In December 2000 the Municipality of Brescia approved a specific change to the town plan to identify the perimeter of the park; this allowed the organisation and safeguard of a space that is vital for the city and the surrounding territory, and that consists of diverse natural environments whose characteristics are extremely interesting and rare, not just locally but at European level as well.
The Park's hills were formed between the end of the Triassic/beginning of the Jurassic (around 200 million years ago) and the early/middle Miocene (around 20 million years ago). They mostly consist of sedimentary calcareous and dolomitic rocks, with some marls and flints. The analysis of fossilised algae and sea animals contained in the most widespread rocks lead to the identification of the type of environment where those sediments deposited: it was a tropical sea where the Alps were formed. The hills and mountains that rose from this sea subsequently underwent distortion, fractures and overlapping, thus generating the current landscape.
The most widespread geological formations are listed below, starting from the most ancient:
The woods at Park of the Hills belong to two main categories: thermophilic and mesophilic, according to the type of environment.
The trees and shrubs that grow in thermophilic woods find their ideal situation on the southeast-facing slopes, which are warm, arid and calcareous. The same adjective that describes the woods (thermophilic, or heat-loving) applies to the plants that compose them, and that are typically found in the sub-Mediterranean climate zone: downy oaks, European hop-hornbeams, manna ashes; other species are strictly Mediterranean, such as the tree heather and the terebinth.
Mesophilic woods grow on the northwest-facing slopes, where the temperature is cooler and the ground more humid and acidic than in carbonate soils. This type of environment is suitable for chestnut trees, sessile oaks and hornbeams, but also for locusts, a species that tends to prevail on the others and to spread rapidly.
Areas of highest environmental significance
The woodland of Badia on Sant'Anna hill is one of the Park's most beautiful, and a typical example of mesophilic wood.
The change in vegetation from thermophilic to mesophilic wood is very clear and easily noticeable when passing from the south-eastern to the north-western slopes: along the morphological lines separating slopes with different aspects, the difference between the two types is often visible in the space of a few metres.
In areas that were once used for cattle grazing, as well as on ridges that are more exposed to the sun and where the soil is scarcer, trees are virtually absent; dry grasslands prevail in these areas, and the species that grow there are mostly grasses, and some shrubs.
Norway spruce Field maple Sycamore maple European nettle tree Silver birch Hornbeam Hop-hornbeam Chestnut Cedar Judas tree Turkey oak Pedunculate oak Ash White mulberry Evergreen oak Field elm Alder Manna ash Maritime pine Black pine Black poplar London plane Black locust Sessile oak Downy oak
Aphylantes monspeliensi (at the pass of San Vito Botticino), Campanula elatinoides (Maddalena eastern slopes), Festuca alpestris (Maddalena eastern slopes), Cytisus emeriflorus (Mt. Maddalena)
All over the Park area, rare or extremely rare orchids in the genera Ophrys, Serepias, Limodorum, Orchis, Himantoglossum (among others) grow. Other remarkable species include Dictamus albus, Verbascum phoeniceum, Stipa mediterranea, Biscutella cichorifolia, Coronilla scorpioides, Allium neapolitanum, Tulipa precox, Narcissus tazetta.
Vertebrates living in the Park are essentially the following:
West European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), European mole (Talpa europaea), common shrew (Sorex araneus), bicolored shrew (Crocidura leucodon)
Common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), Kuhl's pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhli), brown long-eared bat (Plecotus auritus)
European hare (Lepus europaeus)
Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), bank vole (Chletrionomys glareolus), common vole (Microtus arvalis), brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), black rat (Rattus rattus), wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), house mouse (Mus domesticus)
Fox (Vulpes volpe), least weasel (Mustela nivalis), beech marten (Martes foina), badger (Meles meles)
Wild boar (Sus scropha), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus)
Birds of the Park
Common birds in the mesophilic woods are wrens, robins, blackcaps and nightingales. In meadows and clearings, or by hazels, beeches, oaks and chestnuts, as well as by berry-bearing shrubs, we may also find other species such as jays, long-tailed tits, great tits, chiffchaffs, wood warblers and golden orioles (rarer). Sparrowhawks can be seen in the winter.
In the thermophilic woods, where dry grasslands and scrub keep the trees wider apart, rare species can be spotted including the ortolan bunting, the melodious warbler, the whitethroat, the nightjar, the tawny pipit, the red-backed shrike and the crested lark. In many of these environments, where a typical Mediterranean vegetation grows, the Sardinian warbler has become widespread. The barred warbler and the western Orphean warbler are especially significant birds dwelling in the area. The birds of prey to be found on our hills are buzzards, honey buzzards, short-toed snake eagles, peregrine falcons and black kites.
Arid environments - cliffs and abandoned quarries - are home to some typical birds like the blue rock thrush, the very rare western black-eared wheatear, and the kestrel.
Reptiles and amphibians in the Park
Reptiles and amphibians are, on the whole, severely endangered, and numerous species are clearly declining.
Smooth newts, crested newts, fire salamanders, green toads, tree frogs, agile frogs and edible frogs can be spotted in the area.
The most significant reptiles are wall geckos, lizards (green, wall, and Italian), slowworms, green whip snakes, Aesculapian snakes, smooth snakes, grass snakes, dice snakes and asps.
Man has historically been a massive presence at Parco delle Colline di Brescia, intervening to shape and "sculpt" the hills and thus determining the landscape and architectural features we observe today.
The beauty and proximity to the city of many places now included in the Park made these areas desirable for rich or aristocratic families residing in town; throughout the centuries, these families built grand mansions on the hills, often surrounded by parks and gardens where quite interesting plant specimens can be found. Villa Fenaroli in Rodengo Saiano, as well as several houses at the Ronchi in the municipality of Brescia, are especially prestigious.
As far as agriculture is concerned, the land on the hills nearest to the town was mainly used to grow vineyards, fruit and vegetables.
To make this possible, most hill slopes were terraced with dry stone walls.
Still today, in spite of the increased wooded area and the fact that many of these structures are not maintained, the trace left by farming on the landscape is well visible.
Within this rural context there are some remarkable instances of architecture, like farmsteads and accessory buildings that testify to the history of human activity on the hills. Cascina Margherita in Brescia (now being restored) and Cascina di Berta in Rodengo Saiano are two especially interesting examples.
The strong religious feeling of the people of Brescia has always showed itself through the arts, leading to numerous works of architecture of various level on the hills.
Numerous wayside shrines (locally known as "santelle") were built along the roads or in the villages, and represented a material and spiritual landmark for passers-by.
More than a few sanctuaries, quite important in the Brescia territory, are included within the perimeter of the Park. They were often built on the top of the main hills or at important road joints, like the sanctuaries of Stella by Cellatica, of S. Onofrio in Bovezzo, of Madonna della Calvarola in Collebeato, or of the ancient church of Santa Maddalena, after which the hill overlooking Brescia is named and which is now in ruin.
Equally or even more important were the monasteries. They were built in places that were not only peaceful, as this was necessary to monastic life, but also suitable to manage the surrounding fields. Therefore they are often well visible on the hills: large architectural complexes, well harmonised with the surrounding natural environment. The former monastery of St. Stefano in Collebeato, the town monasteries of several female religious orders at the foot of Mt. Maddalena, and the former Franciscan monastery in the municipality of Rodengo Saiano, known today as ''Calvario", are especially remarkable. The Olivetan abbey located in this same municipality - although not within the Park - is doubtless one of northern Italy's main monuments of its kind, and played a crucial role in the economic and cultural development of the area.
Beside the examples mentioned, more churches testify to the vivacity of local religious architecture: the little church of Patrocinio along the panoramic road of Mt. Maddalena, the church of St. Gottardo, the church of St. Fiorano, all of them in the municipality of Brescia, and the little church of St. Rocco by Cellatica, not far from St. Fiorano.
The parish churches definitely deserve mentioning: although they are not within the Park, they constitute meaningful architectural landmarks.
The hills' raised position, above the plain and the lower Trompia valley where the towns developed, made strategical places of these elevations. Defence and lookout structures were built there; on Colle Cidneo the Romans built a tower, and the Capitolium at its foot. The area of the castle, and the hill in its entirety, are
a fascinating monument of military architecture, as well as a significant place from a historical and environmental standpoint: its peculiarities, together with its location in the heart of the town, make the Cidneo one of a kind.
With the development of artillery in the modern age, fortresses on relatively low hills like Cidneo could no longer guarantee the defence of a town: conquering the Maddalena automatically meant controlling the city. This is why the Maddalena and its military base play an important role in the control of the territory still today.
Photos: courtesy of Ruggero Bontempi and BAMSphoto