THE ALTA MURGIA NATIONAL PARK.
Geographycally speaking, the Park lies in the North-Western or “Alta Murgia”, in Puglia, straddling the former provinces of Bari and Barletta-Andria-Trani, an imposing, now highly karstified, limestone block which began to emerge 70 million years ago, since when it has undergone significant changes, yet it still preserves an aura and a uniqueness about it to this day.
Part of this huge area is made up of the Alta Murgia National Park. The Park was set up on 10 March 2004 by Italian Presidential Decree, and covers and area of 68,000 hectares in the territories of the following cities: Altamura, Andria, Bitonto, Cassano delle Murge, Corato, Gravina in Puglia, Grumo Appula, Minervino Murge, Poggiorsini, Ruvo di Puglia, Santeramo in Colle, Spinazzola and Toritto.
It’s an exceptional place, characterized by wide open spaces stretching to the horizon, interspersed with sinuous hills that reach altitudes of up to 600 meters above the sea level. An area sometimes furrowed by deep valleys known as lama and massive sinkholes, carved from bare karst and limestone outcrops, but also clothed by expanses of woodland, some dominated by conifers and others by oaks.
The Alta Murgia National Park, however, is not only home to environmental jewels and landscapes of great importance but also to significant sites of historical, archaeological and palaentological interest, with such outstanding attractions as the castles of Emperor Frederik II, the so-called Puer Apuliae, of which pride of place goes to Castel del Monte, ancient shelters, jazzi and masseria farmsteads, remnants of an agro-pastoral culture, dinosaur footprints discovered in a disused quarry and traces of prehistoric humans such as those in the Cave of Altamura Man, to name but a few.
It’s a park overflowing with history, both ancient and more recent, whose endless uncontaminated spaces still provide a habitat for a multitude of flora and fauna. Indeed, the Alta Murgia as a whole, and the Park within it, is regarded as a true biotope, a habitat for a unique biological community, a symbol of biodiversity conservation for a variety of plant and animal species that are seriously endangered in other parts of the world. This was one of the main reason why the area was awarded SCI (Site of Community Interest) status under the Natura 2000 network, which protects and studies a series of species found in the Park.
The animal life is therefore very rich and is made up of hundreds of species.
The birds of the Murgia as a whole, and therefore also of the National Park, include some of the most important populations of steppe and semi-arid habitat in the Mediterranean Basin, such as Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla), Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra), Woodlark (Lullula arborea), Skylark (Alauda arvensis), Crested Lark (Galerida cristata) and Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus).
Raptors are strongly represented here, with huge colonies of Cricket hawk (Falco naumanni), which in warmer months can be seen everywhere, both out in the wilds, and in the old town centres of the Murgia. But that is not all. Red Kite (Milvus milvus), Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), Buzzard (Buteo buteo), Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and Lanner (Falco biarmicus feldeggii) also have good populations.
The larger mammals include Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and even the Wolf (Canis lupus) has recently made timid inroads into the Park.
The flora of the Park are dominated by majestic oaks.
The Park area holds a wide variety of species: Pubescent Oak (Q. pubescens L.), Holm Oak (Q. ilex L.), Turkey Oak (Q. cerris L.), Kermes oak (Q. coccifera L.), Palestine Oak (Q. calliprinos Webb), Hungarian Oak (Q.frainetto Ten.) and the rare Macedonian Oak (Q. trojana Webb). As well as the oak woods there are also plenty of conifer plantations, dating back to reafforestation projects which began in the 1930s, consisting mainly of Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis Mill) and Mediterranean Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens L.).
The steppe areas are characterised by herbaceous vegetation, including priority species such as Italian Feather Grass (Stipa austroitalica Martinowsky) and numerous species of orchids belonging to the genera Serapias, Orchis and Ophrys. The world of orchids was recently further enriched by the discovery of a new species which was named Ophrys murgiana, in honour of this area.
The tree and shrub vegetation on the natural pastureland is made up of Wild Olive (Olea europaea var. sylvestris L.) , Almond (Amygdalus communis L.), Jerusalem Thorn (Paliurus spina-christi Mill), Medlar (Mespilus germanica L.), Sloe (Prunus spinosa L.), Almond-leafed Pear (Pyrus amygdaliformis), Wild Almond (Prunus webbii Spach), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna Jacq.) and Rock Buckthorn (Rhamnus saxatilis Jacq.).
Lastly, the Alta Murgia National Park is an important crossroads where the history of the Earth, with its evolutions into great stone landscapes, of Man who inhabited this area between 250,000 and 100,000 years ago, and of the natural environment made up of an almost unique habitat, have come together to form a fascinating and complex place, which we can only fully understand in a binary process, a dual vision: one made up of broad brushstrokes, looking at the great outdoors as a whole and the other delighting in the detail of all the infinitesimal traces left behind by the passage of time, by the myriad manifestations of Life, and by Man.
(S.A.C. Alta Murgia Tracce nella roccia, Sistema ambientale e culturale dell’Alta Murgia)