The Padule and the itineraries in the green
Natura è tutto ciò che noi vediamo: il colle, il pomeriggio, lo scoiattolo, l’eclissi, il calabrone. O meglio, la natura è il paradiso. Natura è tutto ciò che noi udiamo: il passero bobolink, il mare, il tuono, il grillo. O meglio, la natura è armonia. Natura è tutto quello che sappiamo senza avere la capacità di dirlo, tanto impotente è la nostra sapienza a confronto della sua semplicità.
A city rich in history in a landscape to be discovered. The journey into beauty begins from the basin of the Padule di Fucecchio, the largest inland freshwater swamp in peninsular Italy. In this protected area, which can be visited for educational and tourist purposes, there are more than 200 species of birds. Obviously, its formation is very ancient, due to the stagnation of the waters coming from the heights of the Valdinievole, whose outflow was prevented by the alluvial deposits of the Arno. The Usciana canal is the only emissary, and along its path there is a suggestive itinerary to be covered on foot or by mountain bike.
Young and old can discover the unpredictable and extraordinary world of nature also by walking through the woods of the Cerbaie, low hills with a gentle profile that extend for two thirds of the municipal territory, between the basin of the Bientina and Fucecchio marshes. Immersed in a very rich vegetation, and surrounded by the typical fauna of the Tuscan forests and scrubs, there are paths and paths that allow you to explore the area for several kilometers. The Cerbaie also host naturalistic initiatives and environmental education workshops.
- To find out about the awareness and enhancement initiatives organized by the Padule Association, consult the website www.associazioneilpadule.it
- For more information on the itineraries and events promoted by the Center for Research, Documentation and Promotion of the Padule of Fucecchio, consult the website www.zoneumidetoscane.it
- To discover the hiking trails of the Cerbaie and the trekking program, visit the portal www.ecocerbaie.it
FUCECCHIO, HIS PADULE
Il Padule: environment and historical notes
With its approximately 1,800 hectares of extension divided between the provinces of Florence and Pistoia, the Padule di Fucecchio is one of the most important wetlands in Tuscany: considerably reduced compared to that ancient lake-marsh present in ancient times, today the Padule is a roughly triangular shaped basin located in the Valdinievole, south of the Pistoia Apennines, between Montalbano and the Cerbaie hills. The main water supply comes from water courses from the pre-Apennine slopes; the only outlet, on the other hand, is the Usciana canal, which flows into the vicinity of Montecalvoli (PI) after a path more or less parallel to the Arno for 18 kilometers.
Within the overall extension, about 230 hectares are protected by Nature Reserves set up by the Provincial Administrations of Pistoia and Florence, while the remaining parts fall within the related Contiguous Areas. The Padule of Fucecchio Nature Reserve is equipped with visiting facilities that also include three wildlife observatories, one of which was created through the conversion of one of the characteristic local huts.
The Padule, in addition to the richness of the landscapes and nature, retains the charm of the historical events linked to the Medici and Lorena families and the traces of the ancient processing of marsh grasses, as well as being the scene of a tragic episode of the Second World War. The historical past clearly emerges from the significant testimonies of the work of man, who, over the centuries, has shaped and modified the very structure of the wetland: thus, the canals and the system of ports are to be read as signs of ancient and important waterways; the Medici bridge of Cappiano, now a tourist facility, as an important passage on the Via Francigena and the center of water regulation and fishing activities. The basin also hosts tobacco dryers, authentic finds of industrial archeology.
The tombstones scattered on the sheds or along the banks instead tell a more recent story: the tragedy of the barbaric massacre perpetrated by the Nazi-fascists on 23 August 1944, in which 175 people died. Finally, in the Padule there are still activities related to the processing of marsh herbs, even if practiced by a few artisans, which include the collection and weaving of the sarello and the hall, used to cover chairs and flasks, as well as the “gaggia” and other plants typical of this humid area.
Source: Center for Research, Documentation and Promotion of the Padule of Fucecchio
Animals and plants of the largest Italian inland swamp
Atmospheres, reflections, wonderful landscapes, but not only: this place also gives emotions for its flora and vegetation peculiarities and for the surprising fauna that inhabits it. Located on the border between the peninsular region with a Mediterranean climate and the continental one, the Padule simultaneously hosts plants adapted to different climates; in the Paduletta di Ramone, on the edge of the Bosco di Chiusi, survive, for example, the frog’s bite (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) and the royal fern (Osmunda regalis), plants with a warm humid climate, and particular mosses, called sphagnum trees (Sphagnum sp. ), more typical of cold climates in the north and descended up to here during the last glaciations.
Only in the Paduletta, and in a few other areas of the marsh crater, are there still discrete extensions of the Great sedge (Carex elata), locally called “sarello”; this plant of Nordic origin develops in “gerbi” (bushy formations) formed by several individuals, which take on the characteristic appearance of islets surrounded by water. Unfortunately, today the large sedges are often supplanted by more resistant species such as the common reed (Phragmites australis).
Where the immense reeds give way to open water, we find the “lamineti”, formed by plants with floating leaves (such as the large yellow water lilies) which offer one of the last shelters to numerous highly specialized species: the bladder grass (Utricularia australis), floating carnivorous plant; the Nymphoid (Nymphoides peltata), with beautiful yellow flowers; the strange Grass fish or Salvinia (Salvinia natans), a small floating fern now very rare in Tuscany; and the broom grass (Hottonia palustris), only recently discovered in the wetland.
As for the fauna, the Marshes plays a fundamental role in the migration routes between the Tyrrhenian coast and the interior; over 200 species of birds can be observed here throughout the year. The marshy area therefore offers exceptional ideas for birdwatching and nature photography enthusiasts, especially during the spring pass.
The herons take on a particular naturalistic importance and constitute here a large heronry, that is a real “city of herons” with thousands of birds. It is the most important nesting colony in central-southern Italy, both for the number of nesting pairs (about 1000) and for the simultaneous presence of seven species: the Night Heron, the Little Egret, the Squacco Heron, the Cattle Egret, the Gray Heron, the Great White Heron and the Purple Heron.
Among the mammals, in addition to the intrusive Nutria (Myocastor coypus), the smallest European rodent (Micromys minutus), should be remembered for its naturalistic and biogeographical interest. Equally rich is the microfauna, among which there are over 1000 species of Beetles: the Padule, in this case, functions as a refuge area for many swamp species linked to cold climates.
Source: Center for Research, Documentation and Promotion of the Padule of Fucecchio
The return of the white stork
In the spring of 2005, a pair of white storks nested for the first time on a trellis, in an area located on the edge of the Padule of Fucecchio. An event of this kind had not happened in Tuscany for three centuries and since then the show has been repeating itself every spring, under the constant control of the scholars of the Padule of Fucecchio Nature Reserve and under the curious eye of thousands of visitors who arrived to attend the stages of nesting and the first flight tests of the chicks.
After centuries of waiting
The White stork (Ciconia ciconia) is a migratory species with a Eurocentro-Asian-Mediterranean distribution, which nests in mid-latitudes in Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa and winters mainly in Africa, south of the Sahara. The main migratory routes pass through Gibraltar and the Bosphorus, but Italy is also affected by an increasing passage in spring and autumn, probably due to the increase in populations of neighboring countries, such as Switzerland and France. What makes the naturalistic event of 2005 extraordinary is the previous extinction of this bird, which reproduced throughout the country in Roman times, but which had ended up disappearing perhaps as early as the sixteenth century. The situation, then, has remained unchanged for centuries, for various reasons: hunting for food (in the Renaissance), environmental alterations, illegal killing of specimens in the reproductive period and, ultimately, for the multiplication of power lines.
For this reason, in 1985 the LIPU (Italian Bird Protection League) promoted an awareness campaign and a first reintroduction project, which envisages the creation of white stork breeding centers; after twenty years of commitment to the conservation of the species, in the 2005 reproductive season as many as 160 pairs nest in many Italian regions, including Tuscany. In Fucecchio, a mixed couple is the protagonist of the first free-standing nesting: she comes from the Massa Marittima breeding center, he is probably wild; the pair reproduces successfully also in the following years, while in 2007 two other specimens nest in Titignano and the following year a third pair nests in the WWF Oasis of Bolgheri. The number of Tuscan nests continues to grow in the following years, confirming the effectiveness of that slow and gradual process of recolonization of the species which, over time, has benefited from the adoption of protection measures and environmental improvement works.
Source: Center for Research, Documentation and Promotion of the Padule di Fucecchio
Boat excursions and walking tours of the association Il Padule
Discovering the Fucecchiese area of the Padule, its environmental richness and its traditional activities. For some years now, the local association Il Padule has been making excursions on Saturdays and Sundays, approximately from morning to evening, which allow you to fully immerse yourself in nature, both on foot and on the historic fishing boats.
There are two main types of offer. Sailing in a small boat (about 2 hours, with guides) is a fascinating journey to rediscover the ancient customs and activities which, over the years, have allowed the sustenance of all those communities located in the neighboring countries and near the Padule. Along the way, passing through the clears (those parts of swamps, ponds and lakes that are not cluttered by reeds or aquatic plants), it is possible to observe the characteristic hunting huts and have explanations about the traditional forms of fishing.
The walking paths that cross the Fucecchio part of the Padule are of two types. In summer, always in the company of competent guides, itineraries are practicable that allow you to observe the avifauna characteristic of this marshy ecosystem: an opportunity for young and old, simply curious or birdwatchers. For those who love walking, there are also guided tours (about 2 hours) along the banks of the Marshes which are home to numerous animal and plant species and which were the scene of some tragic events during the Second World War.
Guided tours and itineraries by the RDP Center Padule di Fucecchio
Whether it’s a hot summer day, a gray autumn afternoon or a starry evening, the Fucecchio Marshes always know how to fascinate and surprise visitors. Thanks to the staff and collaborators of the RDP Padule di Fucecchio Center, inside the largest Italian internal swamp it is possible to access the new Castelmartini Visitor Center: the latter hosts a permanent exhibition on the wetland and temporary exhibitions of photography and naturalistic drawing.
From the Visitor Center, then, it is not difficult to reach the area Le Morette on foot or by bicycle: here there is a wildlife observatory from which birdwatchers and nature photographers, but also simply curious, can admire some of the numerous species. migratory birds (over 200 arrive here during the year) present in this natural environment. The passage of migrants, together with the cyclical alternation of dry and flood periods, still marks the natural rhythm of the seasons today: an aspect of the Marshes that can only be appreciated with repeated visits over time.
The RDP Padule di Fucecchio Center offers many opportunities to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the place, learn about its history and its faunal peculiarities: among the main naturalistic and historical-environmental excursions there are visits to the Le Morette area, to discover flora and fauna venues with birdwatching stops; and those in the Righetti area, an area of great scenic and environmental interest. There is no shortage of “night” trips designed to observe the swamp and its inhabitants in a particularly suggestive moment. There are also numerous itineraries in the environments close to the wetland and paths focused on local history and traditions. All visits take place with an environmental guide.
Source: Research, Documentation and Promotion Center of the Padule di Fucecchio
The nature trails of the Cerbaie
Walking in the forests with the impression of being in an enchanted place, which seems to have stopped in time hundreds of years ago. It can happen in the Cerbaie woods, located between the hamlets of Pinete, Torre and Vedute, in the municipality of Fucecchio, a few steps from the most famous natural reserve of the Padule. The Cerbaie woods represent a “world apart”, a territory lived and used until a few decades ago and since then largely abandoned. Paths that begin and are lost in the depths of the scrub, endless forests that possess characteristic natural habitats, landscapes and horizons in which it does not seem to be a few hundred meters from the industrialized plain.
In the Cerbaie Site of Community Interest (SIC), thanks to the humid and cool climate, together with the more common trees such as alders, oaks and silver firs, very rare plants still survive such as Drosera Rotundifolia, a carnivorous plant from the ice age, and the Osmunda Regalis, typical of tropical climates and dating back to about 10 million years ago. Furthermore, in this natural environment, which has remained intact despite its proximity to the city, it is still possible to meet squirrels, badgers, porcupines, magpies and woodpeckers, unique and undisturbed inhabitants of the forest.
In recent years, a part of this area, that is the woods of the Ex Opera Pia Landini Marchiani, has been affected by an enhancement project, for tourist and recreational purposes, carried out by the Municipality of Fucecchio thanks to funds from the Rural Development Plan 2007-2013 of the Tuscany Region and with the technical-scientific support of the Ecoistituto delle Cerbaie. This is how 7.5 kilometers of hiking trails have been recovered, along which equipment for recreation and didactic signs have been set up, with the aim of starting to revalue a portion of the territory so rich in beauty to be protected and enjoyed.
Trekking along the Usciana canal
From the work of the Consortium of Land Reclamation of the Padule and of the Municipality of Fucecchio comes ”Usciana. Trekking along the Canal ”, a suggestive 6-kilometer route, marked by signposts, which winds along the banks of the Usciana canal and which connects the Cappiano Bridge, from which the Via Francigena passes, to the crater of the Padule di Fucecchio. The itinerary can be covered in an hour and a half of trekking or in 40 minutes by mountain bike and offers sports enthusiasts a splendid view of the valley that opens up between the hills of Cerbaie and Montalbano. A path of extraordinary beauty, rich in vegetation and fauna of high naturalistic interest.
Among the main stages of the trek there are the Burello Bridge and the Marabotti Bridge, from which you can glimpse the church of Stabbia, as well as the Cavallaia Bridge, from which you then continue arriving at the confluence of the Canali del Terzo and the Capannone, from which the Esciana originates. Of great interest are the floral species present along the route, for example the yellow iris and the yellow water lily, and above all the very rich fauna that populates the area in its entirety, from the earth to the sky: here it is possible to spot, among others, the great white heron and the gray heron, the stork and the little egret, while in the canals and in the ponds there is no shortage of pike, carp, eel and chub.
The maps of the itineraries – in Italian and English – with detailed descriptions of the routes, connections, and the territory from the environmental, historical and tourist points of view can be downloaded below and are also available for distribution at the tourist offices of the Municipality of Fucecchio, the Pro Loco Fucecchio, the Center for Research, Documentation and Promotion of the Fucecchio Marshes and the Tourist Office