Dark skies in Central Italy

by Leonardo Sgarbossa

Italy is a country with a high rate of light pollution, so being able to see the stars is only possible in particular places, often very far from the big cities. My passion induced me to always search for some new spot where it was possible to find the best conditions for astrophotography.

The area where I worked mainly in the last few years is the central Italy, I have traveled a lot these regions and even if I have not been everywhere, I think I found some of the best places in terms of dark night skies.

First of all I would mention the Tyrrhenian coast, in particular the Roman coast between the towns of Ladispoli and Santa Severa. It is difficult to think that in a strongely inhabited area like this, is possible to observe the stars. In reality this place has a fair level of light pollution, but in the autumn months, when the Milky Way rises from the sea, you can get interesting night photos. Certainly this is not the best place to do astrophotography, but I think it should be mentioned first because it is easily accessible and is only 20 minutes away from Rome by car.

I truly recommend to visit the Canale Monterano reserve, near Lake Bracciano, 1 hour’s drive from Rome. The ancient Monterano is an italian ghost town, the ruins of the ancient village have been used for their beauty as a set for many films. The ruins of Monterano are surrounded by Etruscan burial grounds, small caves covered with thick vegetation and some boiling water springs, evidence of the ancient volcanic activity in the area. It is an incredibly suggestive place, the ruins date back to the Italian Renaissance and the Middle Age, and is one of the best place near Rome for astrophotography.

The best places in central Italy for night photography are definitely the mountains: the Apennines. Every spot in this mountain range is good for it, especially at high altitudes, where light pollution is very low. The Apennines are very different compared to the most famous Alps, the Apennines have softer and smoother shapes, but they preserve a unique and enchanting charm.

The Simbruini mountains natural reserve is located in Lazio, at the border with Abruzzo, about 1 hour and 30 minutes away from Rome by car, with peaks that reach 2100 meters above sea level. The best places, in order of relevance, are: The mount Viglio peak, the highest mountain of the reserve; the mount Cotento peak; and the area near Campo Catino.

The Gran Sasso and Laga mountains national park, (about 2 hours away from Rome by car) contain, in my opinion, the most beautiful peaks in central Italy. The land is very rocky and receives a large amount of snow and wind. The Calderone lies just beneath the tallest peak, the Corno Grande, and it is considered to be Europe’s southernmost glacier. Campo Imperatore is a vast plain at an altitude of 2000 meters where there are excellent conditions for night photography. I recommend to stay the night at the Duca degli Abruzzi refuge at an altitude of 2388 meters, or at the Francehtti refuge (2433 meters).

There are places where I have not gone yet, but where I’m going to go soon. They are all located in central Italy and you can find there the excellent conditions for astrophotography. These places have been recommended to me and I have had the opportunity to see indirectly that they are great places. First of all the plain of “Castelluccio di Norcia” where I had planned to go, but then I had to give up because of the terrible earthquake that dameged central Italy in 2016; and the mount Argentario, in Tuscany.

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