Special Reserve of La Bessa
Large heaps of stones appear as desert dunes, giving La Bessa the unique look of a lunar landscape. Between one heap and the next, there are patches curtains of plants and shrubs, often impenetrable. This is the impression that one has on entering the Riserva Speciale della Bessa for the first time. The charm of La Bessa also lies in its history.
All this great territory, almost ten square kilometres, has been completely changed, in its aspect, by the work of thousands of men: the Ictimuli - or Vittimuli - that over two thousand years ago lived in a large part of the Biellese territory. Guided and exploited by the Romans between the 2nd and 1st century BC, they transformed La Bessa into one of the largest open air gold mines in the world.
The only thing that remains of this enormous amount of work are the heaps of stone, built when the slaves piled up stones discarded during the excavation process. Archaeological discoveries confirm the historical basis, but further research is necessary to better understand the techniques and phases of this gold mining operation.
La Bessa is a particularly interesting area, from a geological point of view (it is part of the Serra morainic hill), but also from an archaeological, naturalistic, and tourist standpoint. In fact, it has a dense network of easy trails, many of which can be travelled by mountain bike or on horseback. A paved itinerary for disabled visitors has also been set up. Through the paths, visitors can discover the different characteristics of La Bessa: heaps of stones, erratic boulders with rock engravings, stone buildings that were near the ancient mine and naturalistic aspects with multicoloured flowers in spring and beautiful autumn leaves.
The best times to visit La Bessa are spring and autumn/winter.
The Visitor Centre has a seasonal schedule, and offers illustrative material on the history of La Bessa and on hiking trails.
A Vermogno, a hamlet of Zubiena, visitors can see the Ecomuseo dell'Oro e della La Bessa (Ecomuseum of gold and the La Bessa), which houses a collection of documents and research about the manual techniques used over the centuries to search for gold. They accompanying the visitors in archaeological excursions in search of the precious metal along the river Elvo. They also organise educational workshops and practical tests for panning for gold.
Near the Ecomuseo is the gold prospecting arena, which the World Championship of Goldpanning was held in 2013.