The “Parco dei Gessi e i Calanchi dell'Abbadessa” - Unesco World Heritage Site

It is the largest karst park in Emilia-Romagna

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The “Parco Regionale dei Gessi Bolognesi e Calanchi dell'Abbadessa” is the largest karst park in Emilia-Romagna. It was founded in 1988 and currently covers an area of 3421 hectares. 

The park, which just received the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, safeguards a sizable karstic region as well as a nearby clay area. More than 150 caverns may be found inside, most of which are only accessible by organized speleological groups. These caves represent a priceless scientific and ecological legacy. 

Especially in the Calanchi dell’Abbadessa area, the landscape is very peculiar due to the rugged terrain with little vegetation and steep inclines. 

The park's mountainous terrain, which is perfect for walks and climbs, is one of its main draws. Trekkers can explore the meandering area of the Calanchi dell'Abbadessa thanks to well-marked paths and the untamed, sparsely vegetated surroundings and steep slopes. 

This interesting bit of heaven close to Bologna gives a unique sense of immersion in unspoiled nature, enhanced by stunning vistas and abundant wildlife, and can be explored thanks to numerous paths that can be followed on foot or by bicycle. 

  • Length
    24 hours
  • Interests
    Nature & Outdoor
  • Target
  • First stop - “Luigi Donini” Museum of Prehistory San Lazzaro di Savena

    The first stop is situated directly on the Park’s edge, in San Lazzaro di Savena: the “Luigi Donini" Museum of Prehistory, one of the most significant museums of prehistoric archaeology in Italy.  

    Within the museum there is an extensive collection of locally made artefacts. The surroundings and outcrops of the Gessi Bolognesi and the traces of prehistoric human occupation in the Savena, Zena, and Idice valleys are two of the most important realities in this region. 

  • Second stop - Spipola Cave San Lazzaro di Savena

    We continue towards the “Dolina della Spipola”, the largest doline of the entire Bolognese Gypsum complex (with a diameter greater than 700 m). Inside, there are several minor dolines and sinkholes that lead to a handful of caves.  

    The sunniest areas are occupied by meadows, farmed fields, and an oak wood with occasional outcrops. Here, you will find the park’s most well-known cave, the “Grotta della Spipola”, which was discovered in 1932 by speleologist Luigi Fantini. The only way to get there is by guided tour and through an artificial entrance at the bottom of the doline.  

  • Third stop - "Buca delle Candele" San Lazzaro di Savena

    The itinerary inside the park continues in the direction of the "Palestrina," an ancient quarry that is thought to date back to Roman times. Water erosion on the steep walls of a sinkhole inside the forest has created amazing vertical furrows in the karst rock known as "candle erosion." Hence the name "Buca delle Candele"

  • Fourth stop - Farneto Cave San Lazzaro di Savena

    By going further through the park, you can arrive at the Farneto hamlet, which is mostly known today due to the existence of the cave of the same name that Francesco Orsoni found there in 1871. 

    In the 1960s, Luigi Fantini discovered several burials in the region dating back to the Copper Age. The discoveries are currently on display in the Bologna Archaeological Museum and the "Luigi Donini" Museum of Prehistory. Sadly, the entrance of the cave was blocked by a landslide that resulted from quarry work, and the cave was restored to the public in 2008. Today, the only way to visit it is through the guided tours organised by the Ente Parchi. 

  • Fifth stop - WWF River Oasis of Molino Grande San Lazzaro di Savena

    The itinerary's final leg ends at the little WWF Oasis of Molino Grande. This is the first WWF oasis established by the Bologna division, and it encloses a strip of hydrophilic woods along the left bank of the Idice river, close to the ruins of an old mill. 

    Tall poplars and willows predominate in the lower portion of the wood, while downy oak, manna ash and field maple species can be found in the area growing on the sandy terrace. 

    A sizable dry meadow with elms and wild pear trees, as well as a tiny marsh, can be found in the southernmost portion. The Oasis recently acquired a little lake, which is close to some extremely intriguing aquatic plants that are becoming increasingly rare in our region's typical flora. 

    The fauna hosted here is fascinating as well. The avifauna is typical of floodplain areas, but in addition to the bee-eater, mouse, and kingfisher, there are also a variety of mammal, amphibian, and reptile species. 

    The Oasis can be visited throughout the year; however, spring and fall offer the greatest views of the spring blossoms and autumn foliage. 

Last update 27/02/2024

Information offices

Ufficio Relazioni con il Pubblico di San Lazzaro di Savena
Piazza Luciano Bracci, 1 - San Lazzaro di Savena (BO)
+ 39 051 622 8174

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