[translator's notes are in brackets like this]
After about a year we returned to the Picentine mountains. Much of the area is hard to get to and not at all well connected. That's probably why there are so many small hidden “treasures”, rare glimpses of natural beauty and items of historical and anthropological interest. The goal of this particular trip was the oil shale mine near Giffoni Valle Piana [near Salerno].
Before we start the trip, here's something about oil shale. It is used to produce the medicinal ointment, ichthyol. Oil shale is rich in marine fossils found in the rocks in this area, a feature that makes the ointment antiseptic and particularly suited for the treatment of infections of wounds; it was used for over a century (from the early 1800s to the middle of the 1900s). Production ceased with the appearance of merbromin [one common English trade name is Mercurochrome] on the market. Merbromin has the same curative qualities but is easier to produce. The last mining of oil shale to produce ichthyol was during the Second World War, when the German army produced it to treat their wounded soldiers.
To reach the mine we followed trail CAI 169 [CAI=Italian Alpine Club], which starts around 12 km from Giffoni Valle Piana on Province Road 25 Giffoni – Serino. The entrance to the trail is at 792 meters (2370 feet) above sea level and is on the right-hand side of the road. The entrance is immediately evident: two small stone walls, each with a column a bit more than one meter high on either side of the entrance, itself marked by the presence of a large concrete cube (coordinates: UTM WGS 84 - 33 T 493549 4514422). You can leave a car on the opposite side of the road in a parking lot. Right inside the entrance there is a small wooden bridge that gets you across a water course (Acqua delle Radiche). Then, on the left you see a first “saggio di scavo” sign [lit. “assay excavation”] (referring to trial runs, unproductive excavated sections to find ore to make the ointment) in the immediate area of the production facility, itself. A bit beyond that, on the right-hand side, there is a branch-off leading to the ruins of an ancient factory, then to the river, and to a shallow dig, another unsuccessful trial run. The view of the ruins of the old factory with its broken walls and furnace tower, still intact, will give you some particularly fascinating photos.
The trail is well marked by CAI signs and has some stretches with wooden hand-railings. From this point our 169 trail climbs up to cross the “Varco [trail, path] del Patanaro” [Neapolitan dialect for potato vendor] at 938 meters/2800 feet a.s.l. One-hundred meters to the right, the south-east, you will find the “casone” [large house], a service building for the mines that has recently been rebuilt for use as a shelter for hikers. We found it closed. Still on the “Varco del Patanaro”, we headed down to the northwest and followed a stream through a beech grove. The trail then got a little worse; some stretches were slippery and there were fewer CAI signs—but still some. On the right, after about 800 meters, there they were: three mine entrances at the base of a rocky wall. The easiest one to enter was the central. The one above it was partially blocked by mud and the one below it was partially flooded. The tunnels, themselves, spread like a maze on various levels, but they are practicable without special equipment; however, in any case, wear a helmet. As you go, please note that the old wooden hand-holds placed for support are often rotting or broken. And the mine is the lair of a number of bat colonies; you should try not to disturb them especially during their periods of winter hibernation.
The route (one-way) is about 1.8 km, with an ascent of 150 meters and a descent of 120 m. You can do it comfortably in a bit more than one hour. (Double all values for the round-trip total).
Link to download the GPS indications: From SP 25 to the mines
Photos of the excursion: Le miniere di ittiolo
Video: La Miniera di Ittiolo sui monti Picentini
Enjoy yourselves and the video!