Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry May 2005

he Scalandrone Grotto and the Picentine Mountains Regional Park

Fulvio of Napoli Underground (NUg) called me a few days ago to tell me of another fantastic trip he had just returned dog-tired from. “We went to the Scalandrone grotto,” he said.

The name rang a bell. “Why did you go back to the same place?”
“What do you mean?”
“Last week. You went up to that aqueduct thing on via Scalandrone in the Campi Flegrei.
“That's a different Scalandrone.”
“Named after the same guy?”
“No. There is no 'guy' named Scalandrone. At least I hope not. Scalandrone, Mr. big-shot language person, is the Italian word for that thing you walk up to get on a boat.”
“Oh, the gangplank. I guess I really missed the boat on that one!” (I hurt my thigh from overslap!)
“I said...never mind. So how was it?”

“It's in the Picentine mountains. We hiked 15 km in and back and explored the first part of the Scalandrone Grotto. Enormous chamber more than 30 meters high with a lake fed by a waterfall! An underground paradise! For real men and women of the forest!”

 I didn't ask him why they would name an underground paradise after a gangplank, but I bet it was more exciting than that other Scalandrone. (That one is part of a Roman aqueduct where you get to decipher a Latin inscription. It says: “This is part of a Roman aqueduct.” I went to college.)

The area he is talking about is the Picentine Mountains Regional Park (image, right, and green area in image, above, right). The park is in the mountains about 25 km due east of the city of Salerno. The Picentines are part of the Campanian Apennines and close to other Apennine sections such as the Lattari mountains (near Vesuvius) and the Partenio mountains (near Avellino). The Picentines are largely made up of dolomite and limestone rocks, different from the surroundings areas, which are dominated by the more familiar Neapolitan yellow sandstone rock called tufa or tuff. The limestone makes the area a karst heaven (i.e., stalactites and stalagmites) for those who don't want to go 50 miles down to the Cilento or up to the Matese massif.

The Picentines are a little-known scenic area. In terms of tourism, many might prefer to go to the nearby Amalfi Coast and maybe keep heading out the peninsula and come back around past Sorrento. Mt. Vesuvius is close by, as are Naples, Salerno and so forth: Pompei, Heruculaneum, Paestum. Maybe the park really is only for “real men and women of the forest”. It takes up 62,200 hectares (about 240 sq. miles) with the highest peaks at about 1800 meters/5400 feet. As well, there are a few independently run World Wildlife Foundation nature preserves ("Oases") within park boundaries. Flora and fauna thrive, and the place is alive with rivers, streams and waterfalls. There are even a few weird items such as the last place they mined for oil shale to produce icthyol, a medicine valued for its antispetic properties in WWII. The mine was a German facility near Giffoni Valle Piana and you can visit what's left of it, bats and all. (Don't take flash photos of the little dears while they're sleeping; they may awaken and still be icthyol-crazed. You never know.) (Fulvio's trip there is recounted on the NUg website here.) There is also, near Serino, something called the Archaeological Park of Civita di Ogliara centered on the ruins of a Longobard castle that is said to be on the site of a pre-Roman Osco-Samnite settlement called Sabathia, possibly the home of one of the ancient Italic tribes of southern Italy, the Hirpini. (Not too likely. See this link.)

Or you can head straight for the grotto, which is what Fulvio did. It is a 15 km/9 mile hike along a path that he describes as a

  ...classic forest trail, with rare open patches above that let you glimpse mountain tops through the foliage...The closer you get to the goal, the greater the presence of small water-falls and rapid streams that are crossed at tricky forging points.

And in the grotto, itself (image, right): enormous articulated collapse chamber with a small lake at the bottom and beaches of fine sand. The lake is fed by a cascade from a fissure in the back wall...The walls and large rocks collapsed from the ceiling and piled up on the ground are covered with accretions and limestone drapes, and near the waterfall, itself, tiny water drops dance in the air.
But it's a hike to get there. Note that he mentions "small lake and beaches of fine sand."
Yes, if you are a real forest man or woman, you can swim in this thing.
The park authority is in the town of Nusco. They have a growing list of activities and itineraries. As I say, it is little-known. For now. Tel: +39 0827 64413 Fax: +39 0827 604956

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