Cave of Iron (Timpa S. Angelo - S. Lorenzo Bellizzi)

by Luca D'Alba

It is 19 April 2015, Sunday. I have just returned home after two days spent in the mountains near S. Lorenzo Bellizzi. I like to get completely out of work and get away from Trebisacce without thinking about what will await me on Monday. Today I spent a nice day with the subsection CAI Cerchiara on the Timpa di S. Lorenzo, wrapped in fog. The Banco di Ferro and its cave, half-wall of the Timpa di S. Angelo in S. Lorenzo Bellizzi, were instead my Saturday destination, once again in the company of my trusted and tested adventurer Giovannino Santagada, who di "ino" has very little, since it is a big big man. When you visit a place you get the soul (or the genius, as defined by the other great friend Francesco Bevilacqua), if you search, even the first time. What changes, in the following times, are the sensations that that locus raises according to the seasons and to the people that accompany you and with whom you share it. After the third "trip" to the Banco I decided to write also the other two, as a memory of unique experiences. Before telling them, however, it is necessary to explain what "the Banco" is and exactly where it is. Along the road from Cerchiara di Calabria leads to S. Lorenzo Bellizzi, after the junction of the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Armi, begins a series of hairpin bends with an extraordinary view of the "timpe": Timpa di Cassano and Timpa di San Lorenzo in close up, so close together to form a canyon that, in my opinion, has little to envy the Grand Canyon: the Gorges of Raganello. Behind these two timps stands the unmistakable pyramid of the Timpa of Falconara, a paradise for southern climbers. Particularly suggestive (especially for those who have known it closely and following its majesty) is the cleft in the rocky wall below the Timpa di Cassano where the Grimavolo stream flows, creating a gorge about 460 meters high that flows into the Raganello bed. Continuing along the road you can see, on the right, a sheer rock wall about 250 meters high. However, on this wall there is the "banco", a path that crosses the timbre transversely, exploiting its narrow ledges. In some places the passage is so aerial as to suggest its protection with ropes, since looking down you have the distinct feeling of emptiness under your feet. It is amazing how this path was traveled in remote times by sheep and shepherds, who moved with firm and firm steps along these "dangerous terraces", as defined by Nino Larocca in his book "Il Pollino Orientale". After the first stretch, which presents a couple of small travesi to be overcome in climbing, you reach the entrance of a cave. This is the true destination of the excursion, the heart of the mountain. It is a cavity not particularly difficult to explore. It does not require the use of ropes, since its development is almost horizontal. But it is still a hypogeal environment, in which moving is a delicate thing and implies a minimum of athleticism. Beyond the technical aspects, the Grotta del Banco di Ferro, so called because of the ferrous oxides that give a particular reddish color to the rocks surrounding its entrance, is a mine of history. His first exploration dates back to 1939, when it was discovered by the Inspector of the National Forestry Militia Enzo dei Medici.

Inside the cave have been found pottery artifacts of protohistoric age, as evidence of the fact that already at that time was frequented by man. My first "trip" to the Banco di Ferro was on August 9th 2014. The itinerary is proposed to me by no means less than by Nino Larocca, one of the greatest speleologists and researchers of caves in southern Italy, as well as the "banchismo" ". After reading his publications on the gorges of Raganello and on the Pollino Orientale and having appreciated the historical-territorial insights of his guides, I realized that from him I could learn a lot again by meeting him personally. And so my first excursion with him is right at the Banco, on a hot summer afternoon. In the morning I drove a group on an excursion to the low gorges of Raganello and I proposed to Gabriele (a boy from Bergamo, but originally from Roseto CS, who had already been with me in the high gorges the year before) and his friend Francesco di take part in the afternoon excursion. The appointment with Nino is at the restaurant "Il Pino Loricato" in San Lorenzo, a meeting place for all the hikers, run by polite and humble people, now old friends. The Bergamo people are amazed by the figure of Nino: a person in hand, cheerful and direct. He knows and has good relations with every single sallorenzano, although he is from Alessandria del Carretto. He appears on a white enduro bike, most likely his age (he is just over 45 years old), with the rear hull plastics melted by the heat of the muffler. The gem is the luggage rack: a wooden fruit box with the inscription "Val di Non". Basically it looks like a gypsy (in the good sense ... of course). We await the arrival of a friend of his, who after a few minutes arrives at the helm of a very respectable last generation motorcycle. The words of welcome addressed by Nino are: "You have a motorcycle of me @@ a!". In the general laugh for this exclamation we suggest to Francesco to get on the bike to Nino to reach the attack on the bench: his expression is terror, but taken aback does not know how to say no and is limited to fulminar with the look . Wear a mountaineering helmet and jump on praying who knows which saint. We take the road that leads from the Sgrotto district to the top of Timpa S. Angelo up to the highest and most scenic point: Mount Sellaro in front of us, as a lookout on the Ionian Sea, is illuminated by the warm rays of the sun at this time ( it is about 4:00 pm) radiate its imposing west wall. We prepare the equipment and head towards the top of the Timpa, through a seniere that wades a stream. From there, just behind the timelines of Cassano and San Lorenzo, you can admire 3 of the five highest peaks of the Pollino massif: Serra del Dolcedorme, Serra delle Ciavole and Serra di Crispo. The entrance to the Banco is below us, about fifty meters. We reach it in a short time and immediately face the first passage exposed. To ensure the safety of Gabriele and Francesco, less experienced than us, we set up a fixed rope with fixes previously positioned by Nino. It is inevitable to think of the skill with which pastors, for centuries and centuries, have climbed without protection on these traits. In less than half an hour we arrive at the entrance of the cave, so large that it can be seen several miles away (unlike many caves, whose entrance is almost invisible until you fall in). It is not my first experience in the hypogeal environment, but this time you will be accompanied by those who represent a milestone of speleology in our places. His approach is different from that of many others. Enter the cave by pure passions, not for mere fun or sport. He enters the cave because for him it is culture, that culture that he loves to pass on to others with enthusiasm. He tells us about the archaeological findings and how they form stalagmites and stalagtites. Thanks to him I know that by studying the alignment of the ceiling of a cave with respect to the floor, scientists can (or at least try to) determine the movement of the subsoil. The ride in the bowels of the earth takes almost an hour. We have to face the last section of the bench, easy and panoramic.

There is a part of the path where the rock is excavated so as to fall about 4 meters. It is the ideal point from which to observe twilight. The last difficulty is a vertical descent of 20 meters on a rope, which makes the experience complete from a technical point of view. I take the last steps before reaching the car and I turn back to look at the Timpa and the panoramic terrace just described: I have to go back with a special person ... August 31, 2014. Me and Anna. It is a clear and sunny end of summer day, made pleasant by a fresh zephyr. In this period the tourists who, in mid-August, invade our coasts have already gone all the way and even this time they did not appreciate the most beautiful part of Calabria: its mountains and its hills. San Lorenzo Bellizzi is a village that inspires a sense of familiarity. Quiet, serene, no nuisances are heard. Here you feel at home even if you were not born in its alleys. I understand why Nino delights in spending several days "betraying" his Alexandria. Anna is a Cerciarese fair, which, like me, loves simple things. By observing it one has a clear perception of how it is in harmony with these pleasant and living places. I had the desire to take her to the Banco di Ferro because I know she likes the slightly daring and scenic hikes. Here we are then. Along the way of approaching the Timpa of S. Angelo I take a picture that will go down in history for the inquisitor gaze with which it was immortalized, as if to say: statt attind addu 'me ports Luca Da'. In fact, she is portrayed like that because she had the sun in front of her and, to protect herself from the light, she had frowned. For security tool a fixed rope to protect the exposed passages, but there would not even need it. Anna moves light and elegant, without any fear for the height. It is extraordinarily great for climbing and I like to practice it very much ... luckily for me. But it is a little less for caving ... unfortunately. As agile as it is, it would easily fit into every tunnel, but she did not like the narrow streets, nor did the large entrance of the Grotta del Banco di Ferro convince her to enter it. A photo taken makes a clear idea of ​​his perplexities. I do not insist too much, though I want to go back to the cave and share with her this experience, new to her. In the mountains if you do not have the pleasure of doing something you do not have to do it. So we are moving towards the return. We stop for a few minutes on that panoramic terrace created by the recess of the rock, which is precisely the point I had to bring it ... the most beautiful of the Banco. It is suspended in the air with a roof that repairs it. I propose to return with a tent and a sleeping bag to spend a night there and she, happy, hugs me all happy, giving me an immense joy. We like doing the same things, which are not "big" things, but they are enough to be happy. I prepare the rope for the descent. It is very suggestive and certainly not suitable for those suffering from vertigo. Trusting a centimeter-diameter rope is not something that can be taught. Either you trust or you will never do the step back to transfer the weight from your legs to the harness. Anna also overcomes this test with ease, indeed, it takes us taste. The fall up to down and then I go down in double. Hand in hand we walk the path that goes down to the road, where we await the legendary Lanos. April 18, 2015. Pecuzzo and I, alias Giovannino Santagada. Third lap at the Banco di Ferro. Spring offers the best conditions for living our mountains. I'm in a good mood because this morning the mason who is renovating his grandmother's house in Cerchiara has detached the outer wall, finding under the plaster a wonderful stone face. I already had the certainty, because a few days ago, flipping through an old album, I saw the photos of the marriage of my maternal grandparents around the 50s and, in one of them, they noticed their stone house. Nevertheless, the happiness of touching that hidden stone, always there, has been great. After the "discovery" with Nino del Banco di Ferro and the return with Anna, today I'm here with Pex to enjoy the day and take advantage of the opportunity to give a system to the path and the exposed passages of the ledge. In October of this year I will have to lead an excursion of the CAI of Cerchiara right here and I want everything to be perfect (especially in terms of safety).

So we start to build the stone men that indicate the path. Those who make Giovanni are immense, related to him, who always tells me: "if s'dada fa ', s'adda fa' bun". Little man after man we arrive at the wall. To speed up the operations we do not mount the safety rope, but we integrate the anchors already present with other fixtures thanks to the Bosch Uneo battery hammer that, for its small size, almost goes into the pocket. In less than no time we arrive at the entrance to the cave. With Pecuzzo I have already been to the Grotto of Damale, definitely more technical than this. But as a demonstration of the fact that it is not the sporting aspect that interests us, even this easy cave gives both marvels that we do not lose the opportunity to photograph: a limestone melt that seems to glaze on a cream puff, a small cave with contours green, a quartz column 1.10 meters high with a diameter of 40 cm, a conglomerate in the shape of a triceratops, a holy water filled with crystalline water in which every drop that falls from above creates concentric ripples from the center to the edges, a tiny calcareous concretion (about 3 cm) in the shape of cauliflower and, finally, a ceramic pot vase in black carboniferous, which we leave there in the perspective that some scholar may in future draw useful research elements. At the exit of the cave Giovanni says a simple but spontaneous word: "bella". What to say more? This is enough for me. We have learned to know each other by sharing these adventures and between us a sincere bond has been created, a true friendship. Describing the mountain I realized that I had described the people who frequent me with me. And it is natural that it is so. The mountain is just a frame for something much bigger and more important: the relationship with the people I love. Spending these days with them gives meaning to my existence and makes me immensely happy.

grotta banco ferrro


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