Towards the Veja Bridge

 

The Regional natural Park of Lessinia is an oasis instituted in 1990 for the protection and enhancement of nature and historical heritage of a vast area of land in the northern-north-west of Verona. The northern most part of Valpolicella is an integral part of this park, especially for its karstic origins, which are responsible for the formation of grottos: one of these is the Ponte di Veja, The Veja Bridge, the focus of this itinerary.

 

The itinerary starts in Negrar, a town that has been inhabited since the Bronze and Copper ages and where archaeological excavations have brought to light a Roman villa dating back to the third century A.C. Its has a mosaic floor, two fragments of which are preserved at the Archaeological Museum of the Roman Theatre in Verona. Another impressive building is Villa Rizzardi and its historic Pojega Garden.

 

Built for Conte Antonio Rizzardi between 1783 and 1791 by the architect Luigi Trezza (1752-1823), it is one of the last baroque masterpieces created in Italy. Comprising a total surface area of 54,000 m², the garden is laid out on three levels and is a classic Italian garden. On the first level, there are statues of mythological characters, while the second level is dedicated to a citrus garden. The last level, in front of the villa, has a circular garden with a fountain in the middle. A lane of cypresses leads to the “green theatre”, the only one of its type in Europe for size, state of preservation and architectonic structure, with its box, cypress and yew trees, all influenced by a perfectly Greek style. The garden hosts theatrical performances during the summer.

 

In the town square, there is the Parish Church of San Martino, which was almost completely rebuilt in the 19th century. The only part remaining from the original Romanesque “pieve” (rural parish church) is the impressive tuff bell tower. On its southern side there is a long inscription in Latin, probably originally from 1166, in which the “pieve” is released from making payments to the Monastery of San Zeno in Verona. Inside the church, there are seventeenth and eighteenth century canvases.

 

The itinerary takes us north to Sant’Anna d’Alfaedo towards “Ponte di Veja”, the Veja Bridge, where there is an important archaeological site that has brought to light many different finds.
The site has been the object of visits from many famous personages: Dante Alighieri was probably referring to the “Ponte di Veja” in the Divine Comedy when he writes “malebolge infernale” (“hellish evil ditches” of the 8th circle); and Andrea Mantegna uses the image in a sixteenth century fresco.


Once you arrive, the first thing you will see is a massive arching bridge-like structure of rock, measuring 10 metres thick and 52 metres long, under which runs a stream. The pathway takes you onto the bridge and then follows through to the underlying areas and affords magnificent views of the contrast in colours between the red marl of the arch and the grey of the oolitic limestone of its lower layers, a typical formation of Lessinia rock. The “Ponte di Veja” is the architrave of the entranceway into the enormous karstic grotto which has survived the progressive collapsing of the central vault. At the bottom of the bridge there are many different smaller limestone grottos. There are many trekking itineraries of the surrounding areas which include the Ponte di Veja on their routes, so that hikers can see it in its natural environment. (Maps of paths are available in the trattoria-restaurant nearby).


Worthy of mention are the archaeological studies that have been carried out in this area which have brought to light evidence of the existence of previous human settlements.
People have come to the Ponte di Veja since Paleolithic and Neolithic times and all successive periods afterwards, attracted as they were by the grottos, which made for excellent natural refuges, and by the perfect environment with its supply of water and raw materials such as flint. Proof of this is demonstrated by findings from the excavation of grotto A, or the “Bear”, where a fireplace was found along with fauna remains and lithic (chipped stone) instruments (Middle Paleolithic). In the central part, instead, relics mostly to do with hunting from the Lower Paleolithic period have been found, and are preserved at the Museum of Paleontology and Prehistory in Sant’Anna d’Alfaedo.


Now we go northward to Sant’Anna d’Alfaedo, where there is the Museum of Paleontology and Prehistory which houses many precious findings of a primordial nature. Numerous are the fossils and marina fauna taken from the layers of the “Prun stone”, which is today known as “Lessina Stone” and which has always been widely used in construction. The many mines in the area have brought to light all types of different fossils, such as ammonites, sea urchins, rays, rudists (bivalves), making the area an important archaeological resource. There are guided visits during which visitors can admire these archaeological treasures. The beginning of the tour starts with an explanation of the features of the stone containing many of the finds, with documentation of the use of the this stone in architecture past and present. The following areas are a true and proper exhibition of the finds, and include a six-metre long shark and a sea turtle measuring almost two metres in length. The museum also houses a collection of flint stones that have been found in various archaeological sites around the area, belonging to humans from the Paleolithic period and onwards.


Heading north towards the village of Fosse, there is the “pieve” (rural parish church) of San Giovanni in Loffa, which was built in Romanesque style in the 12th century, and was remodelled in 1633. The rectangular plan, its solemn gabled façade and enormous stone bell tower with 4 mullioned windows with two lights are characteristic signs of a simple church that was once attended by shepherds and cow-herders who worked on the slopes of the Lessinia Mountains. Immersed in the tranquillity of the pine wood of Mount Loffa, the church opens only on rare occasions. (indications “zona panoramica” – 1.8 km of unpaved road).

 

Visit the section Publications of this site in order to download the flyer of this itinerary.





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