Reachable both from Amalfi, taking the path of Valle dei Mulini, and from Pontone di Scala, the Oriented Natural Reserve of Valle delle Ferriere is part of the Monti Lattari Regional Park and is of great naturalistic and historical interest.
Together with the various SIC (Sites of Community Interest) and SPA (Special Protection Areas) areas of the Park, the Valley performs a particular function of protection and safeguard of animal and plant species and is part of a protection and safeguard program promoted by the European Community with the 92/43 / EEC Habitat Directive, which establishes a system of areas called the Rete Natura 2000 network. The intent is to preserve, through the creation of the ecological network, the biodiversity of an area through the adoption of tools capable of to curb the process of environmental fragmentation. Rich in vegetation, the Valle delle Ferriere houses the giant fern, Woodwardia Radicans, which was first mentioned in 1710 by the botanist Micheli. This Fern, whose leaves can reach 180 centimeters in length, is typical of hot regions with heavy rainfall. It can be found in India, China, the Azores, Spain and Portugal. There are many animal species that inhabit the valley, including the spectacled salamander and the otter.
A warm, humid microclimate allowed the subtropical vegetation of the Tertiary to remain. In fact, rare ferns such as the Pteris cretica, the Pteris vittata and the Woodwardia radicans (the latter in the last part where it is necessary to request authorization for access to the Forestry Corps, as an integral natural reserve), besides the Pinguicula hirtiflora Ten , small carnivorous plant, which instead constitutes a glacial wreck. Of naturalistic importance are the habitats made up of dripping walls with mosses, maidenhair ferns and piarists.
If today it is a suggestive CAI path, in ancient times the Valle delle Ferriere was the productive place par excellence. The Canneto or Chiarito stream, which along its path creates a series of waterfalls, was used for various activities. Through a canalization system now in disuse, but still visible, it was used to irrigate the fields and terraces: during the night with an established shift, the tanks were filled to use the water during working hours. Between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, several paper mills (up to 16) were built in the Valle dei Mulini that exploited the power of the reed bed. From the maceration of the cotton, linen and hemp rags, a pulp of cellulose was obtained which, spread on special frames, was transformed into pressed sheets and left to dry on long clotheslines exposed to the wind. This paper, called bambagina, was very valuable and is still produced today in the only two active paper mills.
But the Valle delle Ferriere owes its name first of all to the ancient iron factory which, in the Middle Ages, produced raw material for the artisan shops of the whole coast. This factory, located inside the Valley to make the most of the energy of the water, produced ferrous material, which – once liquefied – was worked to obtain the “centrelle“, that is nails with a round head that were used for footwear . The richness of the Canneto River can also be found in the presence of a hydroelectric plant. The water was collected by the river through a canal system and was conveyed into a pipe. The speed of the falling water set in motion the turbines which in turn transmitted the motion to the alternators. Along the path there are some metal pylons that demonstrate how the current produced in the valley was transported to Amalfi until the late 1950s.
The excursion from Pontone
Starting from the path that starts in the small square of Pontone at about 290 m asl, you can observe finds from different eras and uncontaminated environments. The hamlet of Pontone has some architectural elements that are worth observing before starting the descent, such as the ruins of the church of S. Eustachio (XII century), visible from the square of Pontone.
The path descends down into the valley crossed by the Chiarito torrent, which flows into Amalfi, leaving chestnut and mixed deciduous forests at higher altitudes, which alternate with terraces until they reach the protected nature reserve.
Continuing, the path runs along the Chiarito river in several places, which often creates suggestive waterfalls and small pools of water where you can bathe. Along its course, riparian formations develop with Neapolitan alder and mixed deciduous forests, with a varied floristic cortege, among which the rare Erica terminalis is mentioned. The descent continues alongside woods and clearings until a spectacle of a different nature opens to the visitor’s eyes: proto-industrial constructions that exploited the driving force of the water of the stream for their own productions. These buildings, especially paper mills, are substantially identical and have a peculiar architecture aimed at exploiting the motive power of the water, forming typical elongated structures with several floors, longitudinal to the course of the stream or bridge over it: the stream water was conducted through a rear channel to the building up to the machines and tanks, always controlled by locks that allowed to limit the quantity and strength; in some cases conical towers allowed the collection of water to determine a constant quantity.
The internal environments are characterized by vaults that have a different typology according to the period of construction: cross-bred for the thirteenth century (the paper mills of this period were replaced by other buildings, because they were closer to the inhabited area), sailing for the Renaissance buildings, barrel-shaped for those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Usually buildings used as spreader were built near the paper mills.
The buildings that can be observed cannot always be visited because, although in operation until the first fifty years of the twentieth century, they are in static conditions which are not always good and are dangerous.
The first paper mill you meet is the one owned by Milan, on three floors, with the machines still for production inside; below are the ruins of two paper mills, the Nolli and the Treglia, in poor condition; the most imposing is that of Lucibelli, six floors, where the owner lived, and being on the bridge it had a wooden truss now destroyed.
Going down towards the center of Amalfi you can see several other paper mills, including the one currently converted to the Paper Museum, originally all above ground, now subjected to a floor on the street, with tanks, canals and a spreader that you can visit to understand how the Amalfi managed to exploit the power of water to create a product of excellence.
In the valley there were also a soap dish (demolished in 1980, following damage caused by an earthquake), an ironworks (started at the time of the Bourbons and stopped in 1800), a confectionery, a limestone, a powder keg and a hydroelectric power plant (all structures in the state of ruins).