Italian Apennine Mountains: rediscovering ancient trails.

The Salt Paths are a network of hiking trails in Italy, stretching for hundreds of miles along the Italian Apennine Mountains  from the inland planes and cities of Piedmont and Lombardy to the Ligurian Coast, jutting on the Mediterranean Sea.

Italy - Area of the Salt Paths

Italy – Area of the Salt Paths

In the past these trails were never considered a playground or a hiker’s paradise. Used since prehistory, and later by Roman troops, they were trekked by salt merchants during the Middle Ages until the 18th century, transporting salt from the coast.

After a short resurgence during World War II, they went forgotten for decades. These trails are now enjoying a sort of rebirth, gaining new popularity among Italian and international hikers.

The Salt Path itinerary from Piedmont to the Coast

The Ligurian region, on the North Western Coast of Italy was in the past arid and stony, with very little arable soil and sharp cliffs.

But the climate was mild and the nearby sea a good source of food.

By building stonewalls and carrying fertile soil from Etruria, modern Tuscany the Liguri, a local pre-Roman population, transformed this area into a livable land, with abundant fruit and vegetables.

To supplement their diet the Liguri also extracted salt from the sea and bartered it inland for meat and grains.

Salt was, then and for a long time, a scarce commodity, so important that legionnaires during the Roman Empire were partially paid with it. The word “salary” comes from “salt.”

The most common mean of transportation for salt was backpacking, eventually supported by mules, thus carving an intricate network of paths along the Apennine Mountains sloping to she sea.

The Apennine Mountains

Over the course of centuries, transportation got relatively safe when traffic and commerce were thriving; other times outlaws and bandits made the journeys extremely dangerous.

Churches and inns were built along paths and local rulers began to impose duties and taxes in exchange for security and the right to  cross their lands. Many dynasties were founded on the commerce of salt and the control over its routes. Posting stations were built and soldiers were posted on the trails to protect merchants.

From small posting stations soon entire villages and then prosperous small town towns were established such as Bobbio and Uscio.

The use of this web of trails for commerce purposes ended around the 18th century, but gained a new popularity during World War II.   Groups of Italian Partisans fighting German troops used these abandoned and overgrown paths to reach their hideouts on the Apennine Mountains, smuggling supplies and weapons to launch their attacks.

Today the Salt Path trails are experiencing a sort of renaissance thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers i.e. Club Alpino Italiano (CAI – Italian Alpine Club) which, in the past years, has restored and marked this web of mountain paths in an area of Italy still virtually unknown by international tourists until a short while ago.

Wild horses on the Italian Salt Paths

Despite still relatively unknown many hikers, from Italy and around the world, now hike these trails year round and are rewarded by lovely scenery, possibly a glimpse of wild life such as boar, wolf and horses having escaped from domestication and become wild, quaint villages, breathtaking views, awesome food, and lastly, the Mediterranean Sea.

Arriving to the Mediterranean Coast, after hikes that can be long or short, depending on your choice, can be a huge reward in itself alone.

Portofino, Italy - End of the hike

Portofino, Italy

By L. Gallia and Cinzia Gallia Schlicksup

 

 

 

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