Gran Sasso
Gran Sasso d'Italia is a mountain located in the Abruzzo
Abruzzo is a region in Italy, its western border lying less than due east of Rome. Abruzzo borders the region of Marche to the north, Lazio to the west and south-west, Molise to the south-east, and the Adriatic Sea to the east...

 region of central Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. The Gran Sasso forms the centerpiece of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park
Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park
The Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park is a natural park in Italy, which was established in 1991. It has an area of 2,014 square kilometres...

 which was established in 1993 and holds the highest mountains in continental Italy south of the Alps and is part of the Apennines
Apennine mountains
The Apennines or Apennine Mountains or Greek oros but just as often used alone as a noun. The ancient Greeks and Romans typically but not always used "mountain" in the singular to mean one or a range; thus, "the Apennine mountain" refers to the entire chain and is translated "the Apennine...

, the mountain range that runs the entire length of the Italian Peninsula
Italian Peninsula
The Italian Peninsula or Apennine Peninsula is one of the three large peninsulas of Southern Europe , spanning from the Po Valley in the north to the central Mediterranean Sea in the south. The peninsula's shape gives it the nickname Lo Stivale...

. Teramo
Teramo is a city and comune in the central Italian region of Abruzzo, the capital of the province of Teramo.The city, from Rome, is situated between the highest mountains of the Apennines and the Adriatic coast...

 and L'Aquila
L'Aquila is a city and comune in central Italy, both the capital city of the Abruzzo region and of the Province of L'Aquila. , it has a population of 73,150 inhabitants, but has a daily presence in the territory of 100,000 people for study, tertiary activities, jobs and tourism...

 are the nearest cities to the Gran Sasso, while Assergi, at the base of the mountain, is the nearest village; Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 is 132 km by road.


The three main summits of the Gran Sasso are Corno Grande
Corno Grande
Corno Grande is part of the Gran Sasso massif, and is the highest peak in the Apennine Mountains and the highest on the Italian Peninsula, at 2,912 m above sea level....

 (shown here), which at 2,912 meters is the highest peak in the Apennines, nearby Corno Piccolo and Pizzo Intermésoli, which is separated from the other two peaks by Val Maone, a deep valley. Corno Grande and Corno Piccolo's ash coloration come from their limestone and dolomite composition. The peaks are snow-covered for much of the year though the snow cover appears to be less each decade. Corno Piccolo is referred to as, "The Sleeping Giant". This is due to the appearance of a profile of a reclined face. This view of Corno Piccolo is evident when viewing the mountain from Pietracamela, a small town near Prati di Tivo, on the north side of the mountain. Corno Grande and Corno Piccolo with their rough vertical walls provide serious rock climbers some of the best climbing in Europe.

Situated below the peak of the Corno Grande is the Calderone glacier
Calderone glacier
The Calderone glacier located in the Gran Sasso d’Italia mountain group in Abruzzo, Italy lies just beneath Corno Grande, the highest peak in the Apennines....

, until 2009 the southernmost known glacier in Europe; deglaciation has significantly reduced the glacier's size. Glaciologists now question whether the glacier will survive past 2020.

The mid- to lower slopes of the Gran Sasso are grazed in spring, summer and autumn by large flocks of sheep guarded by Maremmano-Abruzzese sheepdogs
Maremma Sheepdog
The Maremma Sheepdog, in Italian Cane da pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese, usually referred to as just Maremmano, is a breed of livestock guardian dog indigenous to central Italy, particularly to Abruzzo and the Maremma region of Tuscany and Lazio. It has been used for centuries by Italian shepherds to...

 as well as herds of cattle and semi-wild horses. The pastures are covered with field grasses and meadowland wildflowers. The park is also the habitat for diverse wildlife from rare species such as the Apennine wolf, the Marsican bear, wildcat
Wildcat is a small felid native to Europe, the western part of Asia, and Africa.-Animals:Wildcat may also refer to members of the genus Lynx:...

 and the Abruzzo chamois
The chamois, Rupicapra rupicapra, is a goat-antelope species native to mountains in Europe, including the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, the European Alps, the Tatra Mountains, the Balkans, parts of Turkey, and the Caucasus. The chamois has also been introduced to the South Island of New Zealand...

, (Rupicapra pyrenaica ornata), a variety of chamois at the very edge of extinction but now making a comeback in the park through a joint effort by WWF Italia and the park administration. Other species of wildlife include wild boar
Wild boar, also wild pig, is a species of the pig genus Sus, part of the biological family Suidae. The species includes many subspecies. It is the wild ancestor of the domestic pig, an animal with which it freely hybridises...

, fox
Fox is a common name for many species of omnivorous mammals belonging to the Canidae family. Foxes are small to medium-sized canids , characterized by possessing a long narrow snout, and a bushy tail .Members of about 37 species are referred to as foxes, of which only 12 species actually belong to...

es, grass snakes such as Orsini’s viper
The Viperidae are a family of venomous snakes found all over the world, except in Antarctica, Australia, Ireland, Madagascar, Hawaii, various other isolated islands, and above the Arctic Circle. All have relatively long, hinged fangs that permit deep penetration and injection of venom. Four...

, and a wide variety of bird life including golden eagle
Golden Eagle
The Golden Eagle is one of the best known birds of prey in the Northern Hemisphere. Like all eagles, it belongs to the family Accipitridae. Once widespread across the Holarctic, it has disappeared from many of the more heavily populated areas...

s, peregrine, goshawks, Ortolan buntings, rock sparrows, crested larks, red-backed shrikes and downy pipits.

At the northern base of Corno Piccolo is Prati di Tivo, a ski village. To the east of Corno Grande and Corno Piccolo is Campo Imperatore
Campo Imperatore
Campo Imperatore is a mountain grassland or alpine meadow formed by a high basin shaped plateau located in the Province of L'Aquila in the Abruzzo region of Italy in the Gran Sasso massif. It is the largest plateau of the Apennine ridge...

, a 27 km long and 8 km wide high plain or plateau
In geology and earth science, a plateau , also called a high plain or tableland, is an area of highland, usually consisting of relatively flat terrain. A highly eroded plateau is called a dissected plateau...

 at about 2000 m height. Campo Imperatore is home to Italy's oldest continuously operating commercial ski area (is connected to Fonte Cerreto by a big lift).


A hotel midway on the top of Campo Imperatore is where the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini
Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini was an Italian politician who led the National Fascist Party and is credited with being one of the key figures in the creation of Fascism....

 was imprisoned from August until September 1943 when he was freed by a Nazi commando operation. The plateau is also the site of the Campo Imperatore station of the Rome Observatory
Rome Observatory
The Rome Observatory is one of twelve Astronomical Observatories in Italy. It consists of three sites: Monte Porzio Catone, Campo Imperatore and Monte Mario...

, from which the Campo Imperatore Near-Earth Objects Survey and other astronomical studies are carried out. At the southern edge of Campo Imperatore and within the bounds of the national park are three medieval hill towns once ruled by the Medicis: Calascio, which sits before the ancient fortress ruin of Rocca di Calascio, and Santo Stefano di Sessanio and Castel Del Monte.
The name Gran Sasso means "Great Stone".

In 2005, a 2424 m (7953 ft) peak previously named "The Gendarme" was renamed "John Paul II Peak" on what would have been Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II
Blessed Pope John Paul II , born Karol Józef Wojtyła , reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of Vatican City from 16 October 1978 until his death on 2 April 2005, at of age. His was the second-longest documented pontificate, which lasted ; only Pope Pius IX ...

's 85th birthday. He had visited the Gran Sasso many times, saying it reminded him of the mountains of his native Poland.


In 1984, a 10 km two-lane highway tunnel carrying the A24
Autostrada A24 (Italy)
The Autostrada A24, or Autostrada dei Parchi , is a motorway connecting Rome to the Adriatic Sea. Commencing at the Grande Raccordo Anulare , the A24 runs broadly north-east past L'Aquila and through a 10km tunnel under the Gran Sasso before reaching Teramo.First planned in 1973 to connect Lazio...

 autostrade, the Traforo del Gran Sasso
Traforo del Gran Sasso
The Gran Sasso Tunnel is part of the A24 Motorway that links Rome and the Adriatic Sea via L'Aquila and Teramo, through the Apennine Mountains via the Gran Sasso in Abruzzo....

, was bored through the Gran Sasso Massif. In 1995, a second parallel tunnel was completed. Construction of the tunnel included an underground particle physics laboratory at Assergi, the Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso
Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso
Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso is a particle physics laboratory of the INFN, situated near the Gran Sasso mountain in Italy, between the towns of L'Aquila and Teramo, about 120 km from Rome. In addition to a surface portion of the laboratory, there are extensive underground facilities...

 or Gran Sasso National Laboratory. The first large experiments there started in 1989.

The laboratory is composed of three large underground chambers, sometimes referred to collectively as the third tunnel and lies beneath 1400 meters of rock. Construction of the laboratory and second tunnel faced fierce opposition from Italian and international environmental groups including Pro Natura, LIPU and Club Alpino Italiano as well as the World Wildlife Federation and WWF Italia, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. Environmentalists noted that the nuclear physics laboratory would lie on or near two major and highly active seismic faults, that construction of the tunnels would interfere with a major aquifer, and that construction waste would degrade an environmentally sensitive and significant area. The underground laboratory, which opened in 1989, with its low background radiation is used for experiments in particle and nuclear physics,including the study of neutrinos, high-energy cosmic rays, dark matter
Dark matter
In astronomy and cosmology, dark matter is matter that neither emits nor scatters light or other electromagnetic radiation, and so cannot be directly detected via optical or radio astronomy...

, nuclear decay, as well as geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

, and biology
Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Biology is a vast subject containing many subdivisions, topics, and disciplines...

. The laboratory employs over 700 scientists from twenty different countries. Many credit the opposition created by the tunnel and laboratory construction with galvanizing the Italian environmental movement and leading to the very creation of the Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso in 1991. In recent years, the laboratory has itself begun promoting preservation of the Gran Sasso environment.


The Gran Sasso is located in the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park
Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park
The Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park is a natural park in Italy, which was established in 1991. It has an area of 2,014 square kilometres...

. Running through this nature preserve is a portion of the Italian State Highway 80 (SS80), known as the Grand Highway of the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park
Grand Highway of the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park
The Grand Highway of the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park is located in the Abruzzo Region of Italy. Located along the tract of land from Montorio al Vomano to Amiternum, the road stands as the most enchanting portion of the old thoroughfare connecting the provincial capitals of...

("Strada maestra del Parco").

While frequented by skiers in winter, and mountain climbers and hikers in other seasons, the Gran Sasso is remarkably free of tourists despite its proximity to Rome. This is especially true in summer with most Italians preferring beach vacations and foreign visitors more likely to visit the mountains of northern Italy.

External links

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