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Monte Cofano (EUAP1138) - Sicily on the Net
Mount Hood (EUAP1138)
Street View (if present)

Mount Hood (EUAP1138)

Site type
RNO extension = Oriented Nature Reserve

WDPA / EUAP Codes: 178964 EUAP1138

  • Former Provinces concerned: Drills
  • Municipalities concerned: Custonaci, San Vito lo Capo
  • Managing Body: State Forestry Company of the Sicilian Region
  • Institution: DA 486/44 25/07/1997


Tourist information:
Between speleology, birds and botanical endemisms, Monte Cofano is a promontory formed by the lifting of imposing marine limestone deposits in the Triassic period: the numerous animal fossils that have contributed to forming the scaffolding of this 659 m high mountain. They are carbonate rocks (calcites, aragonites and dolomites) typically karst. Monte Cofano, in fact, has significant traces of water modeling not only on its surface (grooves, karren, corrosion pans and furrows of various sizes, sinkholes and sinkholes in the limestone plateaus), but also in depth: only in the area of ​​Custonaci in fact, sixteen cavities have been studied which are rich in concretions, deposits and with speleothems (bizarre figures created by the deposition of limestone) of various shapes and colors. Three are the most significant abysses of the reserve: the Abyss of Purgatory, the Abyss of the Gorges (inside the Saletta dei Funghi shows limestone concretions in the shape of a mushroom and small trays containing calcite crystals) and the Grotta di Monte Cofano I (140 m deep, the limestone formations present in the Sala del Fantasma are interesting). The calcareous nature of the mountain determines its entire morphology: the rocky spiers of the higher areas, the steep coastal walls, the southern slopes which, crumbling, give rise to a thick layer of sediment that accumulates at the base of the mountain, forming the so-called environments breach. A separate mention should be made of the ephemeral humid environment: the pool at the base of the south-eastern slope of Monte Cofano, at a height of 247 m asl. It is a small karst depression that periodically fills with water: in spring its surface is colored with the white corollas of the Baudot buttercup, while in summer, when the level has dropped a lot, the duckweed takes its dominance, covering its surface with green. On the external margins there are the rhizomes of the floating gramignone. On the stony ground and on the steep and steep slopes many small species of reptiles (Sicilian lizard, green lizard, gecko, hemidactyl, gongilo ocellato) and snakes such as the rat snake and the viper. There are many orchids, both ophrids, whose petals recall insect forms, and orchids with more fragile and less showy blooms.
Flora News:
On Monte Cofano we distinguish different natural environments: the rocky one, the ampelodesma prairie, the garrigue with a predominance of dwarf palm or tree euphorbia. And then some rare strip of holm oak tree vegetation on the breccias; a small seasonal wet area and finally a torrential gorge. The vegetation is not that which spontaneously covered these areas centuries ago: if this were the case, on the slopes of the mountain there should be many wooded areas with holm oak and chestnut oak (Quercus virgiliana), but the deforestation and fire work has changed the appearance of this area, leading it to have a large quantity of "disa" (local name of ampelodesma, robust large bushy grass) and of "giummara" (dwarf palm): plants that resist fire by hunting new jets, precious for the local economy, as they are used in crafts (for weaving or brittle for the vegetable hair) and in sheep farming. Until not long ago, the fruits, the pith (curina) and the roots were also eaten of the dwarf palm. Man had a vested interest, therefore, in maintaining this type of vegetation. From a botanical point of view, the real peculiarity of the reserve is represented by the rocky environment, which hosts many endemic plants, some of which are exclusive to the area: they are mostly herbaceous adapted to extreme environments, among which the hawk of the cofano, the Sicilian heather, the Trapani cabbage, the Bivona cabbage, the cornflower of the cliffs and the perpetuins of Monte Cofano. The disa Ampelodesma, locally called disa, is a grass that forms large tufts (over 1,5 m tall) with very resistant rough leaves, and large panicle inflorescences. It grows in those places where fire, deforestation and grazing have degraded the ancient vegetation cover. With its strong fasciculated roots, it consolidates the soil and stifles the regrowth of previously established flora. After a fire, it promptly rejects new shoots: its long leaves are still used today in artisanal weaving to produce mats, ropes, sacks, baskets and ties for agriculture. Defibrates were once used to obtain vegetable hair. From an ecological point of view, it disavows to form grasslands on sunny and arid environments, being adapted to conditions that could be prohibitive for other plants. It is distributed along the coasts of the western Mediterranean.
Fauna News:
Many birds nest and station in these natural environments, including the peregrine falcon, a very fast and highly skilled bird predator, and the very rare Bonelli's eagle. It is also the ideal habitat for ravens and the three species of swifts (common, pale and greater). Cormorants and gannets overwinter on the cliffs, while the kingfisher and various species of large waders stop in transit during their migrations. Many small arboreal species, such as restless tits or finches, flycatchers and small mammals such as Savi's vole (burrowing rodent that requires deep and soft soils) or the wild mouse find refuge in holm oak woods together with the oak mouse which, surprisingly , it adapts to live even in small rocky cavities. The arid and open areas are the kingdom of the porcupine, a large rodent whose presence is detected by the quills abandoned on the ground; in the prairies and among the scrub garrigue it is not difficult to find the rabbit, the favorite prey of Bonelli's eagle, but also of the small weasel (which attacks it despite the larger size of its prey) and the opportunist fox that does not disdain a diet omnivorous, preferring to collect "what is": fruits or large insects in the absence of larger prey. The rocks that emerge between the prairies or the shrubbery are excellent perches for birds, such as the black redstart, the flounder or the blue rock thrush. In the shrubby areas, frequented by small rodents, many scrub birds can be seen, including the inevitable octopus. While in the flatter areas you can see the weeds, in the more hilly and mountainous areas there is the rare Sicilian rock partridge which, thanks to the establishment of the protected area, is increasing here. In the areas where the garrigue thins out with some rare trees, here is an exceptional presence: the red capirossa, a small bird that has the habit of stabbing its prey (insects) on the thorns of certain bushes, in order to have a "pantry " always ready. Common and ubiquitous presences are corvids such as jackdaws and magpies, which nest where the holm oak trees survive or on agricultural tree crops. Among the migratory birds that pass, we also remember various species of duck, gulls (especially the "common") and two species of falconiformes: the marsh harrier and the honey buzzard, which eats bees. And finally, a mention of the nocturnal birds of prey, common animals in this reserve: while scops owl and owl nest and hunt among the arboretums and orchards, the tawny owl and the barn owl choose the rocky cavities between the walls. The latter fact, which is particularly interesting in the owl, which as a wood visitor adapts to the rocky environment. The wealth of prey (small rodents) allows these birds to remain calmly: the guaranteed food is well worth an effort of adaptation. The peregrine falcon It is the falcon par excellence: in his De Ars venandi cum avibus Federigo II, Stupor Mundi, he indicates it as a favorite for hunting and gives indications for training it. Of medium size, it has a wingspan of 60-80 cm and a weight between 400 and 800 grams; it is very fast (reaches 250 km per hour) and skilled hunter: its preys are birds, above all goldfinches, starlings and pigeons, which it reaches after incredible swoops, hitting them with its claws and grabbing them during the fall. In the absence of birds, it is exceptionally satisfied with small mammals. It nests on overhanging cliffs, preferably calcareous and almost always inaccessible. It hunts both in the elevated areas of the mountains and in the valleys or on the sea coasts (and even near inhabited centers). It is sedentary, habitual and very faithful to the breeding site. It lays its eggs (1 to 4) at the end of winter: the chicks will be born after a month and will leave the nest only in May. They are fed almost exclusively by the mother, while the father will hunt for the whole family. Although threatened by falconers who capture its eggs, poachers and the decrease in prey (especially insectivorous birds that are affected by environmental degradation due to the use of insecticides), in this area it is perhaps the most expressive animal. In Sicily there is the brookei subspecies of smaller size and with darker plumage colors.
A bit of history:
Few elements seem to testify to the presence of man, the landscape appears deserted and desolate but, whoever arrives here is immediately compensated by a splendid uncontaminated sea, in whose waters the legend tells that Aeneas and his companions, Trojan refugees, challenged each other in swimming competitions between the coast and a rock in front (the Scialandro), not far from the Cofano massif. An attentive and curious visitor, however, does not allow himself to be taken by the first impression and notices the numerous footprints left by man in the past, which chase each other throughout the coast on which a majestic watchtower stands. The historical information on the reserve area is not numerous, as the research carried out between the end of the nineteenth century, the beginning of the twentieth century and in the 80s has not been studied in depth. However, these places must have been inhabited since the Upper Paleolithic (12.000 BC approximately) and it is probable that what has been said for the development of human life in the Uzzo cave, at the Zingaro, can also be repeated for the settlements of Monte Cofano. One could also hypothesize the influence of the Elimi, who settled in the surroundings, but the evident traces, which have been identified on the northern slope of the Cofano, are ceramic fragments dating from the fifth century. B.C to the V-VI century. AD, in addition to the Punic-Roman wall remains. Anyone who wants and is interested in climbing the mountain will find a large cistern halfway up the mountain to collect the rains, which can be reached by steps bordered by plastered walls; on the opposite side instead, you will be able to observe a wall, perhaps part of the fortification of a settlement, but there is still no certain information about these buildings. Landscape emergencies Grotta di Monte Cofano I: of particular speleological interest. Cipollazzo Gorge: suggestive torrential gorge in the Cipollazzo district. Pozza near Baglio Cofano: at the base of the south-eastern slope of Monte Cofano, at a height of 247 m asl. Watchtower: on the eastern side of the mountain. Calazza: stretch of coast on the eastern side (Gulf of Cofano) in the space in front of the tower, with traces of a probable fish processing plant. The promontory of Monte Cofano, which rises above the gulf of the same name, dominating it, appears to those arriving from Castelluzzo as wild and harsh, like the space that surrounds it. At first glance, the impression one gets is one of desolation: barren ground, scarce brushwood, wide expanse interrupted only by spikes of rock, lack of shelter from the heat, which here can sometimes be unbearable. Despite appearances, this is one of the rare places in Sicily where the sea is uncontaminated and allows the development of the trottoir a vermetus, an organic "sidewalk", built by marine molluscs, an indicator of water quality. Having rounded the Punta del Saraceno, on the northern side, the mountain overlooks the Gulf of Bonagia and presents itself with a totally different aspect: the rugged, lively and very steep walls loom over the accumulations of debris at the base of the mountain, creating delightful sheltered coves where the water is crystal clear. There are numerous naturalistic treasures of the Cofano which hosts several rare and exclusive botanical species, as are some species of the rich local fauna, adapted to the harsh and arid nature of the places: the Sicilian rock partridge and Bonelli's eagle, birds at risk of extinction. Among the purposes of the establishment of the reserve is the safeguarding of geological formations, including underground (karst), of which the territory of Custonaci is rich. Famous is the Grotta di Scurati, inhabited since the Neolithic age: during the Christmas period a living nativity scene is set up, where the traditional crafts of the place are re-proposed. Watchtower It stands isolated on the rocky coast in Calazza Cofano, a few steps from the sea. With its presence, it characterizes that strip of coast that still retains a little anthropized space: few and sporadic are the rustic buildings in the district, surrounded by prickly pears, almond trees and that little bit of green concentrated, in small flashes, at the foot of Monte Cofano. Probably built in the sixteenth century, the tower is mentioned by the Camilliani (engineer and architect of civil and military buildings, who lived between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) as a tower set up for the guard of a trap called di Cofano. The building has a star-shaped square plan, with triangular towers protruding from the walls and an entrance on the ground floor, probably opened after the original construction. The size of the building suggests that the economic interests, due to tuna fishing and local agriculture, were so congruous that they had to be well defended.

(Text source: State Forestry Company of the Sicilian Region)

Associated Natura 2000 sites:
Monte Cofano and Litorale (ITA010011)


Card insertion: Ignatius Caloggero

Photos and videos: web

Information contributions: Ignazio Caloggero, Web 

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