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The Chalk Landscapes of Emilia-Romagna have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on account of the phenomenon of ‘Karstification in the Evaporites and Caves of the Northern Apennines‘.

The news came from Riyadh where a session of the United Nations Organization for Science and Culture was held on September 19, 2023. This nomination as a world natural heritage site is the sixth after the Dolomites, Mount Etna, the Aeolian Islands, the Ancient Beech Forests of the Apennines, and the fossiliferous site of Monte San Giorgio.

The Vena del Gesso Romagnola (Chalk Vein), the Gessi Bolognesi e di Zola Predosa (Bologna and Zola Predosa chalk outcrops) are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with the San Leo evaporites and the Onferno cave in the Rimini area, the Upper Secchia valley and the lower hills of Reggio Emilia. All these Apennine sites are characterised by hills and caves dating back thousands of years. The morphological evolution of the landscape and the exclusive presence of numerous animal and plant species were crucial for this recognition. The rocks typical of this area only outcrop on 1% of the national territory and are often white in colour, although it is possible to find other shades such as light grey, orange and pink. As a result of the chemical activity exerted by water on the rocks during the Upper Triassic period, known as karstification, they were formed in addition to the accumulation of salts in marine lagoon environments following evaporation during warm periods, hence the name evaporites.

Parco della Vena del Gesso Romagnola

The hills in the Lamone valley are crossed by a clearly recognisable silvery ridge.

The chalk outcrop, the longest and most impressive in Italy, stretches over 25 km, with the entire area being characterised by peculiar karst morphologies, including dolines, blind valleys and caves, the best known of which is the Grotta del Re Tiberio (King Tiberius’ Cave), site of archaeological evidence of man’s presence in the area over several millennia.

Parco dei Gessi Bolognesi e dei Calanchi dell’Abbadessa

This is the largest karst park in Emilia-Romagna, located a short distance from the city walls, on the first hills of Bologna, between the Savena, Zena, Idice and Quaderna rivers.
It represents one of the territory’s main natural assets thanks to its dolines, plateaus, cliffs and valleys that shape the landscape. Concealed in the park are the entrances to over one hundred caves, including the best known Grotta della Spipola and Grotta del Farneto, all of which are home to a variety of underground fauna, including some species of chiroptera and numerous invertebrates..

The chalk groups are also traversed by groundwater systems, with the most significant example found at Croara.
Particularly wild are the chalk outcrops between Zena and Idice, with the dolines of Inferno and Goibola. The chalky cliffs are covered with sparse and discontinuous vegetation suitable for life on the rock. In some places, the vegetation cover is intensified by thick woods that merge with the outcrops, delimiting cultivated areas.

Gessi di Zola Predosa

Also referred to as the ‘Chalks of Monte Rocca, Monte Capra and Tizzano‘, the Messinian formations of Zola Predosa are an extreme western offshoot of the Bolognese Chalks, beyond the river Reno.

They can be divided into two different areas: a larger western section , from Monte Rocca to Monte Malgotto, which includes the so-called Gessi di Zola, and a smaller portion in the east, from the Hermitage of Tizzano to the underlying Rio Pozzarone. The park is home to one of the most important karst formations in the region, the Michele Gortani Cave.

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