isola del giglio

Geomineralogic footpaths

All the best for our guests

Our geomineralogic footpaths, the first and only of their kind in Italy, offer a great opportunity to visit our island from a morphologic point of view of the landscape. It is difficult to explain in only a few words the amount of information obtainable by simple observation of the territory. For those able to "read" the rocks, a small crevice, a fracture in the ground, or a rounded stone can provide an enormous amount of information and can be a window into the not-too-distant past. And when you have the ability to embrace and interrogate the rocks, you enter into a magical dimension that will always be within you.

The well-trodden footpaths once crossed by countrymen, quarry workers and miners, and now by modern hikers, provide the means of exploring the world of geomineralogy. Specialised equipment is unnecessary: a hand lens, binoculars, a hat, and a great amount of curiosity and time are all that is needed.

It is not even necessary to walk the whole length of the footpath: sometimes it is enough to proceed only a short way to start to discover the secrets of the rocks.

The starting point for all three routes is Giglio Castello, the village of stairs, the ancient fortified hamlet which seems almost born directly from Giglio granite.

1) The quarry path

From Piazza Gloriosa at Giglio Castello, we descend along Footpath No. 1. Stopping midway, we observe the granite morphology, the pluton that was thrust up from the depths of the sea, under kilometres of accumulated sediment over the course of millions of years. It is sufficient to simply observe Giglio Castello to appreciate the incredible force that pushed the red-hot magma upwards. Continuing the descent towards Giglio Porto, the next stop is at Monticello, and in observing Giglio Porto from there, we recall the industry of producing granite columns for the ornately splendid churches, cloisters and noble palaces on mainland Italy and in Sicily.

On arrival at Giglio Porto, we first stop by the ruins of the Foriano quarry, opened by the Romans more than two thousand years ago and active at least until the second half of the nineteenth century, and then descend directly to Giglio Porto to observe the wharf built by the Grand Duke Leopold II to encourage the commercial trade in granite, and the small quarry at Scalettino del Porto. We then retrace our steps to the fork in the footpath and head for Bonsere, following along an easy route where we can observe the interesting texture of the granite before we reach the quarries at Bonsere and Cannelle.

We then take a boat south towards Cala degli Alberi (Bay of Trees) to admire the ruins of the ancient quarries and tumbled rocks that once were the quarry workyards. We return to Giglio Porto and then climb uphill towards Monticello, from where we descend towards Arenella Bay to admire Piccione quarry, one of the last active quarries, and to contemplate the exquisite minerals this mine once produced.

2) The miner's path

From Piazza Gloriosa we descend Footpath No. 3. Stopping midway, alongside the great amphitheatre that once hosted the sediments that covered the whole island, we observe the Franco promontory, where we consider not only the shape of the protruding Punta Faraglione but also that this rock was originally atop the promontory and was then swept into the sea by almost incomprehensible forces of nature.

Descending the footpath, we see on our right Colle del Castellare, the hill just above Campese, where the first miners in our history, the Villanovans, established in 800 B.C. a thriving trade in the pigment known as red ochre.

After this, we descend to Campese to visit the brucione, the massive accumulation of red ochre of the Pozzo Santa Barbara mining operation, and we can still see the ancient ovens used to process pyrite. Proceeding toward the sea, we spot a small cave with a multitude of stalactites.

We then proceed along the Ortana Valley. This is where the island's granite and limestone substrates come into contact, resulting in the formation of pyrite. The extensive deposits here have provided a wealth of raw material for the experimental development of mineral science: in fact, synthetic pyrite was first created in Italy during the early days of Italian unification. As we walk along the path, we can see the change in the flora, evidence of the rich minerals in the soil. Reaching Allume Bay, we find cavernous limestone cliffs (similar to the rock at the Faraglione), deposited by the primordial lagoon present before the underlying granite rose to the surface. On our left are the rocks of Scoglio Nero (Black Rock), Isola della Cappa (Hood Island) and La Vena (the Vein) that witnessed the birth in the mid-seventeenth century of the Grand Duke's dream of liberation from the heavy duties imposed on iron imported from Elba. Descending to the Allume, we find on our left, directly in front of one of the mining tunnels, the ferrous vein that originates from the main deposit; on our right, we see another mining tunnel and the beach where the ore was loaded onto transport carts. Returning to Campese, we board a boat to discover the cableway pylons, two on the seabed and a third still intact, visible evidence of a cable-driven cargo system—cutting-edge technology in its time!

3) The seekers' path

From Castello, we make an easy descent, following the road toward Campese until the fork where we take the right-hand turn and then follow footpath No. 4 in the direction of the old lighthouse at Fenaio. In short order, we are at Scopeto, perhaps an early sheltering place of the prehistoric people who were the first to go this far into the wild in pursuit of game. The boulders here, locally called coti, greet us and invite us to reflect on the forces that worked to bring the granite to the surface. We then follow footpath No. 5, which presents us with a lovely trek to the old Fenaio lighthouse. There, along with beautiful aplite veins and interesting vertical cracks in the granite, we find precious remnants of the rock that once covered the whole island. When we continue our walk, circling around Fenaio on footpath No.6 and then and retracing our steps on footpath No. 4, we can see the beautiful cliffs of Sparavieri and Secche, both exhibiting the characteristic vertical structures that result from the rapid cooling of red-hot rock.

Back at Castello, we set out along the paved road—for this outing, we won't stop at the marcasite quarry described by Pecci in the mid-eighteenth century. On the left, the surface of the granite is yellowish and powdery, crossed by visible yellow veins of pegmatite and white veins of aplite. On our right appear the ancient structure of the "Dolce" and the magical wild colours of the Porte and Cote Ciombella, huge blocks detached from still-cooling rock masses of a primordial epoch. Proceeding towards Castelluccio, we admire the series of "poggi" (hillocks) which are like the granite spine of the island. Now Capel Rosso appears and Giannutri Island appears, smiling at us. As we descend along footpath No. 28, our eyes are treated to the sweet morphology of the granite: at first, the thousands of colour shades of pegmatite, then the bright white of the aplite veins and at last the light yellow of the pegmatite veins. Once we arrive at Capel Rosso, the impact is astonishing, to say the least: the sea has eroded and shaped the friable that were rocks compressed for millions of years and only recently, in the scale of geological time, were released, stretched, and crushed, and on these rocks we clamber back to the footpath. Returning along the paved road, we can see the morphology of the coast, with its hills and rocks carved by the waves. Back at Castello, we take a bus to Campese to check out the flat rocks by the Tower, now laid bare but millions of years ago were covered by debris, of which fragments are still visible today. Between the rocks, mineral veins continue to demonstrate their energetic presence, silent witnesses to the heated waters freed from semi-molten rock. This area is best viewed from the sea: by taking a boat, we can admire the morphology of the Faraglione, the Saline, the green pilaster of Mezzofranco, Punta Penna and to finally stop near the Corvo, a natural cave created by the erosion of granite cracks. One final stop further to the south brings us to Capel Rosso and its exemplary marine cave.

When you return to terra firma you will well be overwhelmed by emotion, arising from the opportunity of having experienced the unveiling of an entire microcosm.

Prof. Alessandro Fei
Director of the MMGG

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