Circeo National Park, located along the Tyrrhenian coast, is one of the oldest national parks in Italy. The park is located in between the city of Terracina and the fishing town of Anzio, around 100km from Rome.
The park is of significant naturalistic, hydrogeological and faunal interest, and is protected by the state. Current challenges for the park are tourism, as well as eutrophication and sewage pollution.
When the Pontine Marshes were drained in the 1920s, along with the clearing of its forests, many wetland ecosystems were lost in the process. In order to retain the preservation of the Pontines, Benito Mussolini ordered the land around Mount Circeo to become a National Park. It is now officially a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Whilst the park was only opened in 1934, human presence on the land can be traced back to the Middle Paleolithic era. In fact, a perfectly intact Neanderthal skull was discovered in the area!
The park is made up of five distinct habitats: the dunes, wetlands, forest, Zannone Island, and the promontory. The sand dunes are a magnificent sight and extend for 25 km along the coast. The lagoon wetlands contain four coastal lakes and contain over 260 bird species.
Circeo’s forest is the largest flat forest in Italy and is home to a huge variety of fauna and flora. Visitors to Selva di Circe, one of the world’s most beautiful forests, may also have a rare opportunity to see a wild boar up close.
Zannone Island is a 1 square kilometre island boasting several rare biomes and is home to hundreds of feral wild sheep, and finally, Mount Circeo, a marl and sandstone mountain, is home to one of the biggest Neanderthal findings, as well as a key location in Homer’s Odyssey. The island also has ancient rocks dating back 200 million years.
The park works as a perfect ecosystem, with each habitat playing a vital role. The coastal dunes protect the forest from the winds, whilst migratory birds seek rest and shelter in the park’s wetlands.
The park’s towns are all widely unique. The pretty San Felice Circeo proudly hosts sea caves, scuba diving and seafood restaurants. The views from the town are also spectacular. Sabuadia is a seaside city and visitors can partake in sporting activities, such as rowing.
Around the five habitats there is plenty to do such as horse riding; long, scenic bike rides; watersports; canoeing; sailing and sunbathing.
The park derives its name, of course, from Mount Circeo. The mountain is named after ancient sorceress Circe, the daughter of Helois and Perse, who had the ability to turn humans into lions, wolves and pigs.
According to Odyssey, she invited Odysseus back to her cave in the mountain for a year-long love affair. Rumours has it she still lives on the mountain, looking down at Circeo, with the men always at risk of being turned into swine.