Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Sept 2014      

ake Matese & the
Matese Regional Park       2. Frassi Caves in Ancona

Lake Matese (pictured) is the highest karst* lake in Italy. It is at the foot of Mt. Miletto (2050 m/6200 feet) and Mt. Gallinola (1923 m/6000 feet) in the local mountain group known as the Matese massif. The lake is in the province of Caserta in the Campania region, about 70 km (45 miles) north-east of Naples. The lake, itself is at 1,014 m/3000 feet. The lake basin is fed by snow run-off from the surrounding mountains as well as by some streams and rivers that flow throughout the year. Nevertheless, the existence of small sinkholes that channel lake water into the vast underground waterworld of ponds and streams typical of many karst areas) and the removal of lake water for hydroelectric purposes makes the water-level of the lake inconstant. The greatest volume of water is in May, at which time the lake has a circumference of 12 km/7.5 miles. Given the many interventions by engineers to plug sink-holes and divert water, the lake may be considered man-made—or, at least, -maintained.

The Matese massif is the big mountainous block in the middle.
Lake Matese
is the larger of the two blue spots staring out at you
from the center. The
Volturno river runs just below it all.

The lake is within the Matese Regional Park, one of the protected natural areas in Campania and has been in existence since 2002. The park administration is in the town of San Potito Sannitico; it pursues an active campaign to promote this little known—or little visited—area of Italy. The Matese Regional Park has an area of about 330 sq.miles), at the heart of which is not only the lake but the very scenic surrounding valley. (In addition, there are two other smaller lakes in the area: the Matese Gallo and the Letino.) The marsh environment of the area includes many types of birds such as goose, teal, coot, mallard, stork, flamingo, woodpecker, jay, owl and even the golden eagle. (What about the Matese Falcon, you ask? I don't know!) Among fish species are northern pike, trout, tench, carp, and perch. Fauna includes fox, marmot, badger, hare, boar, and the wolf, spotted regularly! Trees includes holm oak, chestnut, beech, ash and fir. There are two important rivers that traverse the park, the Titerno and the Tammaro.

The entire massif is, as noted, a karst formation, and, as such is honeycombed with limestone caves and their fascinating cave formations (technically called speleothems) such as stalagmites (they go up) and stalactites (they come down). (The image on the right is beneath the area known as Campo Braca and is a formation described as a "flowstone with curtains.") Such caves are an extremely attractive target for sport spelunking (or caving or whatever the term is for "fun-loving troglodyte"!) To date, the recorded and studied caves number over 80, but at least as many more are known and in the course of exploration. One of the most popular is the 1,048-meter (c.3400) feet deep (!) Pozzo del Neve (snow well) in the north-eastern sector of the mountain. Although many such caves, large and small, are clearly not for beginners, a few have been set aside for the average tourist. So if you are not up to rappelling down more than half a mile of the great Snow Well, you can try, for example, the nearby Caccaviola Gorge [precise translation: "Purple Turd Gorge!! really] in which one is aided by specialized guides and tested safety cables and other equipment. The massif is also an area rich in fossils. There are at least half a dozen small museums in the 20 small towns in the area of the park that will be happy to explain all of this to you.

           Caving in the Matese massif
The area is of extreme interest historically. At the end of the early Iron Age (make it around 700 BC), while the Tyrrhenian coast was getting most of the rave revues with Greek settlements such as Pithecusa, Poseidonia, and Elea), the inland had the mysterious and influential Etruscans, and in the Matese lurked the tenacious —and everyone say truly nasty— Samnites, the warriors who fought the Romans to a standstill on many occasions before succumbing. These are the mountains through which passed wave after wave of successors to the Roman Empire such as the Goths, Vandals, and Lombards. Even today, the area is dotted with sacred caves and old fortifications that were put in place to resist Saracen incursions from the coast. The area is also dotted with remnants of the early kingdom of Naples put there by the Normans, Swabians and Angevins. So, besides the lake you have a few thousand years of history and a few million years of geology. Go there. Now.

*Karst: Landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks including limestone, dolomite and gypsum. The word, itself, is the German name of Kras, an area in Italy and Slovenia, where it is called Carso and where the phenomenon was first studied. Karst areas are characterized by sinkholes, caves, underground drainage systems and collapse triggered by the development of underlying caves (Reference: Palmer, A.N., 1991., "Origin and morphology of limestone caves" in the Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 103, p 1-21.
^ top

(also see Karst Caves & Caving in Southern Italy)

all photos above except the map by Napoli Underground (NUg)

Bonus Cave! 
[thanks to Annemarie Brown for bringing this to my attention]
added Nov 14

Go for the Beauty, Stay for the Snot

This is in central Italy, but it's worth the trip. Most people go to the Frasassi Caves (image, right) near Ancona (on the eastern side of Italy, on the Adriatic, 280 crow-fly km/175 mi north of Naples) because the caves are among the most spectacular "show-caves" in Italy. They were discovered in 1971 and opened in 1974. You get the Cave of the Bats (self-explanatory), the Great Cave of Wind (with 13 km/8 miles) of passageways, and the Ancona Abyss, a room so large that Milan's Duomo (the world's largest Gothic cathedral) could fit inside it. If you are crazy about karst, this is for you.
[Definition of "karst", last section of item above]

But, there's more! Look at the image (left). That is snottite. (I'm delicate and phlegmatic, so I would have called it something else.) After work in the Frasassi Caves, spelunking scientists reported to a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco on cave-dwelling bacteria ("snottites"), microorganisms that live on cave walls and ceilings, dripping and coating the floors with thick mats. These microorganism speed up cave formation. Caves are carved in limestone rock by the sulfuric acid that forms when rainwater seeps down and mixes with the hydrogen sulfide in underground stale water. These particular bacteria, snottites, eat hydrogen sulfide and produce sulfuric acid as a waste product. That's more sulfuric acid to carve more cave with. Yes, it's that simple.   
(photo, left, Daniel S. Jones, Penn State)

         to underground portal           to top of this page

© 2002 - 2023