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main index   © Jeff Matthews   entry Feb 2015

of gullies, tunnels, and Mon
òpoli

T
he Belvedere Lama
& the Ferraricchio Tunnel
- -  if you are looking for information on the South American camelid, the llama, see Lama Glama
(really! Linnaeus classification, 1758). Lama Glama may also be a Brazilian soap opera star.

Graphic from the IGCP project 437 Puglia 2003
 International Geological Correlation Project

Directly to the east of the Campania region of Italy is the region of Puglia (Apulia) with a very diverse set of geological features. One of these features is called the Murgia, a rectangular plateau inland from the town of Bari (image, right). The name murgia is from the Latin murex, meaning "sharp stone". The Murgia plateau covers a surface of about 4,000 km²/1545 miles², bordered by the Ofanto river and the Tavoliere [tableland] delle Puglie on the north, the Adriatic Sea on the northeast, by the Messapic depression, which separates the province of Bari from the Salento peninsula (the "heel" of the boot) on the south, and by the Apennine mountain range on the west, separating the entire region of Puglia from Campania. The Murgia is usually divided into Alta (high) Murgia, with poorer vegetation, and Bassa (low) Murgia, with more fertile land, prevalently cultivated with olives. The rocks are mostly composed of cretaceous limestone, so that karst landscapes prevail in the area, including sinkholes, and caves.

The monotony of the Puglia coastal landscape near Bari is broken by a drainage network characterized by shallow gullies, locally called lame (singular: lama). They are eroded by rainwater and flow down from the mountains and channel the water into the Adriatic. Some lama environments may actually be a confluence of various smaller gullies as they flow to the sea. Such is the case at the town of Monòpoli, just south of Bari. [There are only two things certain about the name of the town, Monòpoli: 1-It has nothing to do with the economic term; 2-It is not the name of an ancient Greek board game. All other options are still open. No one knows.] The “Belvedere lama" was originally the name of a farm/estate higher up where the gully started. It was probably just a shallow depression initially, just enough to attract a bit of so-called "overland flow", the loose unchanneled water on the surface. Then there was another and another—more like soggy footprints than an actual flow of water as they picked their way down the hillside. Over the centuries, though, its adds up to a beaten path of erratic regularity as they wear down the same track—sometimes on the surface, sometimes moving beneath the surface (which then may or may not collapse). In the case of Monòpoli, the green paths shown in the image (left) are a network of different 'pluvial gullies' running beneath the town to the sea. The largest of these is the Ferraricchio. All four of these gullies, as well as a few smaller ones not shown, are now collectively called the Lama Belvedere. As they approach the sea, they stay beneath the limestone surface and finally open onto the beach.

From the sea, those openings may resemble coastal sea grottoes, but instead of being formed by the sea and containing salt water, the gullies were formed by fresh water and have brought with them from the hills their own fertile ecosystem. In the otherwise arid landscape of Puglia the gullies are fertile, as shown by the ample flora that they nourish. They made good caves for cave-dwellers, and along the length of the 'lamas' there are signs of ancient habitation, especially at the large outlets near the sea (image right).

The Ferraricchio was so large and erratic as it approached the port of Monopoli that it was potentially dangerous in terms of the stability of adjacent property and buildings on the surface. Thus, little by little, in the early years of the 20th century, the meandering Ferraricchio was straightened and shored up from within, essentially turning it into a one-kilometer tunnel beneath Monopoli to the sea. The channel then served as an outlet for flood waters and even as an air-raid shelter in WWII, when at times there were as many as 3,000 persons sheltered within. The Lama Belvedere Urban Park of Monòpoli is now a reality, protected green areas (image, left) totaling about 12 hectares (30 acres); fed by this underlying system of irrigation, these patches appear at various places and incorporate unique features of this fertile ecosystem into the urban fabric of the city.