The Murgia area is a subregion of Apulia, a sort of karst island. This large island has at least three different types of environment, which all have karst soils in common, but which are differentiated in terms of altitude and vegetation. There is the Salento Murgia, which forms the centre of the Salento peninsula in south-eastern Apulia, the Murgia Tarantina, the last offshoot of the southern Apennines, and the Murge Baresi, divided into the Alta Murgia to the north-west and the Bassa Murgia to the south-east. The Alta Murgia National Park lies in the northern part of Bari province, taking in the higher parts of the Murgia plateau, and was established by Italian Presidential Decree in 2004. It includes land governed by 13 municipalities, i.e. Altamura, Bari, Ruvo di Puglia, Gravina in Puglia, Minervino Murge, Corato, Spinazzola, Cassano Murge, Bitonto, Toritto, Santeramo in Colle, Grumo Appula and Poggiorsini. Its total area of 68,077 hectares makes it one of the biggest National Parks in Italy. The environmental system in the Park is characterised by arid, sub-Mediterranean grassland with a touch of Balkan colour, and plays host to a number of endemic species such as the Italian Feather Grass, Stipa austroitalica. The protected area includes a variety of habitats, ranging from oak coppice on the northern slopes, to evergreen plantations and vast arable fields, as well as areas of pastureland dominated by wild plum and wild pear, to the dry grasslands of the south side, all of which makes it a true environmental mosaic. The variegated ecosystem is home to numerous species of insects, reptiles, mammals and birds, including the Calandra Lark with its outstanding capacity to mimic the calls of
other birds and the Lesser Kestrel, a delicate globally-threatened falcon. Also of great significance are the archaeological and social artefacts providing fascinating insights into human life in the distant past. Places of interest in the Park include the Pulo di Altamura, a huge karst depression which looks just like a deep crater with a number of recesses and caves along the northern edge, the Grotta di Lamalunga, with its outstanding archaeological relic known as the Uomo di Altamura, the fossil skeleton of a man who lived during the Middle-Upper Pleistocene (c. 150,000 years ago), the Necropolis of San Magno, near Corato, with its burial mounds dating back to the 7th-4th centuries BC, the Casette di Castigliolo site, made up of an elliptical surrounding wall 2.5 metres high and 2 km in length, with the remains of a dry-stone tower used from the 8th to the 2nd centuries BC, the Grotte del Vagno near Ruvo di Puglia with finds dating back to the Upper Neolithic, the burial mounds in the Coppe area near Ruvo di Puglia, with a tholos tomb dating back to the mid-8th century BC, the outstanding Castel del Monte with its octagonal architecture, the ruins of Castello del Garagnone near Poggiorsini and the myriads of magnificent masserias, which acted as staging posts with their sheep pens known as Jazzi and the sheep runs (or tratturi) built to regulate transhumance, when moving livestock from the Murgia to summer pastures in the Apennines and during their return in autumn. The trails in this guide aim to make these treasures better-known to a wider public, encouraging people to explore them on their mountain bikes.