Astroni has been well known since the time of ancient Rome, when it was used for therapeutic baths. In those times, Astroni was rich in thermal and water springs, which disappeared after a volcanic eruption created a new mountain (Monte Nuovo) in 1538. In that period, Alfonso I of Aragon converted Astroni into a Royal Hunting Preserve by surrounding it with a high embankment, which was turned into a tuff wall three centuries later during the reign of King Carlo I of Bourbon. King Carlo held luxurious parties and remarkable hunts for himself and his guests. The wall remains today, but, due to poor maintenance in the past, is in urgent need of restoration.
After the unification of Italy, Astroni suffered progressive degradation, starting with the House of Savoy. Later, from 1919 until 1980, under the administration of ‘Opera Nazionale Combattenti’, uncontrolled and unregulated use of it as tourist attraction was allowed, which in turn destroyed the natural environment. Once the ‘Opera Nazionale Combattenti’ was closed down, Astroni became a Regione Campania site.
Nowadays, Astroni Reserve belongs to the Campania Region, located in the municipal district of Pozzuoli, not far from Napoli. It comprises one of the volcanic craters of Campi Flegrei. Situated 16 km from the center of Napoli, its boundaries are Agnano to the East, Monte Leucogeo to the South, Pianura to the North and Monte Barbaro to the West. The total area is 2,50 sq. km. with its highest point being 255 m (837 ft) above s.l. and its lowest being 9 m (30ft) above s.l. At the very bottom of the crater three small lakes can be found: Lago Grande, Cofaniello Piccolo, Cofaniello Grande.
Fauna and Flora
The Astroni crater is home to a great variety of habitats. Vegetation typical of lake areas, reeds, sedges, bulrush and white willow, grow near the lake. Over time, the humidity on the crater floor has allowed the natural colonisation of species normally found in the foothills of mountains, such as chestnut, English oak, common elm and European hornbeam, amongst others. There are also some quickgrowing species recently introduced by man, like Canadian poplar, false acacia, tree-of-heaven and American red oak. The slopes and the crater lip are carpeted with typical evergreen mediterrenean vegetation, the so called Mediterranean Maquis (strawberry tree, heather, mastic, myrtle, laurel, mock privet, european privet, salvia cistus and Montpelier cistus).
The animal species in Astroni have been changing through the centuries because of frequent introductions of different species for hunting purposes since Alfonso I of Aragon’s reign up to the 1950s. In the 1960s, not endemic species (guanaco deer, antelopes, gazelles, deer) were introduced but were quickly and effortlessly eliminated by poachers. The diversity of the crater morphology creates a rich variety of habitats, the result being several different animal species, including amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, wood birds and water fowls. The crater is the sole secure nesting area in Campi Flegrei for seven birds: jay, great spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, ferruginous duck, and peregrine. That is why the WWF chose the great spotted woodpecker as the Reserve symbol.
On July 22 1987, the Ministry for Environment officially declared the institution of the Reserve, on the basis of its noteworthy naturalistic importance.
The entrance to Astroni Reserve is through the ‘Torre Centrale’ (Central Tower), built in the sixteenth century, enlarged and readapted through the years until the early 1900s. The whole reserve is surrounded by a wall. Along the wall there are two structures which, in the past, were probably watch towers (Torre Lupara and Torre Nocera). On the crater floor, near the so called “hunt road”, there is ‘la Vaccheria’, a former hunting lodge.
By car: Napoli Ring Road (Tangenziale) get off at the Agnano Exit (n° 11). After the toll House turn right and drive 1.8 km ahead.
By bus: bus C14 from Circumflegrea Pianura railway station (via Picasso) or bus stop in piazza Salvemini (near Linea 2 Metro station of Bagnoli – Agnano T. and Cumana railway station of Bagnoli).