La Balena della Val di Zena – Pianoro, Italy - Atlas Obscura

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La Balena della Val di Zena

Pianoro, Italy

A great white whale sculpture now sits in the location where the remains of a prehistoric cetacean were found. 


What would you say if going up the ridge of a hill, 80 kilometers from the sea, you encountered a giant whale? It’s less unlikely than you think, and a nine-meter sculpture of a whale is exactly what hikers can encounter in the vicinity of Gorgognano, in the Zena Valley, about 30 kilometers from Bologna.

The sculpture is a monument to an ancient whale whose remains were discovered in this unlikely spot. Between three and five million years ago, a Balaenoptera aucutorostrata rested for its last time on what was then a seabed. The large cetacean was covered by layers of sand, shells, debris, soil, and a mantle of grass on which small flowers grow in spring.

In 1965, a farmer working in a field found the skeleton of the cetacean, encrusted with some bivalves but well preserved. Its proximity to the coast protected it from sharks and other marine predators. Today, those remains are visible in the Geological Museum Giovanni Cappellini of Bologna. The students of the Academy of Fine Arts of the same town, led by Professor Davide Rivolta, wanted to pay homage to the discovery by creating a sculpture depicting the cetacean life-size, right in the place where the farmer found it.

Know Before You Go

The last stretch to get to the Whale is unpaved. It can be easily covered by car but it's best to park and see the whale appear on the hill by walking the last part of the trail.

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