1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Apennines

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APENNINES (Gr. Ἀπέννινος, Lat. Appenninus—in both cases used in the singular), a range of mountains traversing the entire peninsula of Italy, and forming, as it were, the backbone of the country. The name is probably derived from the Celtic pen, a mountain top: it originally belonged to the northern portion of the chain, from the Maritime Alps to Ancona; and Polybius is probably the first writer who applied it to the whole chain, making, indeed, no distinction between the Apennines and the Maritime Alps, and extending the former name as far as Marseilles. Classical authors do not differentiate the various parts of the chain, but use the name as a general name for the whole. The total length is some 800 m. and the maximum width 70 to 80 m.

Divisions.—Modern geographers divide the range into three parts, northern, central and southern.

1. The northern Apennines are generally distinguished (though there is no real solution of continuity) from the Maritime Alps at the Bocchetta dell’ Altare, some 5 m. W. of Savona on the high road to Turin.[1] They again are divided into three parts—the Ligurian, Tuscan and Umbrian Apennines. The Ligurian Apennines extend as far as the pass of La Cisa in the upper valley of the Magra (anc. Macra) above Spezia; at first they follow the curve of the Gulf of Genoa, and then run east-south-east parallel to the coast. On the north and north-east lie the broad plains of Piedmont and Lombardy, traversed by the Po, the chief tributaries of which from the Ligurian Apennines are the Scrivia (Olumbria), Trebbia (Trebia) and Taro (Tarus). The Tanaro (Tanarus), though largely fed by tributaries from the Ligurian Apennines, itself rises in the Maritime Alps, while the rivers on the south and south-west of the range are short and unimportant. The south side of the range rises steeply from the sea, leaving practically no coast strip: its slopes are sheltered and therefore fertile and highly cultivated, and the coast towns are favourite winter resorts (see Riviera). The highest point (the Monte Bue) reaches 5915 ft. The range is crossed by several railways—the line from Savona to Turin (with a branch at Ceva for Acqui), that from Genoa to Ovada and Acqui, the main lines from Genoa to Novi, the junction for Turin and Milan (both of which[2] pass under the Monte dei Giovi, the ancient Mons Ioventius, by which the ancient Via Postumia ran from Genua to Dertona), and that from Spezia to Parma under the pass of La Cisa.[3] All these traverse the ridge by long tunnels—that on the new line from Genoa to Honco is upwards of 5 m. in length.

The Tuscan Apennines extend from the pass of La Cisa to the sources of the Tiber. The main chain continues to run in an east-south-east direction, but traverses the peninsula, the west coast meanwhile turning almost due south. From the northern slopes many rivers and streams run north and north-north-east into the Po, the Secchia (Secia) and Panaro (Scultenna) being among the most important, while farther east most of the rivers are tributaries of the Reno (anc. Rhenus). Other small streams, e.g. the Ronco (Bedesis) and Montone (Utis), which flow into the sea together east of Ravenna, were also tributaries of the Po; and the Savio (Sapis) and the Rubicon seem to be the only streams from this side of the Tuscan Apennines that ran directly into the sea in Roman days. From the south-west side of the main range the Arno (q.v.) and Serchio run into the Mediterranean. This section of the Apennines is crossed by two railways, from Pistoia to Bologna and from Florence to Faenza, and by several good high roads, of which the direct road from Florence to Bologna over the Futa pass is of Roman origin; and certain places in it are favourite summer resorts. The highest point of the chain is Monte Cimone (7103 ft.). The so-called Alpi Apuane (the Apuani were an ancient people of Liguria), a detached chain south-west of the valley of the Serchio, rise to a maximum height of 6100 ft. They contain the famous marble quarries of Carrara. The greater part of Tuscany, however, is taken up by lower hills, which form no part of the Apennines, being divided from the main chain by the valleys of the Arno, Chiana (Clanis) and Paglia (Pallia). Towards the west they are rich in minerals and chemicals, which the Apennines proper do not produce.

The Umbrian Apennines extend from the sources of the Tiber to (or perhaps rather beyond) the pass of Scheggia near Cagli, where the ancient Via Flaminia crosses the range. The highest point is the Monte Nerone (5010 ft.). The chief river is the Tiber itself: the others, among which the Foglia (Pisaurus), Metauro (Metaurus) and Esino[4] may be mentioned, run north-east into the Adriatic, which is some 30 m. from the highest points of the chain. This portion of the range is crossed near its southern termination by a railway from Foligno to Ancona (which at Fabriano has a branch to Macerata and Porto Civitanova, on the Adriatic coast railway), which may perhaps be conveniently regarded as its boundary.[5] By some geographers, indeed, it is treated as a part of the central Apennines.

2. The central Apennines are the most extensive portion of the chain, and stretch as far as the valley of the Sangro (Sangrus). To the north are the Monti Sibillini, the highest point of which is the Monte Vettore (8128 ft.). Farther south three parallel chains may be traced, the westernmost of which (the Monti Sabini) culminates to the south in the Monte Viglio (7075 ft.), the central chain in the Monte Terminillo (7260 ft.), and farther south in the Monte Velino (8160 ft.), and the eastern in the Gran Sasso d’Italia (9560 ft.), the highest summit of the Apennines, and the Maiella group (Monte Amaro, 9170 ft.). Between the western and central ranges are the plain of Rieti, the valley of the Salto (Himella), and the Lago Fucino; while between the central and eastern ranges are the valleys of Aquila and Sulmona. The chief rivers on the west are the Nera (Nar), with its tributaries the Velino (Velinus) and Salto, and the Anio, both of which fall into the Tiber. On the east there is at first a succession of small rivers which flow into the Adriatic, from which the highest points of the chain are some 25 m. distant, such as the Potenza (Flosis), Chienti (Cluentus), Tenna (Tinna), Tronto (Truentus), Tordino (Helvinus), Vomano (Vomanus), &c. The Pescara (Aternus), which receives the Aterno from the north-west and the Gizio from the south-east, is more important; and so is the Sangro.

The central Apennines are crossed by the railway from Rome to Castelammare Adriatico via Avezzano and Sulmona: the railway from Orte to Terni (and thence to Foligno) follows the Nera valley; while from Terni a line ascends to the plain of Rieti, and thence crosses the central chain to Aquila, whence it follows the valley of the Aterno to Sulmona. In ancient times the Via Salaria, Via Caecilia and Via Valeria-Claudia all ran from Rome to the Adriatic coast. The volcanic mountains of the province of Rome are separated from the Apennines by the Tiber valley, and the Monti Lepini, or Volscian mountains, by the valleys of the Sacco and Liri.

3. In the southern Apennines, to the south of the Sangro valley, the three parallel chains are broken up into smaller groups; among them may be named the Matese, the highest point of which is the Monte Miletto (6725 ft.). The chief rivers on the south-west are the Liri or Garigliano (anc. Liris), with its tributary the Sacco (Trerus), the Volturno (Volturnus), Sebeto (Sabatus), Sarno (Sarnus), on the north the Trigno (Trinius), Biferno (Tifernus), and Fortore (Frento). The promontory of Monte Gargano, on the east, is completely isolated, and so are the volcanic groups near Naples. The district is traversed from north-west to south-east by the railway from Sulmona to Benevento and on to Avellino, and from south-west to north-east by the railways from Caianello via Isernia to Campobasso and Termoli, from Caserta to Benevento and Foggia, and from Nocera and Avellino to Rocchetta S. Antonio, the junction for Foggia, Spinazzola (for Barletta, Bari, and Taranto) and Potenza. Roman roads followed the same lines as the railways: the Via Appia ran from Capua to Benevento, whence the older road went to Venosa and Taranto and so to Brindisi, while the Via Traiana ran nearly to Foggia and thence to Bari.

The valley of the Ofanto (Aufidus), which runs into the Adriatic close to Barletta, marks the northern termination of the first range of the Lucanian Apennines (now Basilicata), which runs from east to west, while south of the valleys of the Sele (on the west) and Basiento (on the east)—which form the line followed by the railway from Battipaglia via Potenza to Metaponto—the second range begins to run due north and south as far as the plain of Sibari (Sybaris). The highest point is the Monte Pollino (7325 ft.). The chief rivers are the Sele (Silarus)—joined by the Negro (Tanager) and Calore (Calor)—on the west, and the Bradano (Bradanus), Basiento (Casuentus), Agri (Aciris), Sinni (Siris) on the east, which flow into the gulf of Taranto; to the south of the last-named river there are only unimportant streams flowing into the sea east and west, inasmuch as here the width of the peninsula diminishes to some 40 m. The railway running south from Sicignano to Lagonegro, ascending the valley of the Negro, is planned to extend to Cosenza, along the line followed by the ancient Via Popilia, which beyond Cosenza reached the west coast at Terina and thence followed it to Reggio. The Via Herculia, a branch of the Via Traiana, ran from Aequum Tuticum to the ancient Nerulum. At the narrowest point the plain of Sibari, through which the rivers Coscile (Sybaris) and Crati (Crathis) flow to the sea, occurs on the east coast, extending halfway across the peninsula. Here the limestone Apennines proper cease and the granite mountains of Calabria (anc. Bruttii) begin. The first group extends as far as the isthmus formed by the gulfs of S. Eufemia and Squillace; it is known as the Sila, and the highest point reached is 6330 ft. (the Botte Donato). The forests which covered it in ancient times supplied the Greeks and Sicilians with timber for shipbuilding. The railway from S. Eufemia to Catanzaro and Catanzaro Marina crosses the isthmus, and an ancient road may have run from Squillace to Monteleone. The second group extends to the south end of the Italian peninsula, culminating in the Aspromonte (6420 ft.) to the east of Reggio di Calabria. In both groups the rivers are quite unimportant.

Character.–The Apennines are to some extent clothed with forests, though these were probably more extensive in classical times (Pliny mentions especially pine, oak and beech woods, Hist. Nat. xvi. 177); they have indeed been greatly reduced in comparatively modern times by indiscriminate timber-felling, and though serious attempts at reafforestation have been made by the government, much remains to be done. They also furnish considerable summer pastures, especially in the Abruzzi: Pliny (Hist. Nat. xi. 240) praises the cheese of the Apennines. In the forests wolves were frequent, and still are found, the flocks being protected against them by large sheep-dogs; bears, however, which were known in Roman times, have almost entirely disappeared. Nor are the wild goats called rotae, spoken of by Varro (R. R. II. i. 5), which may have been either chamois or steinbock, to be found. Brigandage appears to have been prevalent in Roman times in the remoter parts of the Apennines, as it was until recently: an inscription found near the Furlo pass was set up in A.D. 246 by an evocatus Augusti (a member of a picked corps) on special police duty with a detachment of twenty men from the Ravenna fleet (G. Henzen in Römische Mitteilungen, 1887, 14). Snow lies on the highest peaks of the Apennines for almost the whole year. The range produces no minerals, but there are a considerable number of good mineral springs, some of which are thermal (such as Bagni di Lucca, Monte Catini, Monsummano, Porretta, Telese, &c.), while others are cool (such as Nocera, Sangemini, Cinciano, &c.), the water of which is both drunk on the spot and sold as table water elsewhere.  (T. As.) 

Geology.—The Apennines are the continuation of the Alpine chain, but the individual zones of the Alps cannot be traced into the Apennines. The zone of the Brianconnais (see Alps) may be followed as far as the Gulf of Genoa, but scarcely beyond, unless it is represented by the Trias and older beds of the Apuan Alps. The inner zone of crystalline and schistose rocks which forms the main chain of the Alps, is absent in the Apennines except towards the southern end. The Apennines, indeed, consist almost entirely of Mesozoic and Tertiary beds, like the outer zones of the Alps. Remnants of a former inner zone of more ancient rocks may be seen in the Apuan Alps, in the islands off the Tuscan coast; in the Catena Metallifera, Cape Circeo and the island of Zannone, as well as in the Calabrian peninsula. These remnants lie at a comparatively low level, and excepting the Apuan Alps and the Calabrian peninsula they do not now form any part of the Apennine chain. But that in Tertiary times there was a high interior zone of crystalline rocks is indicated by the character of the Eocene beds in the southern Apennines. These are formed to a large extent of thick conglomerates which are full of pebbles and boulders of granite and schist. Many of the boulders are of considerable size and they are often still angular. There is now no crystalline region from which they could reach their present position; and this and other considerations have led the followers of E. Suess to conclude that even in Tertiary times a large land mass consisting of ancient rocks occupied the space which is now covered by the southern portion of the Tyrrhenian Sea. This old land mass has been called Tyrrhenis, and probably extended from Sicily into Latium and as far west as Sardinia. On the Italian border of this land there was raised a mountain chain with an inner crystalline zone and an outer zone of Mesozoic and Tertiary beds. Subsequent faulting has caused the subsidence of the greater part of Tyrrhenis, including nearly the whole of the inner zone of the mountain chain, and has left only the outer zones standing as the present Apennines.

Be this as it may, the Apennines, excepting in Calabria, are formed chiefly of Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Eocene and Miocene beds. In the south the deposits, from the Trias to the middle Eocene, consist mainly of limestones, and were laid down, with a few slight interruptions, upon a quietly subsiding sea-floor. In the later part of the Eocene period began the folding which gave rise to the existing chain. The sea grew shallow, the deposits became conglomeratic and shaly, volcanic eruptions began, and the present folds of the Apennines were initiated. The folding and consequent elevation went on until the close of the Miocene period when a considerable subsidence took place and the Pliocene sea overspread the lower portions of the range. Subsequent elevation, without folding, has raised these Pliocene deposits to a considerable height—in some cases over 3000 ft. and they now lie almost undisturbed upon the older folded beds. This last elevation led to the formation of numerous lakes which are now filled up by Pleistocene deposits. Both volcanic eruptions and movements of elevation and depression continue to the present day on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea. In the northern Apennines the elevation of the sea floor appears to have begun at an earlier period, for the Upper Cretaceous of that part of the chain consists largely of sandstones and conglomerates. In Calabria the chain consists chiefly of crystalline and schistose rocks; it is the Mesozoic and Tertiary zone which has here been sunk beneath the sea. Similar rocks are found beneath the Trias farther north, in some of the valleys of Basilicata. Glaciers no longer exist in the Apennines, but Post-Pliocene moraines have been observed in Basilicata.

References.—G. de Lorenzo, “Studi di geologia nell’ Appennino Meridionale,” Atti d. R. Accad. d. Sci, Fis. e Mat., Napoli, ser. 2, vol. viii., no. 7 (1896); F. Sacco, “L’ Appennino settentrionale,” Boll. Soc. geol. Ital. (1893–1899).  (P. La.) 

  1. The ancient Via Aemilia, built in 109 B.C., led over this pass, but originally turned east to Dertona (mod. Tortona).
  2. There are two separate lines from Sampierdarena to Ronco.
  3. This pass was also traversed by a nameless Roman road.
  4. This river (anc. Aesis) was the boundary of Italy proper in the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C.
  5. The Monte Conero, to the south of Ancona, was originally an island of the Pliocene sea.