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SentierElsa

The way down is located to the left of the bridge of San Marziale, as one stands with one's back to Colle di Val d'Elsa.


PARCO FLUVIALE DELL'ALTA VALDELSA : SENTIERELSAThis walking route, called SentierElsa, begins at Gracciano, south of Colle di Val d'Elsa itself, from the bridge at San Marziale, and runs alongside the river for a distance of 2 km, until reaching a place called San Giorgio.
The way down is located to the left of the bridge of San Marziale, as one stands with one's back to Colle di Val d'Elsa.
Here one immediately comes across the Steccaia and the Callone Reale, two important pieces of hydraulic engineering, which are also visible from the pedestrian bridge above.
These works are of great importance to the town, inasmuch as they were used ever since medieval times to divert part of the waters of the Elsa.
In this way the water could be used for irrigation, and as the driving force for water-mills, in the first instance, and subsequently for paper-mills, steel-works, and for various industrial uses.
In particular, "La Steccaia" ("Pilework") serves to hold back and divert some of the waters of the river Elsa, thanks to a system of movable boards which can be placed between blocks of stone so as to form a pilework, in other words a dam which prevents the water from flowing freely, while the "Callone Reale" is a sluice which regulates the amount of water which enters the artificial channel which flows towards the city and which is known as the gora.
The date when this hydraulic system was built is unclear; some sources date it to the 10th century.
However, we know the exact date when it was restored -- 1606, "under the auspices" of Ferdinando I dei Medici, the Grand-Duke of Tuscany, as is recorded on a commemorative plaque placed by the Medici family itself just below the Callone.
200 metres further down, we find the Diborrato waterfall: a cascade 15 metres high and over 10 metres deep, which in the last century was used by local people for bathing.
Proceeding along the route, below the waterfall, we find the Grotta dell'Orso (Bear Cave), so-called because they vaguely resemble the shape of a bear.
The path turns away from the river for 100 metres, before returning to it in the area where there is a huge flat boulder.
Next we come to the Gore Rotte, where there is another access point to park, with some Tibetan-style miniature bridges and walkways.
The walk continues for around one 1 km before reaching the zone of San Giorgio, where there is a kind of rope-bidge across the river.
Further down from this point are La Conchina, the Masso Bianco, La Nicchia and the Spianata dei Falchi, known in the 1930s and the 1940s as "the sea of Colle".
At frequent intervals along the walk one comes across steps, wooden fences, small crossing points, and safety fences, with numerous signs giving information about typical features of the area.
There are many different kinds of animals, vertebrates and invertebrates, to be seen along the walk.
In the river one can see fresh-water mussels (Unio Mancus), a bi-valve mollusc, which can grow as long as 10 cm and which lives in the mud or in the sand of the river-bed.
Among the underwater plant life it is possible to see river shrimps (Palaemonetes Antennarius), a small crustacean which can reach lengths of 5 cm and which feed on algae and acquatic plants.
Another crustacean, this time much harder to see, is the river crab (Potamon Fluviatile), whose shell can be as large as 10 cm.
A great many insects populate the river, and their larvae are even more numerous: dragonflies (Odonata), caddis flies, and mayflies.
Many vertebrates also inhabit the banks of the Elsa, and it is easy to come across some of them along the banks, as well as many kinds of fish, of course.
The chub (Leuciscus Cephalus) is the most common fish found in the Elsa, and there are great numbers of chub in this river, along with the barbel (Barbus Sp.) and the carpa (Cyprinus Carpio), a fish which can grow up to 30 kg in weight in this area.
While the gudgeon (Padogobius Nigricans) is the strangest fish to be found in the Elsa, there is no shortage of amphibians, such as the southern crested newt (Triturus Carnifex) and the spotted newt (Triturus Vulgaris).
There are many toads (Bufo Bufo) and tree-frogs (Hyla Intermedia), the only tree-dwelling amphibian in Italy, as well as the green frog and the jumping frog (Rana Dalmatina), so-Parco Fluviale dell'Alta Valdelsa : Martin Pescatorecalled for its prodigious leaps.
At times one can see animals swimming on the surface of the water: these are the ring snake (Natrix Natrix) and the Natrix Tessellata, both of which are completely harmless.
There are several species of birds to be seen in the river valleys, drawn by the abundance of nesting-places and food, including a very fine species of heron (Ardea Cinerea), which has a wingspan of almost 2 mt, and the egret (Egretta Garzetta), which are seen only in the winter.
One can also spot the wild duck (Anas Platyrhynchos) and the moor-hen (Gallinula Chloropus), the wagtail (Motacilla Cinerea), and finally the kingfisher (Alcedo Atthis), easily recognized by its bright plumage, which is blue-green on its back and orange underneath.
The only acquatic mammal present in the Elsa today is the coypu (Myocastor Coypus), a large rodent imported into Italy after WW2 and raised for its fur. Coypus are around 1 mt long and weigh around 10 kg.
The coypu has become widespread as a result of disastrous floods which have destroyed the farms along certain rivers where they were kept and bred, thereby releasing these animals into the wild.


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