Vena del Gesso Romagnola

Vena del Gesso Romagnola

Parco Regionale Vena del Gesso Romagnola

This park has been recently established to safeguard the largest gypsum ridge in Italy, a spectacular silvery grey ridge.

From the Sillaro valley up to Brisighella, in the Lamone valley, the hills of Romagna are marked by a spectacular silvery grey gypsum ridge which abruptly interrupts the gentle rolling hills creating a unique landscape. This outcrop is the longest and most imposing gypsum ridge in Italy; it is 25 km long and on average about one and a half kilometres wide.

The best view of the sequence of magnificent rocky sides is from the plain; the northern side of the ridge is steep but mostly covered by vegetation. Like the not so distant Parco Regionale dei Gessi Bolognesi e Calanchi dell'Abbadessa, this area is characterised by particular karst formations which include dolines, blind valleys and a great number of caves, including many “abysses” (vertical hollows in the area of record breaking lengths). The name “Vena” (vein) assigned by the surveyors of the Istituto Geografico Militare is related to the mineral exploitation of the rocky mass from which gypsum has always been extracted. In many areas the signs of past extractions are visible, but even more impressing is the huge tear in Mount Tondo where a quarry is still active and modern technologies rapidly extend the front and tunnels of the quarry to the detriment of the landscape, caves and delicate gypsum environments.


The mosaic of meadows, scrubs and woods that outline the vegetal landscape of the Vena hosts typical hillside plants as well as particular plants which grow here thanks to the influence of the warm currents from the Adriatic coast. The woods and maquis on sunny sides host juniper, broom, wild asparagus and manna ash as well as typical Mediterranean plants such as holm-oak, green olive tree, viburnum timus and terebinth. The more structured woods are mainly made up of downy oak, Turkey oak and field maple, while the undergrowth is filled with the flowers of the white helleborine and other orchids as well as the hardy cyclamen in autumn. Of particular interest is the rare bladdernut. The northern sides and the bottom of the dolines are covered mainly by mesophyll woods, where downy oak grows alongside common and hop hornbeam, hazelnut and the wild service tree; at the end of winter the undergrowth comes to life with the beautiful flowers of the wood anemone, dogtooth violet, lungwort, larkspur and primrose, while the cooler areas are dotted with snowdrops. In some areas there are stretches of chestnut groves, while the more intense green areas are recent conifer reforestation areas.

The botanical symbol of the Vena del Gesso is a very rare, small fern, the Cheilanthes persica, which grows along the coasts of Anatolia, in Caucasus and very few other places very distant from each other; in 1980, when this plant was already considered extinct in Italy, a limited population was found on the sides of Mount Mauro. This species grows in the fissures of the gypsum cliffs together with the common rustyback fern, yellow germander and other herbaceous plants that grow in extremely arid conditions, such as helichrysum, fumana, stiff hedgenettle, white rock rose, white sage, thyme and various mosses and saxifrages.

The herb garden of Casola Valsenio and the Cardello park

This famous garden overlooking the Senio valley south of the Vena del Gesso has more than 400 officinal and aromatic plants and is an important point of reference for research, experimentation and education. It is the most important medicinal herb garden in Europe. Near the garden there is the Parco del Cardello, which surrounds the Cardello building of medieval origin, once residence of the writer Alfredo Oriani. The large green area with beautiful imposing and lush trees stretches to the ridge which is underlined by rows of cypresses and umbrella pines. Around the park there are rustic hill lands of a marked Mediterranean type with olive groves, vineyards and broom.

Fauna: the animals of the caves and hills

The hypogeal habitat is of great importance as it hosts particular fauna mainly made up of invertebrates and bats, such as the mouse-eared bat, lesser mouse-eared bat, greater horseshoe bat and long-fingered bat, which sometimes form colonies in the caves. Amphibians include the rare cave salamander which can be seen at the entrance of caves, while the rare yellow-bellied toad lives at the bottom of dolines and small valleys. The rest of the area is populated with animals that typically live on the hills, with a large presence of crested porcupines and garden dormice thanks to the thick maquis and many holes that can be used as burrows. Among the birds of this park, the eagle owl is of particular interest since it is not very common in Italy as it likes to nest on sheltered ledges on undisturbed rocky walls; it is also worth mentioning  the presence of the nightjar and other birds typical of Mediterranean habitats, such as the blue rock thrush, ortolan bunting and Sardinian warbler.

Visitor Centres and Museums

The Parco Naturale Attrezzato Carnè is popular with hikers and schools for its underground and surface karst formations and rich vegetation of the northern side of the outcrops; the area is equipped with a classroom and mountain lodge which serves food and drinks.

The firm Ecosistema is also involved in environmental education and organises guided tours, events and projects (currently being defined) for schools.

The Natural Science Civic Museum of Faenza, is:

• information point for any educational request concerning the Parco Regionale della Vena del Gesso Romagnola: activities available, who to contact for...: speleological visits, nature visits, geological visits, etc.....;

• museum of important paeleontological and mineral findings from the Vena del Gesso Romagnola;

• direct contact point for educational activities concerning the Vena del Gesso Romagnola as "Natural Monument" (geological/morphological - speleological....aspects);

• direct contact point for educational activities concerning nature;

• direct contact point for the Parco Naturale "Ca' Carnè" and exhibition centre (with annual themes: currently there is an exhibition on the Wolf) and for the Museo Geologico all'Aperto "Cava Monticino" in Brisighella;

• direct contact point for other exhibition structures such as the one in  Zattaglia di Brisighella (the Museum organises exhibitions: until 30 October there was the “Biodiversity & Geodiversity of the Vena del Gesso Romagnola” exhibition).

Ecosistema s.c.r.l.
Viale Capuccini 2/D,
40026 Imola (BO),
tel +39 0542 628143,

The Centro Gessi e il Fiume is housed in the 16th century Palazzo Baronale in Tossignano and is equipped with an exhibition space of great educational interest: 4 theme exhibition rooms: "Santerno Valley", "What is gypsum", "Gypsum and man", "The environments of the Vena del Gesso" (first floor); a multi-purpose conference room and exhibition spaces that host the "Valter Mita" collection of peasant objects and tools (second floor); there is also a small garden with a short educational trail.

For information:

Municipality of Borgo Tossignano, Piazza Unità d'Italia, 7 40021 (BO); tel +39 054291111.

Natural Science Civic Museum

c/o Centro "D. Malmerendi", Via Medaglie d'Oro, 51; 48018 Faenza (RA);
tel. +39 0546 662425; fax: +39 0546 662425.
Apertura su appuntamento per visite guidate

Museum of Material Culture of Tossignano

A museum with an interesting collection of objects and tools once used in local trades, including the working of gypsum. c/o Palazzo Baronale (room on first floor); Piazza Andrea Costa, Municipality of Tossignano.

Territorial Museum of the Faenza Apennines

(work in progress) c/o Rocca di Riolo, Piazza Mazzanti 1; tel. +39 0546 71025.

How to get here

To reach the visitor centre "I gessi e il fiume" in Tossignano, follow the Strada statale Selice Montanara Imolese from Imola for about 15 km.

From the A14 motorway exit at Faenza (northbound or southbound) or the SS9 Via Emilia: follow directions for Castel Bolognese and then for Riolo Terme and Casola Valsenio.

From the A14 motorway exit at Faenza (northbound or southbound): follow djrections for Brisighella (100m after the toll there is Via San Silvestro on the right with directions for Brisighella). SS Roads - SS 9 Via Emilia (northbound and southbound), on the Faenza ring road there are directions for Brisighella-Marradi-Florence); then follow the SS 302 towards Florence for 10 km.

Emilia Romagna Network Apt ServiziAppennino e VerdeEmilia Romagna TermeCittà d'Arte Emilia RomagnaCosta AdriaticaStrade dei vini e dei saporiEmilia Romagna TurismoMotor ValleyVisit Emilia Romagna