Farra d’Alpago: the Lake of Santa Croce and the ‘Antiche vie’ (Ancient Routes) Project.

General Presentation

The ‘Antiche vie’ (Ancient Routes) project – co-financed by Farra d’Alpago council and the European Union – has been realised within the Rural Development Plan. The overall project has included the realisation, the renovation and the maintenance of the following footpaths: ‘Sentiero delle Coste’, ‘Sentiero Le Gardenate’, ‘Sentiero Col de la Cros’, ‘Sentiero Sorgente Fontana Tai’ and ‘Sentiero Militare Aspra’, as well as the recovery of historical and monumental sites such as the ‘Col de la Cros’ and ‘Bus del Ciodo’.

A few well-equipped parking and rest areas have also been created as part of the project. The interventions – that were carried out with environmental and landscape purposes as well as social, cultural, didactic and educational intentions in mind – have consisted in the realisation of a unitary project articulated in functional areas of interest, aimed at the creation of an ideal itinerary connected by a series of physical actions on the land.

The suggested itinerary, which starts from the main square in Farra d’Alpago (Piazza Cesare Battisti), and branches off northbound out of the town centre, retraces the “trails of memory” of a community – that of Farra d’Alpago, precisely – which is still very much bound to its traditions. Since the remotest of times, the morphology of this territory – carved by numerous large and small gorges – has forced its inhabitants to seek refuge in small patches of land where cultivation was made relatively easier: this is the main reason why so many little hamlets were born. At that time, the main axis of communication consisted of horse lanes that connected Farra d’Alpago with the other villages of the Alpago basin and the nearby Cansiglio forest, while the routes used for the communication between the different villages and hamlets within Farra d’Alpago itself – as well as for all the work activities – were formed by a really thick network of paths and trails, which in dialect are still called ‘Troi’ or ‘Burele’.

Through an ideal (but also physical) itinerary traced on the land, the aim here was to re-create some of the moments of that history, thanks to the recovery of part of those trails, which the elderly of the village had been using for years, walking on them daily, as they represented the only connection between the centre of Farra d’Alpago and its territory. The peculiarity of the municipal territory of Farra d’Alpago, anyway, consists in its extraordinary naturalistic and historic interest; aspects that – by coming together – are able to define a suggestive landscape, interesting from a hydrological, botanical, zoological and morphological point of view – as well as being historically and ethnographically quite unique in its own right.

And this isn’t even all – ‘Antiche vie’ is also something more. Thanks to the collaboration of many volunteers and the accounts of the elderlies, who conserved the memories of their father’s tales, this has come to constitute an important record, and it has been possible to reconstruct two important historical and monumental sites: the ‘Col de la Cros’ and the ‘Bus del Ciodo’. The first of the two sites is actually a natural ridge – that of Col Piai, whose summit is now marked by a cross, which was placed there by the inhabitants of the village at the end of WW1, as a thanksgiving act for the end of the wartime events that had upset the land in which they lived.

The second site of historical and monumental interest is the ridge of Monte Castel, which today marks the boundary between the municipalities of Farra d’Alpago and Puos d’Alpago, and that is usually referred to by the village inhabitants as ‘Bus del Ciodo’, taking its name from the Italian word ‘chiodo’ (nail): a piece of war machinery that looked similar to the symbol (a ‘nail’, precisely) that the Austrian-Hungarian officials wore fixed to their helmet; in this location, during the years of Austrian-Hungarian occupancy, was placed an Austrian howitzer. The footpath ‘Sentiero Militare dell’Aspra’ – also part of the historical and naturalistic ‘Antiche vie’ itinerary – connects Farra d’Alpago to the site of ‘Bus del Ciodo’.

The recovery of these two latter sites – that we have briefly described here – is certainly the most important aspect of the whole project, as they have allowed us to discover that war sometimes isn’t as far as we think, and that it can indeed take very little for our securities to be swept away, and for all we have to be taken from us, and be swallowed by the abyss of destruction and suffering that war brings.

Besides the two trails we have just described, the ‘Sentiero delle Coste’ and the ‘Sentiero delle Gardenate’ are also part of the ‘Antiche vie’ itinerary. Regarding the first, we can affirm with certitude that it was an ancient connecting route between the historical centre of Farra d’Alpago and the settlements and farmhouses set above the village. This path surely was a paved route, completely covered in cobbled stones, and fenced to the sides by dry stone walls.

As for the second trail – the ‘Sentiero delle Gardenate’ – we can tell that it was actually a secondary road, which connected the centre of the village and the smaller inhabited settlements scattered in the locality of ‘Piai’, through a short crossing. Finally, it has also been possible to recover the site of socio-cultural interest of ‘Sorgente Fontana Tai’ and the homonimous path (known as ‘Sentiero Sorgente Fontana Tai’) – also part of the historical heritage of the territory of Farra d’Alpago – by rescuing them from negligence and a state of abandonment.

A short description of the itineraries follows:

Sentiero Militare Aspra’. Starting point: end of via Bruno Buozzi. Difficulty: medium. Lenght: 860 m. Altitude difference: 230 m. Duration: approx. 1h30.

Sentiero delle Coste’. Starting point: end of via Brustolon. Difficulty: medium. Lenght: 260 m. Altitude difference: 70 m. Duration: 0,30 minutes.

Sentiero Le Gardenate’. Starting point: halfway through the ‘Sentiero delle Coste’. Difficulty: medium. Lenght: 350 m. Altitude difference: 35 m. Duration: 0,20 minutes.

Sentiero Col de la Cros’. Starting point: SS28 Provincial Road. Difficulty: easy. Lenght: 500 m. Altitude difference: 34 m. Duration: 0,20 minutes.

Sentiero Sorgente Fontana Nai’. Starting point: SS28 Provincial Road. Difficulty: medium. Lenght: 360 m. Altitude difference: 58 m. Duration: 0,30 minutes.

Sentiero Sorgente Fontana Nai

Since the remotest of times, for the men settled in these areas, keeping water springs in good conditions has always been considered one of the most important aspects for survival. Natural springs were the only way to provide water for the livestock, which were employed for heavy transportation works and for other agricultural activities. The animals represented, together with the seasonal harvest, the sustainment of the families. Around the fountain men would meet, and women would come and collect water for domestic uses. They made use of the ‘thempedon’ – which is a typical tool composed of a curved piece of wood, whose extremities both had an iron hook; with this tool, they could transport on their back two water buckets at a time.

The ‘Fontana Nai’ served, in particular, the small agricultural settlements located further uphill and the little urban centres situated in the lower part of the village. In the past century, twelve farmhouses could be counted upstream from this fountain, and they were all benefitting uniquely from this drinkable water. During the events of WW1, which in the period of the Austrian-Hungarian occupancy in 1917-18 directly involved the territory of Farra d’Alpago, the Royal Italian Army was engaged in fights against the Austrian-Hungarian troops, and – protected by the natural trenches of ‘Col Piai’ – it benefitted from this spring for its water supply, as it was reachable on foot through the path that descended down the hill. The spring continued to remain active until the 1950s, when the public aqueduct was laid; in the period between 1952 and 1966 the fountain was then abandoned. Later, it was re-discovered and used again when the pipes of the community’s main water supply were seriously damaged during the 1966 floods. With time, and the progress and development of the village, this spring – like many others – fell into oblivion, and people forgot how important these sources of fresh water had been for their forefathers’ survival. Because of the lack of care, we were almost irremediably going to lose a uniquely important site, part of the cultural and historic legacy of this territory.

Intervention. Thanks to this restoration, carried out by competent workforce, it was possible to retrace the history and intervene in time in order to rescue what remained of this ancient spring, and – with a physiological restoration – to completely retrieve the water pool. The restoration has brought to light the original shape of this spring in its completeness: outside, it presents the typical light-brown square stones that can often be found in the rural buildings of the area; in the interior, instead, it shows the characteristic ‘cocolà’, which is made of river pebbles, also of a light colour.

The intervention has consisted in the reopening of the old track, over which the side-walls and the actual material that was to the sides of the road had collapsed, because of the lack of maintenance over the past few years. Thanks to the cutting of the trees grown on the old roadway and the removal of the debris on the pavement – that had accumulated over time – this old route could finally be re-opened to the public. During the restoration works, in the first 40-metres stretch, an old pavement was discovered. It was then seen to clean the remainder of the trail, bringing it completely back to a new life.

The track progresses along the edge above the fountain and then it ascends upstream southwards, for a length of about 400 m, till the intersection with the actual ‘Sentiero Col de la Cros’ (described below). The average incline of the trail is 22%, with a halfway level section of about 120 m. The suggested itinerary crosses a thick woodland, mostly composed of Willow, Hazel, Linden, Hop Hornbeam, Oak – and other trees. Nowadays, the owners of these plots of land still use the brushwood obtained here from the cleaning of the woods.

An Ancient Road. This trail is the remainder of what once was a completely paved horse lane, whose pavement is still clearly visible in its first part. The road, of likely Medieval origin, was built during the Della Scala domination. At that time, the powerful Captain and Governor of Belluno – Cangrande Della Scala – ruled the province and these lands; he then nominated, in 1323, Endrighetto da Bongaio as Count and Master of Alpago. At the beginning of the 1300s, there must surely have been some connecting routes that linked the antique Langobardic ‘Fara’ to the shepherds’ communities that lived in the grazing lands (and in the ‘malghe’) southeast of Alpago, along the routes that led through the rich Cansiglio forest towards Friuli. 

At that time, in fact, “Fara becomes a stable settlement for the Longobards. This is proven not only by its name (fara means ‘family’, but then also ‘group’ and –  by extension – ‘village’), but by its situation in a strategic location too. What today is Farra d’Alpago then lied in a territory far removed from the main communication routes, and the Longobards used this precaution when they had to choose a place where to set their families and their reserves, in order not to leave them too exposed to the possible offensives of their enemies, who on the other hand may be advancing on larger routes. It is this situation of isolation, in the folkmoot of the Bishops summoned by the Patriarch of Aquileia, Bertrando, in which the decision would be taken – in 1339 – of building a road to connect Friuli and the territory of Belluno with an opening towards the north, which from the Cansiglio would descend towards Farra d’Alpago, then touch Puos and Garna (from the Langobard ‘wart’ or warn’; fortified place), to then continue through Pieve, turning from there towards Tignes to descend to the Ponte delle Schiette, finally grafting itself onto the road that continued northbound – the Strada d’Alemagna (a route of probably Ottonian origin – 9th century –, whose creation may be connected to this circumstance).

From 1420 to 1797 – that is to say, for 377 years – the region of Alpago was annexed to the territories of the ‘Dominante’ (Venice), and – since 1548 – thanks to the exploitation of the woods of Alpago, it saw a period of great prosperity. This was the way that was usually travelled by the Chancellors (‘Rettori’) of Belluno, who held administrative and judiciary tasks and were elected by the Major Council (‘Maggior Consiglio’) and the Captains of the Woods (‘Capitani del Bosco’), in turn elected by the Commissioners (‘Provveditori’) and Masters (‘Patroni’) of the Arsenale, who were entrusted with the forest’s custody.

During the French domination first (1797-1798), and the Austrian rule afterwards (1798-1866), the arterial road that connected the plains of  Alpago to the mountain pastures – as well as the woods of Cansiglio – was called Strada Comunale della Posta (‘Post Council Road’), which also marked the boundary between the territories of Farra d'Alpago and Puos. After the realisation of the new Strada delle Coste – whose works started under the Austrian domination, but of likely Napoleonic origin – the old road fell into disuse as main axis. It then became used only by the farmers and shepherds of the surrounding small rural settlements. As with many other great ancient roads, it was built in a dugout and fenced to its sides with dry stone walls, realised with the typical square light-brown local stones, which held the ground firmly in place.

Sentiero Col de la Cros

This ridge – originally simply called ‘Piai’ – was the theatre of military actions on the day following the 12th and last battle of the Isonzo, better known as ‘Caporetto Defeat’ (Disfatta di Caporetto), which took place between October and November 1917, and saw the collision between the Royal Italian Army and the Imperial Austrian-Hungarian Army. In November 1917 – after having built a simple-type trench by using only natural material – the brigades of the Royal Italian Army were positioned right on this hill, along the ridge which rises from the ‘Case di Nato– or ‘Porte di Nato’ – to the actual ‘Col de la Cros’. They placed themselves at the back of the ridge, which offered good shelter from the Austrian-Hungarian troops, which – coming from Friuli through the Cansiglio forest – at the time were already flooding in other parts of the Veneto. In those hours, they positioned themselves upstream, about 700-800 metres to the north-east, just below the village of Valdenogher, in the locality of Termen (later renamed ‘Bus del Ciodo’).

The simple trenches the Italian troops had dug – in order to hide from the enemy coming strongly from the Cansiglio – were made of small shelters or holes, 70-80 m apart from one another, and with a depth of about 50 cm. The placements were hidden by bushes, wickers and nets (for camouflage), and here and there they had a light armoured structure, formed by iron plates that could protect from the pellets of the shrapnel and from the splinters of the grenades of smaller calibre. On the night of 10th Nov 1917, a harsh battle took place right here, with casualties. At the end of the conflict, a majestic cross was raised on the top of the hill by the inhabitants of the village, as a thanksgiving symbol for the end of the battle, which had affected them directly. Still nowadays, for the people of Farra dAlpago, this hill remains the Col de la Cros (‘Hill of the Cross’).

Reclamation of the Area. Witnessing the conflict (even though a hundred years have passed by now), are several finds: splinters of artillery bullets – probably shrapnel – and some lead pellets found during the excavations for war devices. The research was executed by the Cultural and Historic Association ‘I Mascabroni’, based in Domegge di Cadore.

The Intervention. Being this a site of historical and monumental importance, it was preferred not to intervene heavily with actions that could compromise the state of the site as it had been left in the past hundred years. For this reason, the intervention has consisted only in the cleaning of the woodland’s undergrowth, and the cutting of some unstable trees. Thanks to the youthful memories narrated by the owner of the plot, and the accounts of his father, it has also been possible to reconstruct the old simple-kind military placements.

Sentiero Militare dell’Aspra

This trail, dating from the Medieval period (14th century), used to connect the village of Farra d’Alpago with the hamlet of Valdenogher. Once reached the Mount Castel ridge, this route merged with the Strada Comunale della Posta, which on its south-eastern side progressed towards the ‘Bosco d’Alpago’ (now ‘Bosco del Cansiglio’).

The Austro-Hungarian troops used the ‘Sentiero Militare dell’Aspra’ during the Great War on the day following the 12th and last battle of the Isonzo (Oct. 1917); in particular, the trail was so-called after the war events that in the night between Nov 9th and 10th involved the village of Farra d’Alpago directly. After that, General Luigi Cadorna gave the order to start the retreat, thus setting the new defense line near the border between Veneto and Trentino.

In the second period of Austro-Hungarian occupancy, after the defense of the Piave river, a large calibre howitzer was placed right here; during that period, for all the people of Farra d’Alpago and surrounding hamlets, this site became known as ‘Bus del Ciodo’, taking its name from the Italian word ‘chiodo’ (nail): a piece of war machinery that looked the same as the symbol – a ‘nail’, precisely – that Austrian-Hungarian officials wore fixed to the central-higher part of their helmets.

Right on this ridge, just a bit further upwards and eastwards, at that time there was also a farmhouse run by its owner, Luigi Peterle (known as ‘Valdet’). An attentive observer will notice various explosion craters in this location: you can spot two on both sides of the ridge – above as well as underneath the conjunction between ‘Sentiero Militare dell’ Aspra’ and Strada Comunale della Posta – and one more above the ex-farmhouse.

The Area of theBus del Ciodo’. This place was the scenery of violent conflicts on the day following the 12th and last battle of the Isonzo, better known as ‘Disfatta di Caporetto’ (Caporetto Defeat), which took place between Oct 24th and Nov 12th, 1917, and saw the collision of the Royal Italian Army and the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Army. The Austro-Hungarian troops used the ‘Sentiero Militare dell’Aspra’ during the Great War on the day following the twelfth and last battle of the Isonzo (Nov 10th, 1917), which had started in October; in particular, the trail was so-called after the events that during the night between Nov 9th and 10th saw the direct involvement of the village of Farra d’Alpago.

Recovery of the Area. Testimonies of the events (narrated above) that took place here – even if 100 years have gone by since then – are the great number of shell cases shot by Italian rifles (around 300) and some pellets, found during the search for war devices, which was executed by the Cultural and Historic Association ‘I Mascabroni’, based in Domegge di Cadore.

Intervention. Being this an historic and monumental site, it was preferred not to intervene too heavily with an action that could compromise the state of the site, as it had been left over the past 100 years; for this reason, the intervention consisted only in the cleaning up of the woodland undergrowth and the cutting of some unstable trees.

Return from Farra to Alpago

Return from Italy-Tours-in-Nature

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