great many species of flora and fauna, some of them facing extinction. In fact, it is home to about 45 percent of the various wildlife species found in Italy.
As much as 55% of Majella National Park is high altitude – over 2000 m above sea level. The peaks seem everywhere. You feel you can put out your hand and touch them. But then, they’re so far away. The nearer you go, the further they seem. The main peak is Monte Amaro, the second tallest in the Apennines at 2,793m. These mountains are unique to the Appenine range, characterised by deep, wild, valleys slicing the mountains from top to bottom. The Vallone dell'Orfento, Valle del Foro, Vallone di Selvaromana, Valle delle
Mandrelle, Valle di Santo Spirito and the Vallone di Taranta, with the famous Grotta del Cavallone, are some of these valleys. The Orta and the Foro are two of the major rivers in the region. Waterfalls tumble over the rocky landscape.
The area is awe-inspiring enough to be the force behind curses. Majella finds mention in local speech – summoned in times of need to pit its power against adversaries.
Legend has it that the word Majella comes from the Goddess Maia, a harsh and upright mother, who was, nonetheless, loving and gentle towards her children. Goddess Maia spent years searching for her son, and finally ended her days in the mountains here, giving them her name.
A more gentle explanation of the origin of the term comes from the laburnum which clothes the region in brilliant yellow. The local name is maio.
Majella is believed to have been populated since the Palaeolithic period - 800,000 years ago - when groups of hunters-collectors lived there. Later, agriculture, silviculture and cattle rearing became activities of preference. Monasteries and hermitages were established. San Clemente a Casauria, San Liberatore a Majella, San Salvatore a Majella, San Tommaso a Paterno and Santo Spirito a Majella were among the monasteries which came up here, while hermitages included Sant'Onofrio di Serramonacesca, Santo Spirito, San Bartolomeo di Legio, Sant'Onofrio al Morrone and San Giovanni all'Orfento. Many monuments of historical value, including churches, castles and cave paintings, remain.
So many species live here that were saved in the nick of time from the brink of extinction. The chamois, the red deer and the roe deer are some of these. There was a time when these were found in plenty in the region, along with the wolf and the Marsican brown bear. The thoughtlessness of man almost wiped them from the area, but thanks to the efforts of such organisations as the State Corps of Foresters, Parco Nazionale d'Abruzzo, the Italian section of WWF, Club Alpino Italiano, and many Municipalities, apart from the establishment
of the park itself, these animals can once again call the region home, living and reproducing in safety. The otters, very representative of the park, cavort in rivers that flow through the valleys. Then there are the wildcats, the polecats, amphibians like the yellow-bellied toad, reptiles like the Apennine salamander and the rare spectacled salamander and Orsini's Viper. Apart from the mammals, there are some 130 species of birds here, including the rare peregrine falcon and lanner falcon the golden eagle, White-backed Woodpeckers, Honey Buzzards goshawk, Dotterel and the eagle owl. Then there is the Apollo butterfly, the only insect in the Abruzzo region that is protected by the Washington Convention. This large butterfly, with almost transparent wings, embellished by red and black spots, can be sighted here, along with many other species of butterflies. A lepidopterist’s dream come true!
A census has numbered over 1,800 plant species, comprising Mediterranean, Alpine, Balkan, Illyrian, Pyrenean and Arctic flora.
Oaks, maples, hornbeams, beech, yew, birch, Sorb, Bilberry, manna-ash, and holm-oaks. Juniper, and mountain maple, and of course the ubiquitous laburnum are some of the trees that clothe the Majella National Park. The most characteristic tree is perhaps the Italian Black Pine, which grows in the most inaccessible regions of Cima della Stretta, Vallone di Macchialunga, and the Valley of Orfento.
There are several in this national park. The "Paolo Barrasso" has a museum with two sections, one on naturalistic features and the other displaying archaeological finds. There is also a wildlife center focusing on the European Otter. The Centre of Fara San Martino has a naturalistic museum which is disabled-friendly. An audio-visual panel reproduces images and calls of several birds living in the Park. The Centre of Lama dei Peligni is a section devoted to the Abruzzi Chamois, as well as a historical centre. There is also a botanical garden
with aviaries, and a reconstructed Neolithic village. The Sant’Eufemia a Majella Visitors’ Centre also has a botanical garden dedicated to the floral heritage of the park, and the herbarium has over 1000 plant specimens from the protected area and from Abruzzi in general.
Things to do:
Hiking, visiting the monasteries and abbeys which dot the area, and taking in the culture of the place are some of the popular tourist pastimes. The area is famous for wrought iron pieces and jewellery. Don’t leave without buying some to take home – as gifts, or to remember the magnificent Majella by.
Tocco da Casauria is famous for a 72° mountain herb liqueur. The area is also known for its smoked ricotta as well as the pecorino cheese seasoned with cumin.
A Ready Reckoner
Park Authority: Ente Parco Nazionale della Majella
Headquarters: Palazzo Di Sciascio, Via Occidentale n. 6 - 66016 Guardiagrele (CH)
Area: over 74,095 hectares
Provinces: Pescara, L'Aquila and Chieti
The trekking routes can be long and tiring. Hikers are warned not to leave the marked trails and always to avail of the services of experienced and qualified staff who will conduct guided tours.
Entrance is free.
How to get there:
- From Rome, take the highway A25 Roma-Pescara and by going on towards the Municipalities of the massif by taking one of the following roads (SS): 17, 487, 614, 81, 84.
- From the North (Bologna, Ancona) and the East (Bari) take the highway A14 up to Pescara. Go ahead towards the inland by taking the highway A25.
- You can reach the Eastern slope of the Majella from Val di Sangro by following the direction to Casoli. From the South (Naples) take the highway A1 up to Caianello and go in the direction of Venafro and Roccaraso
It can also be reached by train, from the Roma-Sulmona-Pescara, as well as local lines.
Buses ply to the park from Sulmona, Chieti, Pesca, Lanciano and Guardiagrele.