The Great Canyon Of Cassibile
Set between the gorges created by the rivers in the soft limestone of the Ibleo table, the Cava Grande del Cassibile is certainly extraordinary and charming. In the whole Iblei range there is probably no other environment of such dramatic and wild natural beauty, as the canyon carved out by the Cassibile river in the upper and middle part of its course. The Cava Grande Nature Reserve, set up in March 1984, " covers an area of 2,696 hectares in the districts of Avola, Syracuse Ragusa and Noto and is managed by the Forestry Department. The Reserve protects this impressive gorge, about ten kilometers long, more or less one kilometer wide and, at certain points, up to three hundred meters deep. The Cassibile river runs along the bottom of it, slowly eroding its rocks and forming small deep lakes, with its c1earwaters. Going down. to the bottom of the canyon means isolating yourself totally and entering an environment made up of rivulets of water, sheer rock faces and the almost invisible presence of birds in the thick vegetation. On the sides of the canyon the vegetation is quite poor, characterized by large amounts of ampelodesmos, a few stretches of Holm
oaks and isolated; specimens of pine trees, probably of spontaneous origin. Along the river a narrow but thick band of sheltering wood grows, dominated by plane trees and with patches of colour provided by oleander. The fauna of the canyon is very shy: buzzards and ravens circle in the sky, blue rock thrushes and spotless starlings sing among the rocks, while Cetti’s warblers, blackcaps and blackbirds mark out their territory in the bottom of the valley. New scenery opens up with every step in the bottom of the valley, showing you crystal clear waters and unspoiled environments full of life, a far cry from the image of an arid harsh Sicily.
Man has also left traces in Cava Grande, which have now become part of the environment: the rocky necropolis, dating back to the 1Oth-11th centuries SC, second only to Pantalica in its charm, containing about 2,000 cavernous tombs and the early
Christian hypogea dug out of the rock in incredible positions, set one next to the other on six different parallel levels. Another interesting necropolis is situated opposite the viewing point, dug out of a wide cave where there are still traces of a full-blown cave habitation. It is quite a difficult climb up, but at the end the visit to this large natural cavern rewards you for your effort in coming up here. Steps, rooms, whole staircases dug out of the rock and traces still visible of an entire community that lived here to defend themselves against invaders and enemies. The view over the valley below is spectacular and is something you rarely see in this part of the world. The best place to begin your visit to the Reserve is the Avola Antica viewpoint, easily reached from Avola. A steep but not too difficult path takes you down to the bottom of the canyon, in the area of the wider lakes. The same path meets another which runs along the side of most of the canyon, halfway up, allowing you to proceed, with difficulty, among blackberry bushes, ferns and fallen rocks, as far as the coastal plain. The protected zone, indeed, ends at the sea, also safeguarding the small isolated sandy bays around the mouth of the Cassibile. To gain a more complete knowledge of this enchanting place, you can also travel a few kilometers
towards the source of the river, finding places that are wilder and wilder and more and more unspoilt, accompanied by the smells of aromatic plants (sage, thyme, rue, calamint and oregano) and other spontaneous plants (smilax, ivy and blackberry bushes), which make progress very difficult, except far expert hikers.