Have you ever dreamed to be a speleologist wearing boots, pith helmet, headlight, and take an exciting journey to the centre of the earth? I guess every curious traveler would love to do it. At the Corchia Underground, you only need a pair of comfortable walking shoes and a jacket to do it!
Descend, bold traveler, into the crater of the jokull of Snaefell, which the shadow of Scartaris touches before the Kalends of July, and you will attain the centre of the earth. I did it. Arne Saknussemm
We are not in Iceland, we are not descending any volcano crater, and we are not the Icelandic alchemist Arne Saknussemm nor the German Professor Lidenbrock, characters of the science fiction novel by the French novelist Jules Verne. Instead, we are in Tuscany, and we did our little “Journey to the centre of the earth” exploring the karst caves of the Corchia Underground.
We are in the coastal Versilia, in northern Tuscany, an area known especially for its long beach, but that also hosts high green fascinating mountains, the Apuan Alps. It is not common to have the opportunity to admire high mountains while swimming and in Versilia, you can do it. To me that I am not native to this area, this is definitely one of the things I prefer.
A bit of history of the Antro del Corchia Underground
In origin, the water covered this part of the globe. As time went on, the accumulation of sediments gave rise to the mountains. Then, only 5 millions of years ago, due to a fracture in the rocks, the water came in and shaped the heart of the mountain creating these caves that measure approx. 53 km, but it seems they could reach 70 km.
On 1840, an explorer who was looking for a good marble to extract discovered the caves. He noticed a breeze coming from a hole in the mountain and descending he discovered the very first entrance to the mountain.
Guess how amazing should have been being one of the people that explored for the first time the inside of the mountain with no lights or comfortable paths as we do today.
After more than hundred years, on 1970, a second entrance was discovered thanks to the wind and to a bat flying out from another hole.
The tourist and cultural system of the Corchia Underground in Tuscany
It is around the village of Levigliani, on the slope of these very ancient mountains declared UNESCO global geopark on 2016, that you find the Corchia Underground.
The “mountain by the sea” is the appellative that locals gave to the Corchia Mountain. No better saying could be used to define this place located only half an hour away from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Being like a natural terrace overlooking the flatland and the sea below, it donates wonderful views and, on very bright days, visitors can even glimpse the French island of Corsica.
The tourist and cultural system of the Corchia Underground includes four interesting attractions to visit such as the Antro Del Corchia karst caves, the quicksilver mines, and two museums.
I experienced a day in the shoes of a speleologist taking part of a guided tour to the Antro del Corchia caves.
What you will experience inside the Antro del Corchia Underground in Tuscany
The Corchia Underground is a fragile ecosystem that needs to be protected, and visitors MUST respect some simple rules. No pictures with flash allowed because the light causes the formation of algae and other microorganisms on the rocks made mainly of calcium carbonate. Even touching rocks is forbidden because the grease on our hands could alter their composition.
Before to descend into the heart of the hollow mountain, there is a long tunnel to walk and three gates that keep the caves protected by the open air to pass. Once inside, the temperature is about 7,5 °C (45,50 °F) with 100% humidity and you won’t smell any scents. The tour is not difficult but if are claustrophobic or too lazy to walk, this is not the place for you.
The entrance of the caves
The path twists and turns for about 2 km along steel boardwalks, natural stones, and approximately 1800 steps to climb and descend. As long as the ground is flat or you have to descend, the walk is easy. The tour guide stops many times to show rocks of different colors, stalactites and stalagmites, holes, cascades, lakes, and tell the adventures of the first “conquerors” of the heart of the mountain.
One of the fascinating places inside the Corchia Underground is, with no doubt, the swan room. Inside the grotto, a huge formation looks like a big resting swan with the wings closed around its body. The room is lack of oxygen, and there is a high concentration of carbon dioxide that you will yawn. By the way, the air is clean and there is no danger for the health.
The huge swan rock
After a series of curves that will make you loose orientation we reached the so-called “lake of the Friday”, a marshland of crystal clear radioactive water discovered on 1967, where expeditions stopped, and used to leave writings on the wall as proof of their passage.
The Lake of the Friday
Another fascinating room we walked across was full of stunning stalactites and stalagmites, which seem made by millions of small popcorns, and that almost touched each other creating a unique column.
Stalactites and stalagmites
The hardest part comes at the end of the walk when we had to climb the last steep steps on the way back to the exit. After a little rest, passing through the three doors, we finally emerged from the cave to breathe again the scent of the marble, the fresh air of the nature and the sea breeze, enjoying the wonderful view of the Versilia and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Mediterranean Sea in the distance
How to reach the Corchia Underground in Tuscany
The village of Levigliani is located into the regional park of the Apuan Alps, under the municipality of Stazzema, one of the four Comuni of the historical area of Versilia. You can easily reach Corchia Underground in 30 minutes by car from Forte dei Marmi or Pietrasanta, and in approx. one hour from Lucca. If you take the coastal A12 highway, get out at “Versilia” exit and then follow indications to Seravezza and Antro del Corchia. For more info and tickets visit the official website of Corchia Underground.
We really enjoyed the Corchia Underground that we included it in our 15 things to do in Versilia. It was very interesting to discover a new place set in a beautiful montainous scenery, and stories from the past that local communities try to keep alive with passion and dedication for the new generations and visitors. What do you think about it?