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Riserva Naturale dei Calanchi di Atri PDF Print E-mail

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The origin of the Calanchi

The calanchi ('badlands') in the WWF nature reserve at Atri represent one of the most fascinating landscapes on the Adriatic Sea. They are also called 'Bolge' or 'Scrimoni' and they are a geomorphological phenomenon which is due to continuous soil erosion. Deforestation in the past as well as climatic factors like aridity and hydric stress lead to the erosion of the soil that consists of clay, silt and sand.

The so-called 'badlands' are dry areas with sparse vegetation that are characterized by high rates of erosion which creates narrow ravines, gullies, knife-sharp ridges and crests and interesting sculptures and pinnacles.


The following prerequisites are important for the evolution of a calanco:

  • its soil mainly consists of clay with a notable sand fraction (6 – 18 %),
  • there are steep slopes,
  • the slopes are mostly exposed to the south and
  • the climate is characterized by excessive rainfalls and long periods of aridity.


Clay is dry and powder-like with lots of cracks on the surface. When it gets wet, you can easily form it. The existing minerals don't provide many nutrients for the plants which can hardly develop on this ground. That's why the drops of heavy rainfalls cause the detachment of small clay particles. The water quickly flows from the surface into the cracks and carries away these clay particles creating small water channels that become larger and deeper. In the course of time they form a miniature hydrographic network of channels and gullies which finally furrow and erode the whole surface of the slope. The small and light clay particles, washed away by the rain, accumulate at the foot of the calanco and are finally taken to the sea by the water.
In the upper part of the calanco, where the slope is extremely steep, the soil is extremely fragile, too. Small superficial slides continuously move down the calanco and cause the gradual formation of its shape from the bottom to the top of the hill.

The 'calanchi' are a common landscape feature in many parts of Abruzzo but only at Atri they are so spectacular and characteristic for the whole area.

The WWF nature reserve with its area of about 380 hectares was established in 1995 by the regional government of Abruzzo and extends from 'Colle della Giustizia' (Judgement Hill) at 468 m above sea level down to the Valley of the river Piomba at 106 m. The landscape of the protected area is full of variety: apart from the steep slopes of the calanchi, there are brooks, ponds, small woods, cultivated fields and areas of reforestation.

The Agriturismo NIDO dei CALANCHI is situated in the protected area of the nature reserve at about 300 m above sea level.