1902 Encyclopedia > Italy > Topography - Italian Lakes. Italian Islands.

(Part 5)


Topography - Italian Lakes. Italian Islands.

Lakes.—The only important lakes in Italy are those at the foot of the Alps, formed by the expansion of the tributaries of the Po, which, after descending from the mountain valleys in which they are at first confined, spread out into considerable sheets of water before traversing the extensive plain of Northern Italy. They have been already noticed in connexion with the rivers by which they are formed, but may be again enumerated in order of succession. They are, proceeding from west to east, (1) the Lago d'Orta, (2) the Lago Maggiore, (3) the Lago di Lugano, (4) the Lago di Como, (5) the Lago dTseo, (6) the Lago dTdro, and (7) the Lago di Garda. Of these the last named is considerably the largest, covering a superficial area of about 140 English square miles. It is about 38 miles long by 12 broad at its southern extremity; while the Lago Maggiore, notwithstanding its name, though considerably exceeding it in length (42 miles), falls materially below it in superficial extent. They are all of great depth,—the Lago Maggiore having in one part a depth of 2600 feet, while that of Como attains to 1925 feet. Of a wholly different character is the Lago di Varese, between the Lago Maggiore and that of Lugano, which is a mere shallow expanse of water, surrounded by hills of very moderate elevation. Two other small lakes in the same neighbourhood, as well as those of Erba and Pusiano, between Como and Lecco, are of a similar character, and scarcely worthy of notice.

The lakes of Central Italy, which are comparatively of trifling dimensions, belong to a wholly different class. The most important of these, the Lacus Fucinus of the ancients, now called the Lago di Celano, which is situated almost exactly in the centre of the peninsula, occupies (as has been already pointed out) a basin of considerable extent, surrounded on all sides by mountains, and without any natural outlet, at an elevation of more than 2000 feet above the sea. Its waters have of late years been in great part carried off by an artificial channel, and more than half its surface laid bare. Next in size is the Lago Trasimeno, often called the Lago di Perugia, so celebrated in Roman history; it is a broad expanse of shallow waters, surrounded only by low hills, but about 30 miles in circumference. The neighbouring lake of Chiusi is of similar character, but much smaller dimensions. All the other lakes of Central Italy, which are scattered through the volcanic districts west of the Apennines, are of a wholly different formation, and occupy deep cup-shaped hollows, which have undoubtedly at one time formed the craters of extinct volcanoes. Such is the Lago di Bolsena, near the city of the same name, which is an extensive sheet of water, as well as the much smaller Lago di Vico (the Ciminian lake of ancient writers) and the Lago di Bracciano, nearer Rome, while again to the south of Rome the well known lakes of Albano and Nemi have a similar origin.

The only lake properly so called in Southern Italy is the Lago del Matese, in the heart of the mountain group of the same name, of very trifling extent. The so-called lakes on the coast of the Adriatic north and south of the promontory of Gargano are in fact mere brackish lagoons communicating with the sea.

Islands.—The three great islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica are so closely connected with Italy, both by geographical position and community of language, that they are frequently spoken of as the Italian Islands, but they will best be considered separately, and we shall here confine our attention to the smaller islands that lie scattered in the Mediterranean within sight of the coasts of Italy. Of these by much the most considerable is that of Elba, situated on the west coast of Central Italy, about 50 miles south of Leghorn, and separated from the mainland at Piombino by a strait of only about 6 miles in width. North of this, and just about midway between Corsica and Tuscany, is the small island of Capraja, steep and rocky, and only 4 1/2 miles long, but with a secure port; Gorgona, about 25 miles farther north, is still smaller, and is a mere rock, inhabited only by a few fishermen. South of Elba are the equally insignificant islets of Pianosa and Monte Cristo, while the more considerable island of Giglio lies much nearer the mainland, immediately opposite the remarkable mountain promontory of Monte Argentaro, itself almost an island. Of a wholly different character are the islands that are found farther south in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Of these Ischia and Procida, both of them situated almost close to the northern headland of the Bay of Naples, are entirely of volcanic origin, as is the case also with the more distant group of the Ponza Islands. These are three in number—Ponza, Palmaruola, and Zannone ; while Vandotena (also of volcanic formation) is about midway between Ponza and Ischia. The island of Capri, on the other hand, which is just opposite to the southern promontory of the Bay of Naples, is a precipitous limestone rock. The Aeolian or Lipari Islands, a remarkable volcanic group, belong rather to Sicily than to Italy, though Stromboli, the most easterly of them, is about equidistant from Sicily and from the mainland. The islands to the south of Sicily—Malta and Gozo, and Pantellaria—in like manner do not fall within the scope of the present article. Malta indeed has very little natural connexion with Sicily, and none with the continent of Italy.

The Italian coast of the Adriatic presents a great contrast to its opposite shores, for while the coast of Dalmatia is bordered by a succession of islands, great and small, the long and uniform coastline of Italy from Otranto to Rimini presents not a single adjacent island; and the small outlying group of the Tremiti Islands (north of the Monte Qargano and about 15 miles from the mainland) alone breaks the monotony of this part of the Adriatic.

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