The Italian Heart of Darkness
The fascinating Gargano promontory remains a hostile and mysterious land
The Gargano, which is as black as the forest that dominates it, is Italy’s heart of darkness. This limestone promontory that looks like an island overlooks the Adriatic: it’s a fascinating and mysterious spur of rock that the people of the plains call “mountain of the Sun.” In actual fact, the Gargano is a dark, hostile, secret land where the sacred and the profane have always mingled. This was the birthplace of the cult of St. Michael the Archangel, who is said to have appeared in a grotto sixteen centuries ago.
And here – in the karst caves that have carved the coastline – pirates, sailors and, more recently, Albanian drug dealers have taken shelter during storms. Brigands and charcoal burners, on the other hand, found refuge in the Foresta Umbra (“the Shaded Forest”), an intricate patch of beech and holm oaks a thousand meters above sea level that the phenomenon of macrosomatism – due to long isolation – has caused to grow abnormally.
Today much of the Gargano is a national park. This is a genuine attraction for travelers who come from all over Europe to visit Vieste and Peschici, the canyons, Padre Pio’s tomb, the historic oil mills and those wonderful contraptions built by fishermen which are known as “trabucchi.”
But this land still has a heart of darkness. And the huge amounts of money brought in by tourism have attracted the so-called “fourth Italian mafia,” which is the most secretive and mysterious of them all. It operates in the Gargano and in the nearby city of Foggia, and district attorneys and judges describe the situation as “a real emergency.” The area is notorious for the record number of extortions and murders.