Frasassi Grottos, Genga, Province of Ancona, Marche, Italy
Visits last about 70 minutes for the main tourist itinerary (though there are longer itineraries for specialized visitors and speleologists) and cover about 1500 mt, are available with professional guides almost all over the year, and start at different times during the day (timetable on the official web site), booking may be recommended in high season or for large groups.
The grottos were casually discovered in 1971 by the C.A.I. Speleologic Group of Fabriano-Ancona and the first part was opened to the public in 1974; the explored part is about 18 km. The grotto area belongs to the Regional Park Gola della Rossa and Frasassi, a green oasis where very rare plant species grow, such as the moeringia vescicolosa, and wildlife as the royal eagle, the owl, the peregrine hawk, the wolf, an area which includes 10 ancient communes, and 9 perfectly-preserved medieval castles, all of them well worth a visit especially for the photographer in search of magic, spectacular views.
The grottos were formed through a time span of over 1.4 million years by the Sentino stream which in its descent penetrated with its mineral waters the mountain rocks, and through a corrosion process created the concretions that make the grottos so utterly beautiful. The grottos, which are always at 14 degrees centigrade, can be visited throughout the year, and in summer also at night. So far over 10 million people have visited the grottos and admired this natural masterpiece, the tiny lakes, stalactites and stalagmites, alabaster and crystal arabesques, all made the more precious by the masterly lighting system devised by Carlo Cesarini (Senigallia 1905 - Rome 1996), an Italian scriptwriter of great renown in the 1970's and 80's.
The Grotta del Vento, the longest grotto with its 14 km, so called because of the many openings through which the wind blows in.The Abisso Ancona - this majestic cave, the largest in Europe, with a size of 180 x 120 mt and so high that it might contain a cathedral, is totally covered of concretions with the peculiar names suggested by their form: Giganti (= the giants ), cascate del Niagara (= Niagara Falls ), Albero morto (= the Dead Tree). The Sala Duecento named after its length of 200 mt, contains concretions called the Castello delle Streghe (= Witches' Castle), la Spada di Damocle (Damocles' Sword) which is the biggest stalactite, and the Obelisco, a stalagmite rising 15 meters from the cave floor. The Sala delle Candeline (Chamber of Candles) - an impossible creation of crystal-white concretions rising form a clear-water lake. The Sala dell'Orsa (She-Bear Chamber) where through innumerable aeons the water created the form of a majestic bear. The Sala dell'Infinito a name suggested by the infinitee number of times that the first speleologist had to wander the grotto before being able to find the exit, includes strange formations called the Sala dei Pagliai (Haystack Room) and the Capelli d'Angelo (Angels' Hair), extremely thin forms hanging from the vault.
Outside the Frasassi Grottos, about 400mt up in the mountain, is the 11th century Church of San Vittore alle Chiuse, one of the most interesting Romanesque churches in Marches. Built with a plan typical of Byzantine temples, a Greek cross inscribed within a square, it has 3 naves and apses and a truncated belltower. Before the church is a Roman bridge with a Gothic tower built in its defense, a spa facility and the ancient abbey, where a Speleological Museum is under construction.
About 1.5 km from the entrance of the main grotto is another cavity called Grotta del Santuario, inside which in the early Middle Ages there was a benedictine monastery, Santa Maria Intrasaxa, inside whose chapel is a copy of the white marble statue of the Virgin with Child, ascribed to Antonio Canova (Possagno, 1757 - Venice, 1822, considered the main Italian sculptor of the Neo-Classical Age), the original being in the Museum at Genga (AN).
Always inside the Grotta del Santuario is the Tempietto del Valadier, a chapel designed in 1828 for Pope Leo XII by Giuseppe Valadier (Roma, 1762 - 1839), a celebrated architect of the Neoclassical period. The Temple has an octagonal plan, and was made with white travertine blocks and a vault covered with lead.