Mostra fossili di Bolca

The history of Bolca fossils and scientific research

Bolca is a small village in the municipality of Vestenanova (Veneto) situated in the most easterly part of the Lessinia Regional Nature Park, almost at the head of the Alpone Valley, at 852 m above sea level. This small village has for centuries been known to palaeontologists and ordinary people for the abundance, variety and beauty of its around 50 million-year-old fossils (mainly fish and plants). The most famous of the numerous deposits present in the vicinity of Bolca are Pesciara and Monte Postale.

Bolca fish have played an important role in the history of science. Mentioned for the first time by Andrea Mattioli in 1550, they prompted heated discussions about the origins and formation of fossil layers amongst 18th century scholars during the prehistory of geology and palaeontology. An important collection started by the pharmacist from Verona, Francesco Calzolari provided the premise for these discussions. Indeed, Calzolari’s collection, which he displayed in his museum (the first known natural science museum in the world) dates back to 1571 and his materials included a number of fish from Bolca. Although fossils had been known since classical Antiquity, they only took on their modern significance in the 17th century when, having recognised that they derived from organic matter, they were identified as the remains of former living organisms. In the late 1700s, Marquis Scipione Maffei, his secretary Jean Francois Seguier and the archpriest of Grezzana (VR), Gian Giacomo Spada, showed great interest in the Bolca fossils, and this proved to be decisive in furthering knowledge about the deposits. In the same period, Count Giovanbattista Gazola assembled a superb collection of fossils, which Serafino Volta illustrated in his excellent monograph entitled “Ittiolitologia Veronese”. This book, which was commenced in 1789, is considered the first major work on fossil fish to be published in the world.

The popularity of the Bolca fossils soon spread abroad, to the point that Napoleon Bonaparte requisitioned Count Gazola’s collection, which comprises over 1200 ichthyolites (fish made of stone) and took it to Paris. And precisely during this period, the Cerato family, who had immigrated from the Altopiano dei Sette Comuni (Prealps of Vicenza), rented the “Cava Maffei” or “lastrara”, the future Pessàra, from Marquis Antonio Maffei to extract the fossils found there. And indeed in 1843 the Gazola family commissioned Giuseppe Cerato to carry out excavations. From this time onwards, for five generations, the Cerato family passed on their outstanding ability to extract fossils, which over time has turned into a veritable art.

The main “protagonists” of this exhibition are the Cerato family and their superb collection of fish, plants and many other fossils recovered over time and with great passion. In fact, for around two centuries, generations of the Cerato family have devoted themselves to hard, risky work in fossil hunting tunnels. The number of specimens extracted, which has been estimated at over one hundred thousand, and the great interest showed by the scientific world have enabled a huge number of species of fish and plants to be identified. To render the story of the Cerato family more fascinating and interesting, the exhibition also features, alongside the numerous fossils from the “Massimiliano Cerato” private collection, historic documents that describe the enthusiasm they experienced and their contacts with scholars from the period.

Starting from the year 2000, the Civic Museum of Natural History of Verona in collaboration with the Universities of Padua, Modena and Reggio Emilia, resumed excavations in Pesciara and on Monte Postale. Over the last few years, the study of fossils unearthed during palaeontological campaigns has been integrated with investigations into the subsoil. New stratigraphic data obtained through core samples and geoelectrical investigations have allowed our knowledge about the stratigraphic succession of Pesciara and Monte Postale to be extended. In addition to this, the geological context represents added value due to the Alpone Valley’s unique features. The fossiliferous deposits at Pesciara di Bolca, on Monte Postale and others in the Alpone Valley have assumed new, particular significance internationally due to recent investigations and discoveries made. In fact, paleoclimatic, paleoecological, paleobiogeographical and phylogenetic aspects of the Eocene fauna in the Alpone Valley, are of great importance for the reconstruction of the paleogeographic characteristics of the Tethys Ocean, so much so that the Alpone Valley can be regarded internationally as a “typical territory for Eocene marine fauna”. In 2020 the Syndicate Association “Val d’Alpone – fauna, flora and rocks of the Cenozoic” proposed the candidature of “Eocene Marine Biodiversity of the Alpone Valley” to be listed as a U.N.E.S.C.O. World Heritage Site. On 21 May 2021 the Management Board of the Italian National Commission gave a positive opinion to listing the candidature in the national Tentative List.

Other superb examples of fossil fish, plants, crustaceans, insects and molluscs can be observed by visiting the Natural History Museum in Verona and the “Museo dei Fossili di Bolca”, the “Famiglia Cerato. Trecento anni tra fossili e miniere” private museum and the “Museo Paleontologico di Roncà” in the Alpone Valley.


from 9th april to 30th april 2022 from 9.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m

from 1st May to 2nd October 2022 from 9.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m

from 3rd October to 30th October from 9.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m

Tourism Department

Piazza Statuto, 1
37018 Malcesine (VR), Italy
+39 045 6589904/28

Information Office

Bus stop - Malcesine center
Via Gardesana, 238
+39 045 7400044
Closed from November to March

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