In the centre of Italy, around the Apennine mountain range, lies a huge biodiversity spectacle. The Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park (Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo) covers 50,000 hectares, with 80,000 hectares of buffer zone in place to reinforce the conservation of this pristine protected area.
The national park was established just under 100 years ago and uniquely, is home to twenty-five different municipal towns. The area is also populated by around 24,000 people.
At the end of the 19th century, only a few Marsican brown bears remained in the world, all of them in the Abruzzo region. The Pyrenean chamois, close to extinction due to leather hunters, also roamed the mountains of the Apennines. In an attempt to prevent extinction, politician and naturalist Erminio Sipari proposed and organised the development of the area into a fully-funded national park.
Sipari wanted to preserve all flora and fauna whilst promoting tourism in the park. He eventually settled on the idea of sustainable development, which the park remains a good model of to this day.
Nowadays, the park keeps fifty Marsican bears. The chamois, once barely seen, now number fifty thousand across the world. The Italian wolf is enjoying a similar revival.
The park’s commitment to preserving species close to extinction is what helps to make it so unique. The Marsican bear, the chamois, Italian wolf and golden eagle all thrive amongst the other flora and fauna; as well as many mountains, lakes, rivers, valleys and karst areas.
Many birds of prey also call the park home. If you gaze into the skies over Abruzzo you’ll see lone golden eagles on the hunt for mammals and birds, surrounded by Eurasian buzzards, goshawks and falcons.
The most interesting species are now just reserved for birds and mammals, however. The park is equally known for its extensive flora, with well over 2,000 species. The park preserves the often stolen Fire Lily (Lilium bulbiferum croceum) and the rare Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) plants.
Beech covers 60% of the park’s land, as it has done for centuries. 30% is made up of high-mountain grasslands, while many varieties of pine also enjoy the higher altitudes. Although the mountain peaks do not rise above 2,200 metres (indeed, the largest Apelline mountain only reaches 2,900 m.) there are seven mountains in total. These cover part of the Monti della Meta.
With so many varieties of fauna and flora, it is easy to forget the humans for whom the park provides a home. The local economy is financed by agriculture, livestock breeding and harvest farming. Away from the farm, locals busy themselves with raditional crafts such as woodcarving, barrel making and lace crafting. Local food includes spaghetti alla chitarra and Pan dell’Orso cut into little shapes. However, despite the hardworking and creative industry, the area is still significantly dependent on tourism.
The park was previously called Abruzzo National Park and underwent a name change in 2001.