A system of 900 caves in the Northern Apennines area of Italy made the 2023 UNESCO World Heritage List. This natural “serial property” includes about 62 miles of caves, including some of the deepest gypsum caves in the world at about 870 feet below the surface. While the inscription into the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List is new, knowledge of the caves is not. They have been explored “academically” since the 16th century and are very well-preserved.
The hundreds of caves that make up the system span across the region of Emilia-Romagna, known for cities like Parma, Bologna and Modena, and Italian staples like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and tortellini. But below the surface a whole new world awaits.
The admission of the “Evaporitic Karst and Caves of Northern Apennines” brings Italy’s Natural Properties included in the list up to six. Italy is home to more than 50 Cultural Properties on the World Heritage List. Emilia-Romagna’s entries include the Bologna Porticoes which line the city, Modena’s main cathedral and Piazza Grande and Early Christian Monuments in Ravenna.
For a change from the porticoes, fast cars and slow food of Emilia-Romagna– try checking out these caves on foot or by bicycle. Guided tours of the Parco dei Gessi Bolognesi e Calanchi dell’Abbadessa , take visitors through the rolling hills of the Bolognese Badlands and are available in varying degrees of physical difficulty. There are paths through this stunning landscape even for novice hikers. For a list of all itineraries of this specific park, the largest karst park in Emilia-Romagna, check out the itineraries here.
True thrillseekers can even go “potholing” and explore the bats and invertebrates of the Grotta della Spipola with an expert guide. This family-friendly route requires hiking boots and proper, comfortable clothing. Reservations for this 2-3 hour tour must be made in advance, online or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.