The natural reserves in the province of Syracuse
It is a complex of soft limestone rocks, located in the low plateau carved by the Cassibile river, which over time have formed steep valleys called "caves" due to the action of erosion. One of the most spectacular is precisely the Cava Grande crossed by the Cassibile river, 10 km long and 250 meters deep, it was the site of inhabited settlements in the Paleolithic era. Eight thousand cave-like rock tombs have been dug into the walls, dating back to between the tenth and ninth centuries. B.C
Nature reserve, established by a decree of 1984, includes a dense river and lake vegetation, about three thousand hectares every year, the destination of thousands of visitors. This is the kingdom of the eastern plane tree, typical of southeastern Europe and western Asia. The plane trees, together with willows, holm oaks, poplars and ash trees, form tunnels of dense woods, entering which one reaches the bottom of the quarry, marked by the passage of water.
Cassibile is, together with a few other areas in Sicily, a breeding ground for the macrostigma trout, the native trout of our island, characterized by black dots on a silver background on the sides.
The Oriented Natural Reserve of Pantalica embraces the Anapo Valley and the Cavagrande stream, over a large area of 3700 hectares included within a total hydrographic basin of 450 square km. The Anapo Valley is above all the valley of the river, clear and fresh, which is why the brown trout can still live in its waters, with its back dotted with white, red and black dots. The oleander is another characteristic note of this reserve.
A vast list of fauna could accompany the card of this reserve, we only mention the rare Riccioli snake, a snake known in the countryside of the island, the terrestrial tortoises, the Bonelli's eagle, the hoopoe, wild cats and martens. For hikers: the Bat cave and the Found cave are popular destinations for the chance to observe various species of bats.
Also within the Reserve, in Palazzolo Acreide, a set of 5ooo tombs carved into the karst rock crossed by a stream since 1997 has been placed under naturalistic and landscape protection: it is the system of tombs of Pantalica, a destination for international tourism.
Vendicari is one of the most important protected areas of Sicily, which scholars are used to divide into different environments for the purpose of study: rocky coast, sandy coast, Mediterranean scrub, marshes (brackish and freshwater), salt marshes, garrigue and cultivated areas .
A spontaneous station of fragile ephedra grows there, found only in Sicily, Sardinia and Calabria, together with the prickly juniper, in a plant association characteristic of coastal dunes.
A dense network of paths allows us to go to different points of this naturalistic area and observe, with binoculars in hand, the habits of the fauna, such as toads, snakes, foxes, turtles and weasels.
Environmental oasis of international importance, due to the presence of places of worship, catacombs and necropolis covered by vegetation, it can boast different historical values. The tonnara is a decaying building whose chimney is still visible, built in the eighteenth century and active until the Second World War. The salt pans in Vendicari date back to the 15th century: today there are traces of them on the Pantano Grande. Another human presence is in the Bufatu tower, a fortress construction from the 18th century.
The territory that hosts the Reserve consists of two small, deep river valleys, separated by a short plateau. The river valleys, locally called quarries, are those of the Belluzza stream, to the north, and of the Cugno di Rio stream, to the south, in the north-eastern sector of the Climiti Mountains.
The Villasmundo cave opens at the base of a wall on the right bank of the Cugno di Rio stream and extends for a total of over 2 km, the calcite concretions that cover the walls are abundant and of particular beauty. This is the only active cave in the Iblei Mountains and is divided into a main stream, the tributary, the stream of the entrance branch and the terminal lake; instead the entrance to the Alfio cave leads to a much smaller underground system.
As for the fauna, the environment of the Reserve has a high biodiversity, even the rich avifauna has common species together with more interesting species such as the Red-headed seabird, the Sicilian rock partridge and, among the birds of prey, the Kestrel and the Aallocco. Even the flora, in the environment of the Reserve, is rich and well differentiated. It is possible to observe the Myrtle, the Carob, the Calicotome, the Hawthorn, the Evergreen Rose, the Clematis and the Sarsaparilla. A very rare exclusive endemic species of the Iblei, dating back to the Tertiary era, is the Urtica rupestris, and another rare Sicilian endemism is the Cymbalaria pubescens.
Together with the Fiumefreddo Reserve, it is the only site where papyrus grows spontaneously. From the stems, even 4 meters high, a paper is produced for tourist souvenirs. The waters of the river, particularly cold and clear, are home to the last native trout.
The salt pans, a short distance away, are the legacy of an ancient economic tradition. Since their disposal, a colony of migrants has been created which has chosen these lagoons as an ideal place for wintering.
The naturalistic itinerary of the Ciane-Saline reserve leads to the source of the river: in a very deep pool of water, characterized by the blue color (Cyanòs), hence the name, together with the green brushstrokes of the papyri and other aquatic plants. With the appropriate permissions, the river can be ascended from the mouth with rowing boats.
It was accidentally discovered due to the collapse of the ground which obstructed the well opening. The Reserve is located in the eastern sector of the Hyblaean plateau, it is formed by steep river valleys with sometimes steep and inviolable slopes, which alternate with stony and sunny plateaus, where interesting karst forms abound.
Large areas cultivated with pasture represent the ideal habitat for numerous species of invertebrates, while narrow cavities and small ravines offer shelter to porcupines, foxes and nocturnal birds of prey. The cave, with a total development of about 540 m, is very important for its concreting structures and has a series of rooms with stalactites, jellyfish, conceptional flows, stalagmites, columns and trays, with stepped creases.
The epigean environment is instead characterized by the typical fauna of the "Hyblean quarries". The most representative crops are olive groves, almond groves, carob groves and in this context there are the Acanthus and the yellow Chrysanthemum.
The Palombara cave is a fossil karst cavity that has an overall development of about 800 meters. The entrance consists of a deep chasm at the bottom which can only be reached with the use of ropes and ladders. After passing a series of narrow tunnels and a narrow crack, you come to the large “Sala dei Vasi”, so called following the discovery of two vases from the Castelluccian phase.
From here, we arrive at the "Sala del Guano", a vast environment, where a large colony of Vespertilio major bats lives, from this room two branches branch off called "Ramo del Geode" and "Ramo del Laghetto". Fossils of large vertebrates and micro-mammals have been found both at the bottom of the access chasm and inside the cavity.
In the protected area lives an epigean fauna consisting of numerous species of Invertebrates and Vertebrates such as the Sicilian Lizard, the Western Green Lizard, the Greater Biacco, the Kestrel, the Peregrine Falcon.
The vegetation of the protected area is varied: from the scrub in the most inaccessible and rocky stretches, to the garrigue, to steppe formations and annual formations of lawns.
Close to the industrial factories, this protected area is home to almost 200 species of birds. A humid area in the lower part of the Iblei, straddling Priolo and Melilli, where it will not be difficult to spot terns and shoveler, which still manage to nest here.
A unique opportunity for a guided excursion and a day dedicated to environmental education for school groups.