Mercadante Forest and the Old Downy Oak

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Mercadante Forest is in the province of Bari, on the Murgia Plateau. In fact, it features the typical morphology of the Murgia hilly areas, with a swift escarpment that rises over a large flat territory.

The name “Mercadante” comes from the name of the first local estate expropriated in order to carry out the work of the Forestry Administration. The area covered by the forest mainly features bare and poor soil, thus it could not offer any protection against rainwater flowing all the way down to the valley floor. The very forest was, therefore, artificially planted to protect the city of Bari from the frequent floods which took place in the early years of the XX century (in particular, those of 1905, 1915, and November 1926). The wholesale deforestation of the XIX century had, in fact, left the whole surrounding area completely exposed. Substantial interventions to contain the advance of water in case of heavy rain were absolutely mandatory.

The forest covers some 3.212 acres (2.154 in the territory of Cassano delle Murgie and the rest in the municipality of Altamura) and it is considered the “green lung” of Bari. Its conifers include Aleppo pines (Pinus halepensis), cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens and Cupressus arizonica), often growing amongst broad-leaved downy oaks (Quercus pubescens), holm oaks (Quercus ilex), Macedonian oaks (Quercus trojana) and, as shrubs, thorny oaks (Quercus coccifera); more recently, elms, locust trees, ashes, nettle trees, gum trees, etc. have been added.

The oldest plants are between 40 to 60 years old; unfortunately, the first ones have been destroyed by several “spontaneous” or “accidental” fires” in the recent past.

One of the few original trees that have survived those fires is the “Roverella della Foresta Mercadante” (“The downy oak for the Mercadante Forest”), which grows in the area near Altamura; it’s some 500-years old and listed among the “Monumental Trees” of Puglia. Its trunk has developed horizontally on the ground and, at the height of the first branch, it features a large cavity that has offers the perfect shelter to many wild animals.

The local fauna includes several species of birds, insects, reptiles and mammals. The lack of wetlands prevents the development of aquatic amphibians.

Most of the birds of prey are local protected species, like owls, long-eared owl, eagle owls, tawny owls, and barn owls. Among the falconids with pointed wings, there are lesser kestrels, common kestrels, and buzzards.

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)


Strada Comunale Mercadante - SP 18 - 70020 Cassano delle Murge (BA)(BA)

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