Festa Monini: colors, sounds and tastes of Umbria

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Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Terre d'Umbria
02 Aprile 2015

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

An exciting journey into the caves of Mount Cucco. 30 kilometres of one of the largest hypogeum systems in Europe unravel through stalactites and stalagmites, caves, labyrinths and tunnels.

For approximately three hundred years an ancient mountain maple growing next to the "opening" in the mountain was the natural anchoring point for the descent into the marvellous underground world that opens up in the deep caverns of Mount Cucco. When the tree dried up during the 1930s, it was replaced with a ladder anchored to the walls of a well which dove approximately 30 metres down into the earth, reaching an unexpected and spectacular series of caverns, caves, tunnels and labyrinths that wind around inside the mountain for more than thirty kilometres.

Down there, there is no sky, no sun, it's cold, there are no fields or flowers. Silence and darkness. But you have the powerful feeling of being in close contact with nature and its truth. Delving into the earth and its secrets, breathing in the strong, damp smell is almost like going into the mysterious territory of our subconscious.
In the feeble light of the flash lights, your eyes strain to decipher the thousands of shapes that have been chiselled into the rock over millenniums. The light sound of a drop that falls rhythmically and relentlessly, drawing tremulous ripples on an unexpected body of pristine water, reminding us strongly and eloquently how all of this was created through its relentless, eternal constance.
Only stone and water. But an incredible life. An extraordinary beauty. A deep emotion.

Standing before this impressive, sometimes iridescent, architecture of stone, crystal and lime, all visitors feel incredulous and admiring amazement; from the first explorer who, in 1499, with the black smoke of his torch, traced a date and name on the stone walls, to modern-day hikers who, accompanied by a guide, can venture through the entire mountain.


Even people who are not experts can enjoy this wonderful experience. In fact, most of the caves are equipped with removable anchorings and static ropes so that even novices can venture through caverns and tunnels.
The Park guides offer visitors three different possible "routes": the “Crossing” (Traversata), the longest route of 800 m of underground walking - 4 or 5 hours - taking you from the main entrance, at 1,390 m a.m.s.l., to the east side of Mount Cucco, to the exit on the other side of the mountain, on the north.
The "Adventure" (Avventura) route, a bit more challenging as it involves the use of harnesses, ropes and caving equipment, but it is also suitable for beginners, as they are very well-equipped.
And the "Discovery" (Scoperta) route, the shortest (2 or 3 hours) which takes you through the first caves, which is probably also the most spectacular area open to tourists.

After the descent, the first room that opens up in front of the incredulous eyes of the visitor is the "Cathedral", a tall cave, an incredible space that rises up into the mountain just like a majestic Gothic cathedral. It is a large cavern in the heart of the mountain, a vast and impressive space that has even hosted ancient music concerts, voice ensembles and...Holy Mass is held every year on July 11th, on Saint Benedict's day, the protector of speleologists!

From here, in a rapid series, we have the Margherita Room with two other incredible routes stemming from it, and a series of caves with evocative names such as The Stone Garden, The Beak Room, The Room of Fountains...each with its own beauty, each its own marvel. And they can all be explored by absolute beginners.
A forest of stalactites and stalagmites create a pattern throughout the space and path and sometimes join together, creating the impressive stone columns of a beautiful underground nave. Iridescent rocks polished by the relentless flow of water that smoothes them, modelling them into soft shapes or candid casting. Small mineral salt crystals that shine on the stone. Prodigious pristine lakes of water eternally rippling by hypnotising and delicate emerald circles.

But the mountain also harbours other secrets. From the Margherita Room you can go up to a tunnel that takes you to another large room, quite close to the earth's surface, which is a "depot" of ancient animal bones. Rhinoceros, bear, alpine ibex and deer that lived here when the climate was much colder than it is today, probably during the last ice age.
Another path also branches off from the Margherita Room, a recent discovery, leading to the series of the vastest and deepest caves in the mountain. A mountain that has rivers running through it, deep lakes, labyrinths of caves and tunnels that are the joy of speleologists who can explore the whole complex and fascinating system of karstic rocks, how the water drains out and how natural caves are formed.
There are many so-called "minor" caves. Some are characterised by exceptional crystallisations of hot spring fluids; others, such as the White Grotto and the Grotto of Fairies, each one of a kind, contain large concretions of bacterial matrix; and others yet, have rivers following through them, which emerge on the surface as pristine springs. The Boccanera Chasm offers an impressive view of an immense chasm that drops more than 100 m into the abyss of the earth. While the Hidden Grotto and the Dragon's Grottos that probably offered shelter to early man and bears allow us to imagine what pre-historical life was like. All of them engage us in routes through nature or exciting and surprisingly spectacular experiences.

If, at least once in your life, you live the experience of going deep into the bowels of the mountain, you will always conserve the distinct, unforgettable feeling. An immersion into the heart of the earth and, maybe, into your senses, your emotions. A moment of "suspension" from your normal point of view.
Before going back… “to seeing the stars”.

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