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Lava grottos of Simeto

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Nature in all its splendor

Lava grottos of Simeto

"U Bazu 'a Cŕntira"

The integral nature reserve of the "Forre laviche del Simeto" (Simeto lava gorges) is a Site of Community Interest (identified with the code ITA070026), established in 2000 by the Ministry of the Environment with the aim of safeguarding and conserving natural and semi-natural habitats, as well as wild flora and fauna of the upper Simeto basin.

It falls on the western slope of Etna where the river, in the junction area between the southern slope of the Nčbrodi mountains and the Vulcano, at the foot of Bronte, has dug and eroded millenary lava flows forming, in the river stretch between the two bridges of Cŕntera and of Serravalle and the Saracen Bridge in Adrano, suggestive gorges and narrow ravines that constitute places that have never undergone interaction or modification by the hand of man, undoubtedly of significant environmental and landscape interest.

The protected area, also implemented in 2005 by the Sicilian Region which approved the maps, extends into the munici­palities of Bronte, Adrano and, partially, Centuripe and Ran­dazzo, therefore affecting the two provinces of Catania and Enna.

It has a territory of 1,217 hectares, of which 285 are in the maximum protection zone. The midpoint is located in the Bronte area north of Contra­da Pietrerosse, in front of the Marotta and Barbaro districts.

It concerns a strip of territory of particular interest and geolo­gical-environmental value both for its morphologies and ecosystems and for the microclimates that have stabilized there.

It protects the entire stretch of the Alto Simeto, in which the most ancient Etna lavas, reaching the old course of the river, have crossed it several times and have then been dug and eroded by it with deep incisions, splendid gorges, caves, bends, waterfalls and lakes, which - set in the black basalt and the surrounding environment - create landscapes of rare beauty and charm. The management of the reserve has been entrusted to the State Forestry Company of Sicily.

Bronte' zone represents

Bronte' zone represents the initial tract of the river, and surely, the wildest, where the waters play games of skill and acrobatics with the black lava, while the observer can look astonished at the power that this river, in spite of the enor­mous damages that our inexhaustible greed has inflicted to its life, continues to display.

The morphologic, paleontologic, biologic and aesthetic characte­ristics of the area retain, nearly unaltered, their natural charm, lit up and re-invigorated by par­ti­cular fauna and flora compo­nents and by the constant presence, on the horizon, of the snowy cone of Etna.

In particular, the nature reserve is characterized by the typical appearance of the Simeto, with a large alluvial mattress of debris coming mainly from the Nebrodi, from the lava gorges very similar to the famous Alcantara gorges and from the high lava walls that wind to the left of the river for over five kilometres, with columnar basalt formations, jumps, rapids and waterfalls, lakes and white foam waters.


The grottoes start in the borderland between the volcanic rocks and those se­dimentary, in the Cantera - Ser­ra­valle district,  where the two ri­vers, Troi­na and Simeto, join toge­ther.
The zone of Bolo-Serravalle with its valuable fruits orchards,  the Norman bri­dge near an ancient farmhouse with the ex-Church of Placa Serravalle  dedicated to S. Francesco di Paola, the remains of an old water mill and the initial part of the erosion is one of the most beautiful in Bronte.


Let's go inside the Gorges

The natural wonders of the thousand-year-old Simeto lava gorges. A journey to discover a hidden paradise, a protected, uncontaminated, varied and contrasted area, a little-known treasure with nature exploding in all its forms, absolutely to be enhanced and preserved from neglect and progressive degradation.

Other pearls of our territory: Piano dei Grilli, Rocca Calanna, Petrarussa

Ponte Serravalle, china di Mario Schiliro'The gorges have walls of variable height and width: the height varies between 10 and over 50 metres, the width between 5 and 20 meters of distance between the erosion banks.

They are covered, especially in the spring season, by vegetation typical of the so-called Mediterranean scrub such as wild olive, holm oak, hackberry, prickly pear plants, capable of surviving the floods and heat of summer, but also the winter frost, hosting very rare fauna.

Under the Cantera bridge and the Norman bridge of Serravalle district, the Simeto and the Troina meet high basaltic lava walls, they go over them with a sequel of jumps, rapids  and water games, penetrating first with a very narrow duct  and a millpond of a few square meters, but mounted between high basaltic walls, to join together, further down, in an uncontaminated scenery.

Other important historic testimonies

Some important historical testimonies are part of the area affected by the reserve.
In addition to the two bridges over the Simeto and the Troina, we mention the Arab paper mill of Ricchisgia, the ancient Casale di Placa Baiana, a Sicilian farmhouse with an adjoining water mill located at river level, built in the mid-1800s a few steps from the bridge over the Troina by Baron Francesco Serra­valle, once owner of the lands in this part of the Placa, and a small rural church which, even today, offer glimpses of past life and bucolic panoramas.

The small  church of Serravalle, dedicated to San Francesco di Paola, characte­rized by a singular tricuspid tympanum and three pointed arches drawn into the wall, was built in 1850; today, abandoned, it is used as an agricultural warehouse.

The Cŕntera bridge under which the Forre begins is of Norman origin: it was built by Count Ruggiero II "the Norman" in 1121 in memory of his mother Adelasia, who died in Patti in 1118.

The ancient important road passed there which, protected by the castles of Bolo and Torremuzza, connected the hinterland of Sicily (the Norman capital Troina, Cesarň, Nicosia) to the eastern coast of Sicily.

Traveling along this road today by car (it is provincial road 17iii), the bridge and the ravines below are barely visible and almost imperceptible; you have to stop and look out from the high parapets to admire the incredible hidden scenery.

In the photos above the Simeto della Cŕntera gorges and the Norman bridge of Serravalle over the Troina river. The black and white drawing on the left is an ink by Mario Schilirň.

The yellow drawing of the bridge, carried out in 1842, is by the famous German geologist and astronomer Wolf­gang Sar­to­rius of Waltershausen entitled "View of Etna taken from the Serravalle Bridge near Bronte" (cop­per line, 425x219 mm) and (to follow) a photo today taken from the same angle. Note in the drawing the original shape of the bridge with the higher and steeper road sur­faces; destroyed by the fury of the Troina river, the cur­rent bridge is in fact a recon­struction from 1899 as engra­ved on the capstone of the western arch. Note also how about 2 centuries ago the level of the Troina river exceeded the base of the bridge; today the river is almost dry.

Continuing on the road in front of the ancient farmhouse which climbs up Mount Reitano ('a Praca, 1,080 m.), a breathtaking panorama opens up of the great valley of Etna and Bronte, from Maletto to Adrano and down to the Forre del Simeto.

The lava ravine is a very deep cut

The lava ravine is a very deep cut, dug  during millenniums  by the Simeto river between the lava of Etna and the sedimentary ground of the mounts of Bronte's valley. Offers a mini-environment  unique, harsh and wild, but also very suggestive and uncontaminated.
The photographs on this page only partially illustrate the beauty of the places and the majesty of this still almost untouched site; in the video on the right above ("Let's go inside the gorges") our camera entered the gorges better, showing them in all their majesty even from above.

The lava of ancient eruptions that filled the  original bed of the river, has been, in millennia, eroded and deeply dug down in a profound ravine, very narrow and with nearly vertical smooth lava walls. From the two bridges Cantera and Serravalle, put in the homonymous areas,  close to Bronte and easily to drive to, is possible to see the erosion's initial part.

It is a cliff and a wild ravine, called by the folks of Bronte "u bazu ‘a cantira" (the  leap of the  Cantera), where, under the bridges of  Cantera and Serravalle, the Simeto and Troina rivers fall foaming   over the lava over the sandstone blocks.


The Norman bridge

The Norman bridge across the river, a very daring piece of work composed by hydro­dynamic piers that hold medieval arcades of a humpbacked bridge, is characterized by the use of local basaltic stones, alternating to ashlars of white tuff, with a chro­matic effect truly particular.

The ancient important communication route passed over the bridge which, protected by the castles of Bolo and Torremuzza, linked the hinterland of Sicily (the Norman capital Troina, Cesarň, Nicosia) to the eastern coast of Sicily (Catania, Messina). Several times the bridge was destroyed by the fury of the Troina river; the last renovation dates back to 1899 as engraved on the capstone of the western arch.

Il Ponte normanno visto dal basso (Foto V. Saitta)
Ponte dei Saraceni (IX sec.)

"Ponte dei Saraceni" (IX sec.), ancient Norman bridge of the Adrano's zone

Then, on 15 September 1948, a violent storm caused the river level to rise by about ten metres, which flooded the ancient Sicilian baglio and ruined the bridge, depriving it of its original parapets and making it impassable. And since then it has remained so, degrading itself more and more amidst general indifference.

The oldest image is a drawing made in 1842 by the famous German geologist and astronomer Wolfgang Sartorius of Waltershausen entitled "View of Etna taken from the Serravalle Bridge near Bronte". Today it is in a state of total abandonment, degradation and even extreme danger.

Under the bridge, a crack steep and impracticable, initially few meters wide and deep, between eighty and one  hundred meters high, squeezed between colored basalt walls, enlarges then, for kilometers, luxuriant of vegetation and animal life, among majestic basalt walls.

The photographs on the page only partially convey the beauty of the places and the majesty of a site that is still almost untouched; in the video on the right our camera enters the gorges showing them to you in all their majesty.

Going down along the river

Going down along the river, in se­ve­ral points, are parti­cu­la­rly intere­sting the for­ma­tions of po­ly­go­nal lava,  or ba­salt colon­na­de, due to the sud­den cooling of the lava flow in con­tact to the Simeto waters, the ample lava terraces that testify the expansion of the volcanic edifice over the territo­ries occupied before by se­di­men­tary outcrop  and the ty­pi­cal vegetation that assu­mes par­ti­cu­lar featu­res with the Oleander pre­sence, the bush euphorbia, able to grow and branch out over the lava.

Over the river gravel bank can be found the inundations  consti­tu­ted both by pebbles of lava, of various color, and by sands, gravel and pebbles of sedimentary origin coming down exactly from the Nebrodi.

It is not rare to find amber' peb­bles and shells, light-colored  that always attract the searchers and that tell us of a far geologic past. The large stony riverbed is often occupied by typical river bank vegetation: canes and oleanders that in spring assume a magnifi­cent blooming.

The agricultural landscape is typical of Bronte, with old zones often subjected to floods, chan­ged in  fruit orchards, with the very stony ground where the Bronte's farmer has planted vast Pistachio cultiva­tions, and, in some spots, occupied by grazing land steep and degraded, that among the grass cover, the clayey soil characteristics, with large groves, narrow and deep and with steep ridges towards the tops.

Around a contrasted landscape and a deeply varied nature, aized tree cultiva­tions that go from the fruit orchards (pears, peaches, etc.) to the clayey pa­stures alternating with steep lava fields cultivated to pistachio, citrus fruit orchards, olive or almon­d trees, vegeta­bles, prickly pears, wheat and cereal fields.

The fauna component of this ecosystem comprises some reptiles (The collar snake, the viper snake, the leopard snake, maybe the best looking European snake long up to one meter), the lizards (Ramarro, Lacerta viridis o la Podarcis sicula) that hide among the vegetation or among stones and rocks, some amphibious rare species (the Disco­glosso), some frogs and toads that live near the river (Bufo bufo spinosus and Bufo viridis) Rare and nearly absolutely absent the fish fauna.

The birds population comprises several species sedentary and others migratory: it is not rare to see the ash heron or the egret (Ardea cinerea), they make here a brief stop on their way to zones richer of their preferred foods.

In the vegetation near the river can be found birds (the Porciglione) less adapt to fly and they find a typical hiding among the canes, some species of birds of prey as the Hawk, the Kestrel and others. It is not difficult to see and meet the Barn Owl, while in the areas planted with more trees are more frequent other species of Owl.

The mammals appear as roaming, coming, in the  majority, from close by areas:  the Fox, the Porcupine, the Curly, the wild Rabbit and the Hare.

The protected zone of the grottoes is still  an uncontaminated natural habitat.

The wild nature of the site, the evident difficulty and the dangerousness to build in it, have, till now, preserved and saved from any speculation this wonderful area. It is at a few kilometers from Bronte and starts at the bridges of Cantera and Serravalle. With due precaution can be visited.

Especially in Summer, you can get to the small natural habitat going down on foot along the gravel bank and go on, even with some difficulty, to the bridge of Passo Paglia district.


For the safeguard

For the safeguard, the conservation and the prote­ction of the par­ticular environmental value of the lava grottoes, of the waterfalls and the  small lakes created by the Simeto and of the typical vegeta­tion of the river's banks and also of the specialized fauna component that li­ves in the zone, there are regional safeguard  laws.

The same laws, however, have not indicated any proper identification of authority. In fact, the land­scape and natural environment con­ser­va­tion defen­se has never been applied properly.

The old Norman bridge of Serravalle, now unfit for use, besides being reduced in a  state of complete degrade is becoming a true rubbish tip, an open air  deposit of unwanted things of any kind.

Unfortunately, these places, of particular beauty and geological-environmental value due to the morphologies and ecosystems and microclimates that have stabilized there, have always been poorly considered by the various bodies in charge who have dedicated little protection to them.

Mappa dei luoghi visitati - 94,4 KbThere is a complete lack of signs indicating their presence, there are no possible paths that would allow you to visit them, there is a lack of suitable protection to safely overlook the cliffs; in short, they are incredibly fascinating and beautiful places left in complete neglect and also the subject of abandoned waste and small landfills.

The old Norman bridge in Contrada Serravalle, now unusable, as well as dangerous, is reduced to a state of complete degradation and is becoming, amidst general indifference, a real landfill: the usual uncivilized people make it a repository of rubbish and objects of every kind. type.

There is a restoration project for this historic bridge, proposed since 2002 by the Aetna North-West Rotary Club; the definitive design of the works was financed by the Region in 2004, but to date, with the exception of some surveys to acquire technical information on the building and the surrounding area, nothing has been achieved, everything seems to have been lost in the maze of bureaucracy and disinterest.

And the degradation, irreparably, continues even if mitigated by repeated cleaning operations organized by volunteers and various associations.


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