Territory: the Murge of Apulia and Altamura
The territory of Apulia, which is a narrow strip of land, can be subdivided into five sub-regions; three of them – Gargano, Murge, and Salento – are composed of a powerfu lsequence of limestone rock that was deposited in a shallow sea during the Mesozoic Age, between 200 and 100 million years ago. In particular, the Murge is a wide area of tablel and, 50 Km wide and 150 Km long, of a basically rectangular shape, with a North-West to South-East orientation; it is placed mostly in the province of Bari, whilst a minor part of it is located in the provinces of Brindisi and Taranto. The northwestern portion, called “Murgia Alta”, that is high Murgia, is a slightly hilly tableland area sloping towards the Adriatic Sea by a series of blunt-edged terraces. The whole area is marked by karstic phenomena related to the dissolution of calcium carbonate stone by rainfall, which has given rise to caves, swallow holes and dolines – some of them quite large and deep, locally termed as “puli” (see the pulo of Altamura). This area is almost stripped bare of vegetation and poor in surface running water on account of the thick mesh of stone cracks that channel all the rainfall towards the underlying karstic water layer; it is a bleak landscape where traditional forms of human settlement have been preserved. In addition to these landscape features, the Altamura area includes items of outstanding cultural and archaeological interest as shown by two locations – the De Lucia quarry, with thousands of dinosaur footprints dating back to about 70 million years ago, and the Lamalunga cave, where the only complete skeleton of a man existing in our world dating back to 130,000- 100,00 years ago. Both of them bear a unique testimony to the history of Earth and to the evolution of our species.
HIGH MURGIA NATIONAL PARK
- Region: Puglia
• Province: Bari, Barletta, Andria and Trani
• Municipalities: 13
• Extension: 68,033 hectares
• Institution: Law no. 426 of December 9, 1998, Presidential Decree ofMarch 10, 2004
• Managing body: National Park Authority of the High Murgia
The park is spread over a steppic territory that goes from Barletta coastup to the calcareous plateau of the Murgia that marks the border with Basilicata. Some of the most interesting towns of Apulia like Altamura and the architectural masterpiece of Castel del Monte, a historic hunting reserve of Frederick II, are within the area concerned.The foundation of the park is due to the significant natural values of the territory – which is one of the most important steppe areas in Italy, with the presence of various endemic flora and one of the largest populations of birds of the steppes. The area has also a high landscape and cultural value and, thanks to the presence of karst phenomena that shaped the limestone of the area (making possible the original rural architecture: “jazzi” or sheep farms, farmhouses, snow-houses, shrines, dry stone walls) numerous prehistoric remains such as the finds of the Altamura Man.The main aspect of the territory is characterized by landscapes almost “lunar” that are the result of an action of a thousand years old erosion caused by the wind and the rainwater which have shaped over the centuries the calcareous plateau forms, by creating an exceptional heritage of karstic phenomena. The most widespread are the karstic basins and sinkholes like the Pulo of Altamura with its 550 meters in diameter and 92 meters deep and the Pulicchio of Gravina. The most obvious consequence of the karst is the almost total disappearance of surface hydrography, perennial watercourses that is perennial watercourse such as lakes and streams, of which today only the numerous erosion furrows, the so-called “lame” remain.The underground hydrography is much more developed and can reach up to 400 meters below sea level. The most common forms are underground wells, sinkholes, chasms, caverns and caves, often adorned with stalactites and stalagmite formations like the cave of Torre di Lesco. Most of the Murgia area, today, is covered with sub-steppe vegetation of the herbaceous or low shrub type.Today the presence of oak trees along the northern border facing towards the Adriatic prevails. In this area about 1,500 plant species have been counted, that is 25 percent of the species present on the whole national territory. Of particular relevance and variety are the micro-landscapes of lichens, mosses, steppe grasses or lands in which some sort of stipa commonly called ‘flax of the fairies’ grows.In the pasture, we find the most representative endemic species among whichwild orchids, some are bushy, other arboraceous. The grass layer is mainly composed of graminaceous plantsand it is distinguished by the presence of ferule (a type of giant wild fennel plant) and asphodels. In the woods the prevailing species are the downy oak, theQuercus trojana(another type of oak), the Kermes oak, holm oak, turkey oak and quercus farnetto. The fauna that colonizes these environments has adapted itself to the vegetation, although hunting and the environmental changes have led to extinction many species from the beginning of this century like the wolf, the Egyptian vulture, the wild cat, the little bustard. Small animals prevail (insects and other invertebrates, small birds, micro-mammals).The wild birds of this area are characterized by about 75 species, mostly related to open environments, cereal crops, pastures, uncultivated grounds. In fact, many birds nest directly onto the ground like the grille, theshort-toed lark,the Skylark, the crested lark and the woodlark. Of particular interest are the birds of prey; besides the buzzard, the sparrow hawk and the Lanner, the High Murgia houses the largest and most numerouspopulationof Kestrel hawk in Europe, best known as the lesser kestrel, recognized by the EU as “priority conservation species “. Amphibians by their nature arefound in the vicinity of karst ponds, tanks or wells. The arid and rocky environment that characterizes the High Murgia is the ideal habitat for many species of reptiles. Among these, because of the fact that they present only here, the gecko Kotschy and leopard snake arouse interest. The populations of thecommon tortoise are also significant. The class of mammals registers smaller presence, with about 25 species, among which the shrew, the Savi’s water vole, the field mouse. Among the predators the fox, the weasel, the marten must be enumerated. In the few forest areas the rate and the porcupine are present.
The famous Pulo of Altamura, located approximately at 6 km from the city, is a glimpse into the horizon, without a doubt the most impressive karst of High Murgia, a huge sinkhole with a diameter of about 500 meters and 92 meters deep. Despite its look as much like a crater, its origin is not volcanic, but karstic.The walls of the northern slope, which are those in almost vertical slope, have numerous ravines and natural caves probably inhabited in prehistoric times by hominids, that with the natural evolution process would have given rise to the species to which the Man of Altamura (dating to Neanderthal man times) and his clan belong, whose discovery occurred in a place not far away from the Pulo.Thanks to its special microclimate, the Pulo has become an ideal habitat of several rare plant and animal species in the rest of the Murgia, like the raven that nests on the steep walls of the Pulo. Many of the objects found here are now preserved in the National Archaeological Museum of Altamura.
The High Murgia park displays an intense variety of flora and fauna, in a diversity that gives the landscape a unique and characteristic image. Thanks to the variety of animal and plant species the air is enriched with aromas and it is filled with recalls, while the backgrounds fade away from the dense foliage to the subtlety of the stems, or crumble violently to the instantaneous passage of a bird of prey.The flora stands up proudly at the height of the landscape in which it germinates. The oaks rise domineering, asthey are the large majority in the area, accompanied in smaller numbers by the cypress and the Aleppo pine. To the latter, since 1930, active reforestation plants are dedicated which extend themselves as much in the internal areas as in those coastal regions of Puglia for about 25 thousand hectares. The natural pastures are populated by almond trees, medlars and olive trees, while the steppe soils are covered by the herbaceous vegetation: there are many species of wild orchids growing in these areas.
Among the wildlife many species that are also very curious must be included. The steppe is seen overflown by an important amount of diurnal birds, including the so-called Lesser Kestrel, while at night you can listen to the sounds of birds of prey such as barn owls, long eared owls or eagle owls, among the most common. The presence of the hawk proves surprisingly very important in the urban context, since its laboriously manufactured nests blend in with the architecture of the village, in a very genuine and artistic fusion. But the natural treasure of the High Murgia does not end with the birds. Many are the amphibians that tred on its soil, such as the Italian newt or the viper. As for mammals, it is very common the encounter with foxes, weasels, martens, but also rates and badgers, while the appearance of wolves is rarer.
(photo by Luca Bellarosa)
THE LESSER KESTREL
(photo by Luca Bellarosa)
The lesser kestrel is a bird of prey belonging to the Falconidae family. It is the smallest of the family as it measures just 33 cm in length with a wingspan of 70 cm. You can distinguish the two sexes for the different colour of the plumage. The male is brown with shades of gray, while the female is reddish brown, with black strikethrough.Very similar to the kestrel, the Lesser Kestrel can be recognized by the absence of dark spots on the back and for the colouring of the paws which are yellow, while in the kestrel are black.
The lesser kestrel has a very wide area of deployment that includes Europe, Asia and Africa. In Europe you can find it in the southern regions such as Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Poland and the former Soviet Union. It tends to spend the winter in Africa in particular in the Mediterranean regions. In Italy it is present mainly in the southern regions such as Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily and Sardinia. The natural habitat of the lesser kestrel is made up of barren lands, arid and open with low vegetation, composed mainly of grass and shrubs, where it is able to find food more easily. In winter it settles in the African savannah. It is a migratory species and attends our country during the breeding season, between March and September. The lesser kestrel nests mostly in caves and holes in Puglia and Basilicata, located under the roof spaces and in the facades of the old buildings of historic centers. The lesser kestrel owes its name to its eating habits. His diet, in fact, is composed mainly of insects such as crickets, grasshoppers and beetles. Although not equipped with powerful claws, it can occasionally capture rodents and lizards too. The hunt takes place on the ground with the ambush technique. The lesser kestrel is a very sociable bird of prey and does not fear the presence of man.