Fusine: a Set of 
Turquiose Lakes, Jewels in a Casket of Emerald Forests.

General Presentation

The Park of Fusine, which befalls in the municipality of Tarvisio – in the north-eastern corner of Friuli, province of Udine – is an institution which was created in 1971 by the Azienda delle Foreste of the autonomous region Friuli-Venezia Giulia, which is the regulating body that manages several properties within the region.

Its functions are aesthetic – in the sense of the valorization/enhancement of the basin of the Laghi (‘Bacino dei Laghi’), with the backdrop of the Julian Alps (Alpi Giulie); recreational, for the large presence of tourists that frequent the area annually; didactic, for the schools that come here from across the region in large numbers; and finally scientific, for the important meteorological, hydrological and biological studies that are being carried out in the area by groups of researchers.

The Park is situated within the band of forest between the moraines (known in Italian as ‘fascia inframorenica’) that divides the two lakes of Lago Superiore and Lago Inferiore from the valley crossed by the stream called Rio dei Laghi di Fusine (average altitude 950 m), in an area where converge the boundaries of three different countries (Italy, Austria and Slovenia). The Park has an effective surface of 45 hectares.

As a matter of fact, however, the entire surface of this territory – the forest heritage known as Foresta di Tarvisio, included within the Valle dei Laghi (around 700 hectares) – can be considered an annex to the Park, as the forms of land use and management are so bland as not to alter in any significant way the environment and the vegetation. The functions and the destination given to the natural context of the lakes find confirmation and forms of protection in the current town-planning legislation enforced by the municipality of Tarvisio.

The environment and the landscape of the Park (and the surrounding area) are extraordinarily rich in natural and aesthetic values: mountains, such as Monte Ponza – with as many as four peaks bearing the same name (and collectively known as Le Ponze; highest altitutde 2,274 m) –; Cima Strugova (2,265 m); Monte Veunza (2,533 m); Monte Termine; the important chain of Monte Mangart – that, with 2,677 m, is the highest peak in the area –; Monte Traunig (1,486 m) and Monte Buconig (2,076 m), which form together a rugged, irregular relief of a calcareous-Dolomite nature, disposed in the guise of an amphitheatre; streamslakes; abundance of water – as well as a particular flora and vegetation (Sub-Alpine spruce forest in the upper band; montane spruce forest in the lower plane, influenced by the local micro-climate).

A lot of the vegetation just described grows on a congeries of rocks that can be counted amongst the most notable and largest erratic rocks found in the Alps (most notably, the Masso Pirona and Masso Marinelli).

In the Park there is also a noteworthy fauna, for its richness and variety; one can see, for example: European Roe-Deer (Capreolus capreolus); Red Deer (Cervus elaphus); Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra); European Hare (Lepus europaeus); Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos); Western Capercaille (Tetrao urogallus); Trout (Salmo trutta); Arctic Charr (Salvelinus alpinus), which constitute an ecological set of irreplaceable value for the knowledge of the montane habitats and the general naturalistic physiognomy of the region Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

The most notable anthropic (human) works present in the area of the basin of the Laghi are given by two ancient malghe (old dairy pens): the Alpe del Lago and Alpe Tamer, and also by some small Rifugio (mountain huts): Capanna Edelweiss (926 m); Capanna Ghezzi (1,070 m; unattended); Rifugio Zacchi (1,383 m) and Capanna Ponza (1,657 m). Some of these buildings are described in more detail below.

Besides the natural environment – which constitutes the basic, irreplaceable feature of this territory – the Park includes also some important complementary, permanent initiatives, such as: guided visits by experts; study and research activities; scientific observations; the projection of slideshows and films; conferences and public debates, in order to increase the spread of the local naturalistic culture; general, scientific and special facilities (walking trails and paths, signs and boards, rest areas and hydro-meteorological stations).

Finally, the Park (freely accessible to visitors all year round, with an average annual presence of over 50,000 visitors) has at last – for the continuity of the flora and fauna that live in these lands, historically divided by political boundaries, but homogeneous from a naturalistic point of view – made its own the goal of strengthening the relationships of mutual friendship among the three neighbouring populations (Italian, Austrian, Slovenian).

The Mangart

The Mangart is a mountain of the Julian Alps (Alpi Giulie): 2,677 m high; it is the fourth peak, for altitude, in this part of the Alps, and it is located between the municipality of Tarvisio, in Friuli, and Plezzo (Slovenia), along the border between the two countries.

It is the main peak of the mountain chain bearing the same name, which extends between the Passo del Predil (1,156 m) and the Sella di Rateče. It is united by a thin crest to the group of Monte Gialuz (Jalovec in Slovenian, 2.645 m) to the south, from which it is being separated by the Val Coritenza to the west and the ridge – and valley – of the Planica to the east.

The severe northern walls of the central chain of the Mangart tower with a long ridge over the basin of the Laghi di Fusine, and offer diverse – more or less demanding – Alpine climbs, especially on the secondary rock walls of the Piccolo Mangart di Coritenza.

The first documented ascension of this mountain was carried out by the Austrian naturalist Franz von Hohenwart in 1794, but it is very likely that the peak had already been conquered by chamois hunters previously. Despite the verticality and the thickness of its rock walls, in the period after the first war the Mangart had already been the theatre of some important mountaineering enterprises – such as the first ‘via’ that was opened on the northern wall of the Piccolo Mangart in 1931. In the period after the second world war, the walls of the Piccolo Mangart and the nearby peak of the Veunza were the theatre of new climbing enterprises. During the 1970s there were further mountaineering enterprises.

The Rifugios (Mountain Huts)

The Rifugio Luigi Zacchi is found in the municipality of Tarvisio, right under the western wall of the Ponza Grande (2,274 m); it is immersed in the woodland, and inserted in the moraine amphitheatre formed by the four peaks known as Le Ponze, the summit of the Veunza and the Mangart, which enclose the area protected by the beautiful Park of Fusine.

In 1919, on the remnants of an old hunting lodge, was erected a first structure called ‘Capanna Piemonte’; this was crushed by an avalanche in 1932. The current structure was inaugurated in 1947 as a ‘Rifugio’ belonging to the CAI (Alpine Club) of Tarvisio, and subsequently named after a Colonel of the ‘Alpini’, Luigi Zacchi.

The building – property of the ‘Agenzia Regionale Foreste Friuli V.G.’ (the Regional Forestry Commission) – is built in wood and stone on two floors, with a total sleeping capacity of 20 people; it is open from Mid-June to Mid-September.

To reach the mountain hut, from the National Road that takes to Fusine from Tarvisio, one turns to the right after the village towards the Laghi di Fusine; from the Lago Superiore, one can then follow trail no. 512 (walking time 1 h).

The Capanna Ponza, instead, is a small shelter used mainly for forestry purposes, and situated at the foothills of the Ponza Piccola. It can be reached from Rifugio Zacchi by walking the CAI-marked trail no.512.

The ‘Capanna Edelweiss’ Offers a “Fairy-like” Sight

Imagine a “house of the faires” – something that has always been part of the classic, common imagination of any child: the wooden house where one can still breathe the woodland – and the scents of freshly baked cakes too! It is within this magical context that is immersed the Capanna Edelweiss: situated in the so-called ‘Foresta di Tarvisio, the structure is reflected in the turquoise waters of the Lago Inferiore di Fusine, which mirrors also the majestic amphitheatre of the Alpi Giulie (Julian Alps).

The Capanna Edelweiss has been built in the 1930s, but it was the object of a recent renovation that has nonetheless kept the original wooden structure and, above all, its authentic charme. The ‘albergo’ is open all year round. The typical dishes of the local tradition on offer are those that can be found in most mountain areas, but with a local twist: enriched with herbs, fruit and mushrooms of all sorts, they will hopefully meet the tastes of those who know how to enjoy authentic flavours and quality products. In the winter season, the Capanna Edelweiss is an ideal starting point in order to enjoy the offer of the region known as ‘Tarvisiano’. From here start, in fact, several cross-country slopes that zigzag the surrounding woodlands; ski-mountaineering routes in the amphitheatre of the Mangart (one of the highest peaks in the Julian Alps) and, not far from here, a carrousel of ski slopes underneath the enchanting hamlet on top of Monte Lussari, where is also a sanctuary. A stay in the Capanna Edelweiss is therefore advisable to whoever wishes to savour a holiday in strict contact with nature, and in a simple but welcoming environment.

The “Geo-site Laghi di Fusine

Easily reachable via a tarred road that leads to the Lago Superiore, around the lake develops a network of easy trails. The Landscape here is quintessentially Alpine, while the geo-site is also a Site of Communitarian Importance (EEU SIC).

A product of the action exerted by the glaciers over the course of their last phase of advancement, the ‘Conca di Fusine’ hosts two atmospheric lakes of ‘sbarramento morenico’, formed by blocked moraines during the subsequent withdrawing phase of the glaciers (circa 15.000-16.000 years ago). Amongst the different erratic boulders (‘massi erratici’) – translated at first, and then abandoned – that can be found here, stands out the colossal one known as ‘Masso Pirona’, presumably among the largest in the entire Alpine range. The mountainous group of the Mangart – an imposing calcareous-dolomitic massif – completes the natural setting of this geo-site.

The basin of the lakes (“Conca dei Laghi di Fusine”), and the valley that descends towards the village that bears the same name in the Val Romana (Fusine in Val Romana), clearly show the typical ‘U-profile’ of the glacial valleys, and constitute one of the better known montane settings of the region.

The northern walls of Monte Mangart (2,677 m) and of the Ponze (2,274 m) are being mirrored in the turquoise waters of two small lakes – one situated at the altitude of 924 m above sea level (‘Lago Inferiore’), the other at 928 m (‘Lago Superiore’).

The origin of the two lakes is linked to the action of two glaciers that date to the Late Quaternary. These are, in fact, so-called “laghi di sbarramento morenico” – that is, lakes created (and delimited) by blocked deposits of glacial origin: the moraines. These are constituted by rock boulders, detritus, sand and lime, eroded and directly transported by the glacier in its advancing phase; subsequently abandoned during the withdrawing phase. In the case of Fusine, one can effectively consider this to be the last, brief phase of glacial expansion in the Alps, dating to around 15.000-16.000 years ago (Bühl phase), followed by the definitive withdrawal of the glaciers. The two lakes present a particular water supply system, in part subterranean.

The ‘Lago Superiore’ – with a quadrangular shape and a very variable surface – is about 150.000 m², and is being supplied by some small water courses that descend from the slopes of the amphitheatre composed by the mountain chain Ponza Grande-Mangart.

The most important of these streams is the Rio Vaisonz, which flows into the ‘Lago Superiore’ in correspondence of its SE corner, while the entire northern side of the lake shows evidence of a progressive sinking and filling.

The waters of the ‘Lago Superiore’ slowly drain into the ‘Lago Inferiore’, seeping under the moraine bar, with an outflow which is relatively regulated by the subtle particles present in suspension at the bottom of the lake.

The ‘Lago Inferiore’ is considerably smaller than the ‘L. Superiore’ (about 90,000 m²), but deeper: the maximum depth is in fact of about 24 m, against the sole 10 m of depth of the ‘Lago Superiore’. The waters of the ‘Lago Inferiore’ feed the Rio del Lago – the only emissary of both stretches of water. Surveys with a sound have revealed the existence of abundant fine sediment, perpetually suspended in the water of both lakes, also for the conjoint effect of the underwater pools of resurgence, in the midst of a tangle of trunks and branches.

Along the evident moraine strip that separates the two basins, one can observe some blocks of rock of noticeable dimensions. These are in fact erratic boulders (‘massi erratici’); that is, large rocks transported over the surface of the glacier as it was moving along. One can distinguish two main ‘boulders’, dedicated respectively to two illustrious scholars of the past: Olinto Marinelli (‘Masso Marinelli’) and Giulio Andrea Pirona (‘Masso Pirona’). It is very likely that the ‘boulder’ dedicated to the latter – who already described the ancient moraines of Friuli during the 1800s – is the largest ‘masso erratico’ known to exist in the southern sector the of Alps (circa 30,000 m²).

A few hundred meters to the north of the ‘Lago Superiore’, a vast clearing – almost level – testifies to the past existence of a third lake, now completely filled up. This became the location of the maximum deposition – in late- and post-glacial period –of a conspicuous supply of solid material, originating from the surrounding mountain slopes. Its presence has ‘saved’ the current ‘Lago Superiore’ from a fast extinction  which is in any case inevitable, in the long run.

The Two Lakes of Fusine

The two lakes of Fusine, once known with the German name of Weissenfels, show themselves to the visitor at the bottom of a long glacial valley that descends – in the guise of ‘stairs’ – from the walls of Monte Mangart. They can be accessed from the hamlet of Fusine in about half an hour via a country road that from the eastern end of the village rises along the Rio del Lago through dense conifer woodlands.

The Fusine catchment basin is limited to the north by the Col del Lago (1,005 m), to the east by Monte Svadesica (1,284 m) and the Ponza Piccola (1,925 m), the Porticina (1844 m), the Ponza Grande (2,274 m), the Ponza di Mezzo (2,228 m) and the Ponza di Dietro (2,242 m); to the south by the Cima Strugova (2,265 m), the Veunza (2,339 m), the Mangart (2,678 m), the Forcella del Mangart (2,173 m) and Monte Traunig (2,179 m); to the west by Monte Buconig (2,066 m), the Picco di Mezzodì (2,062 m), Monte Col Larice (1,491 m) and the Col Rotondo (1,486 m). The surface of the basin is of about 15,65 km².

A wide moraine – about 100 m high – keeps the Lago Inferiore as if it was suspended and separate, and reaches the maximum elevation in correspondence of the main axis of the valley, while to the sides it presents two depressions. In the eastern depression runs the Rio del Lago, which is the emissary of the Lago Inferiore; the western one is occupied by a marshy plain. A second moraine – about 30 m high – separates the Lago Inferiore from the Lago Superiore. A characteristic of these moraines is the presence of large erratic boulders, some of which reach really noticeable dimensions. Past and more recent flood events can be noticed along the slopes that take to the lakes. Also, in the upper part of the valley of Lavine (‘Valle delle Lavine’), some inter-glacial conglomerates can be appreciated.

The Lago Superiore

From the southern extremity of the Lago Inferiore a trail takes – in a few minutes – to the Lago Superiore across the above mentioned moraine bar, scattered with erratic boulders. The water expanse of the Lago Superiore is situated at 936 m; its shape is quadrangular, with the major sides oriented to the east and west. The eastern shore is jagged, while the northern shore terminates towards the west with a large inlet. The southern shore slopes down into an alluvial plain, often muddy, while the other three sides are occupied by moraine deposits covered with conifers and some scattered large boulders, some of which emerge from the water – especially along the western side.

The water level of the lake is not constant; it varies a lot according to precipitation, as it lacks an emissary at surface level. In fact, in periods of strong drought, one can have a lowering of the water level up to 4-5 metres. The area that is most affected is obviously the southern shore, where the lake tends to become boggy. The perimeter of the lake is of about 1,850 m; the maximum width is 375 metres, and the maximum length 520 m. The development of the entire shoreline is of 1,36 km.

The Lago Superiore is shallower than the Lago Inferiore. The bottom of the lake is visible from almost anywhere, and it is often covered in algae mats; its waters, however, lack the marvelous colours of the Lago Inferiore. As for the former, however, its surface freezes throughout most of the winter. Surface inflow is completely missing. The waters coming from the high valleys – mainly from the Mangart and the Ponze – are usually assimilated by the floods. Even the emissary is subterranean; water loss happens mainly through an inlet on the eastern side. 

The Lago Inferiore

This lake, enchanting for the deep azure colour of its waters, is a real jewel amongst the dark green of the surrounding spruce forests; it lies at 928 m. It has a roughly triangular shape with the base facing north and the apex facing south. The perimeter is of about 1,400 m; its maximum length is of 480 m on the west-east axis, while the maximum width is about 350 m along the perpendicular axis. The whole area is around 92,300 m². The maximum depth registered is of 24 m, while the average depth is 10,35 m.

This lake freezes during almost all of winter; the thickness of the ice can reach 70 cm. Thawing starts always from the southern edge, where the inflow tributaries drain out. The latter are subterranean; they come from the Lago Superiore; flow rate is regular, and little influenced by precipitations, as the lake functions like a reservoir.

Its emissary – the Rio del Lago – is, instead, rather superficial and regulated by a small dam that allows the lake to always keep a rather constant water level. About 250 m to the west of the Lago Inferiore, in a small basin (known as Prato Plasce), one can find two pools partially covered by marshy vegetation, residue of two small extinct lakes that have completely dried out. Their shape is irregular, broadly oval; their surface is of about 250 m² each, while depth varies from half to one meter.

Walk from Scicchizza to the Laghi di Fusine

The main approach is from Tarvisio: one has to take the road that exits in direction of the pass that connects the valley with Slovenia (Passo del Predil; 1,156 m). Without reaching it, in correspondence of the village of Fusine, one should bear the deviation to the right, and thus rise along the road that takes towards the lakes. Just after the houses of Scicchizza, one can individuate on the right the beginning of the so-called ‘Sentiero del Lago’ (the ‘Lake Trail’; 857 m), indicated by a large wooden board (there is also a wide car-park).

The Beautiful Site of Monte Lussari

Monte Lussari is a jewel of incomparable beauty, from where you can enjoy a magnificent view over superb peaks. Mount Lussari is not only a place of great naturalistic interest; it is also a sanctuary – a symbol of peaceful encounter of three European cultures: Italian, German and Slovenian. From the 16th century onwards, this has been the destination for numerous pilgrims coming from the three countries; therefore, today it can be considered – in all respects – a “European sanctuary”.

The legend of Monte Lussari. An old legend has it that, in the year 1360, a shepherd from Camporosso (Zabnice) was looking for some stray sheep. He found them on the very mountain top of Mount Lussari (Visarie/Luschariberg), kneeling around a juniper bush. To his amazement, the shepherd found in this bush a statue of the Virgin Mary. He took the statue to a parish priest in Camporosso, but – miraculously – the following day the statue was found back on the top of Mount Lussari. Once more, it was brought to Camporosso, but the next day it was found again on Mount Lussari. The Patriarch of Aquileia, when informed about this curious phenomenon, ordered for a chapel to be built in the spot where the statue was found. No trace of the original chapel remains today; however, the walls of the second chapel can still be seen in the present church choir. In 1786 the Austrian Hungarian Emperor, Joseph II, forbade the saying of mass in the chapel – a fact which temporarily stopped pilgrimage to the site. Less that four years later – on Sept. 25th, 1790 – Emperor Leopold withdrew the interdiction, and the statue was returned from Camporosso, where it had been kept during the prohibition.

Mount Lussari was heavily impacted by the turmoils of war in 1915: when an incendiary missile struck the house under the chapel,  a fire broke out and spread, destroying much of the building. The church was rebuilt after the war and re-dedicated on June, 24th, 1925. Shortly before the fire, the statue of the Virgin Mary was moved to Camporosso, and during the ensuing years it travalled to Villach, Klagenfurt, Dravograd, and Maribor, until it was brought back to its righful place at the re-dedication of the church in 1925. All the murals and paintings in the church are the work of a Slovenian painter, Tone Kralj, who executed them between 1930 and 1960: the mural on the arch is of Mary Comfort of the Afflicted (‘Consolatrix afflictorum’) and Mary Refuge of Sinners (Auxilium christianorum). The paintings in the presbitery represent Mary’s Annunciation, the Flight into Egypt, the boy Jesus in the Temple and Mary at the Foot of the Cross; the ceiling mural depicts Mary’s coronation. The stained glass windows were installed in the years 1960-61, and are the work of Conte Riccardi di Colloredo.

Throughout its history, this shrine has been a destination for pilgrims from the adjacent regions of Carinthia, Carnia, Krain, Friuli – and beyond. An ancient pilgrim’s route known as ‘Cammino Celeste’ (‘Celestial Way’; Latin: Iter aquileiense; German: Aquileiaweg) connects several shrines, churches and chapels between Aquileia and Camporosso. The popular Way of St. James, which originates in Graz, also passes through nearby Villach. The sanctuary normally opens for pilgrims in June (consistently from about the 24th of June onwards, but on weekends also in May), and it closes on the first week of October.               

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