Near Riolo Terme, in the bowels of Mount Tondo, an important karst cavity extends with a total development of about six kilometres and a difference in level of 223 metres it is amongst the most important of the Emilia-Romagna region. The interest about this cavity, called Grotta di Re Tiberio, is not only speleological or morphological, but also archeological and paleoantropological, because of important finds brought to light by extensive excavation campaigns, as well as biological, due to the presence of large colonies of bats and varied fauna of guanobia.
Unfortunately Mount Tondo is made up of one unique mass of very pure gypsum, the object of a lot of mining activity, currently run by the company Gyproc Saint Gobain, which has entailed the excavation of a thick network of tunnels with a total development of over 20 kilometres.
Inevitably most of these have ended up intersecting the cave in many parts, destroying some areas and disturbing the normal flow of the underground water. The part open to visitors however is intact and the mineral company for some time now has been trying to save natural caves.
What should be done now? It would be unthinkable to stop extractions, since both the mine, along with the factory that transforms the mineral, make up the main economical and occupational resource of the area, since the products from Gyproc Saint Gobain (panels, special plasters, false ceilings etc) as well as being economical and easy to install, have excellent thermal isolation properties, saving a considerable amount of energy all to the advantage of the environment.
The tour is limited to the first tunnel, about fifty metres long, after having crossed a long footpath, quite steep in some parts, that initially crosses through woods, then runs along the crest of the hillside.
Despite the fact that is has a lighting system, for the short distance covered underground, for the characteristics of the path giving access to the cave and the absence of a visitor’s centre ( also no toilets) this cave can currently be a considered a semi-show cave.
On the right side of the tunnel some niches and rectangular pools can be seen which in olden times were used to collect water and for worship. From the walkway in galvanized steel an archeological excavation can be seen where the various levels are indicated by numbered signs. The finds, conserved in various museums, go from the Bronze Age to the Medieval. The metal walkway ends in a big tunnel of phreatic origin, closed by a barrier which indicates the end of the route. Past the barrier you can reach a big chamber beyond which it is only possible to proceed speleologically. On the right side of the room a flowstone flanks a deep diaclase intercepted lower down by a mining tunnel. Some recent crystallization can be seen on the roof of the tunnel and on the walls where visitors have written.
The guides are well-prepared and entertaining. It’s a pity that it’s such a short part that can be visited.
To make the tour more satisfying and complete it would be useful to extend the visit to one of the artificial underground areas, adding other naturalistic morphological and archeological aspects of the cave with live commentary about the techniques used for extraction and the mineral cultivation, as well as about the methods of manufacturing and transforming the gypsum, perhaps showing the finished product and illustrating its characteristics. An ideal solution for school trips.