|Saint Romuald, detail from Fra Angelico's Crucifixion and Saints,St Mark's Florence, 1441-2|
|Antica Farmacia and its products recall the more famous one in Florence: but this is possibly older|
|traditional bright colours of today's Casentino felted wool cloth with its characteristic pre-pilled look (which apparently adds to its impermeability)|
|Arboretum Badia Prataglia|
|Visitors' Centre and Tree and Wood Crafts museum, open at these times|
from Monte Veso takes a separate course
upon the left slope of the Apennines,
and which above is Acquacheta called,
before it flows into its lowly bed,
and at Forlì is of that name deprived,
booms loud, because of falling o’er a cliff
above San Benedetto of the Alp,
where for a thousand there should refuge be;
even thus, as o’er a precipice it fell,
we found that coloured water roaring so,
that very soon it would have hurt our ears.
|a small waterfall along the Nature Trail: the rock is remarkably smooth|
|beech roots: there is a metaphor lurking here|
|medieval stone bridge over the river in the beech wood; since ancient times these hills were traversed by man-worn paths and from the Middle Ages the forest was one route for pilgrims to Rome|
|many trees sport mossy socks in this forest|
|the singular beech forest near Badia Prataglia|
|rocks which go back 30 million years|
The hermitage is situated at 1000m above sea level and the monastery is 200m below; the former enjoys a more open view of hills and woods, and inevitably greater seclusion, surrounded as it is by these marvellous woods.
|the small chapel inside the monastery at Camaldoli: all the functional areas are partially underground while the monks' cells are on the upper floors|
|the monastery cloister|
|Antica Farmacia museum, Camaldoli, full of interesting equipment for the processing and storage of treatments|
|inside the hermitage which lies above the monastery|
|outside Saint Romuald's cell: the serving hatch. Although he founded the order Romuald spent only two years at Camaldoli|
|the bed niche|
|culture clash: this neapolitan baroque-rococo interior to the hermitage's church, commissioned by a prior from Naples is, to say the least, a contrast with the austerity and simplicity of the rest|
|aerial view of the hermitage and its cloak of silver fir|
A forest 'monoculture' of silver fir is sustainable only if closely monitored and controlled. The monks' continual replanting meant that their forest cathedral regenerated over time - and indeed thrived for centuries. Nowadays that beautiful, monumental forest is in danger of decay: without the regular replanting it will simply die, for the conifers create a carpet of needles that thwarts spontaneous new growth. And no one is replanting.
|a monoculture forest like this at Camaldoli needs renovation and maintenance|
On the other hand, this monumental forest is in no way a natural forest. It resembles a plantation, and despite the monks' spiritual link with their creation, in the past it was economically important too. Now that function has vanished, the forest's existence is at risk.
|Sasso Fratino mountain and its Natural Reserve|
|Eco-museum of the Charcoal Burners at Cetica in the Casentino, where an old craft has become a museum piece|
|dead, standing trees can house birds and climbing animals; fallen trunks are home to other animals, insects, fungi and create clearings which let in more light to regenerate diversity|
|a coal tit photographed by Massimiliano Masci at 1600m on Mount Falterona in the Casentine Forests|
An excellent guidebook which covers all aspects of the park, from history to environmental issues to its topography and man's intervention, available at the Badia Prataglia Visitor Centre but doubtless to be found throughout the area, is The National Park of the Casentine Forests - where the trees touch the sky, Giunti 2003.
For dates, times and other information consult:
Parco Nazionale Foreste Casentinesi