Dolomites Myths: for Each Magical Mountain, a Magical Story...

The Dolomites myths represent a body of hundreds – if not thousands – of stories related to these magnificent mountains.

The "Monti Pallidi" ('Pale mountains', as the Dolomites are sometimes called in Italian this name in itself being mythical) have always inspired a sense of awe in the populations who lived at their feet, and today they do trigger the same feeling in whoever visits them. What few people know, however, is that because of their peculiar shapes and colours, many of these beautiful mountains also conceal incredible stories and legends, born out of an attempt to explain so much wonder – or, especially in the old times, out of awe and fear.

It is impossible, then, to give here a detailed account of all the innumerable stories, tales, myths and legends related to the Dolomites – as well as to remember all the mysterious creatures who are said to roam freely on them and to inhabit their peaks and meadows, woodlands and rocks – but certainly, as in the natural world, at the mythical level too for each habitat there are different ‘inhabitants’: and so there are creatures of the pastures, of the woods and of the rocks – be it fairies, witches, wizards, or mythical kings and queens.

The most impressive Dolomite mountains will all have a story – or many – peculiar to them; sometimes, these are very poetic – as for instance in the case of Catinaccio/Rosengarten (see below).

But there are also ‘creatures’ who are said to be found pretty much anywhere, even though they may take a different name according to the region, and sometimes even within an individual valley – as the archetypal creature of the woods related to the ‘wild man’ or ‘green man’ present in most Central and Northern European traditions, and which takes a different name in various parts of the Dolomites (for example, it is known as ‘salvanel’ in the valleys of Belluno).

It is particularly interesting to see what happens wherever there is an important shaft opening up in the ground – such as for instance at the Bus de la Lum on the Cansiglio Plateau, at the edge of the Dolomites: this is a huge crater that has always enthralled viewers with its dark, lurking entrance, and therefore a repository of so many stories: some true, some less so, but in any case always intriguing.

But then, of course – at least for those who believe in them – there are also more subtle levels of energy in action: these are the so-called ‘lay lines’ (otherwise known as ‘power points’), which are said to connect several notable features in a given territory.

It certainly is no chance, in my view, that often there are buildings – or natural features such as rocky outcrops or caves – in very particular positions, sometimes even aligned in sequence.

Surrounding the aforementioned "Bosco del Cansiglio" (Cansiglio Forest), for instance, there is a system of churches that seem to create like an ‘energetic boundary’ around the area, such as the Santissima at the Livenza Springs and the Madonna del Runal (its name curiously evoking the runes) on the opposite side, in the Alpago region (also strangely close to the Alchimist’s House in Valdenogher) – just to mention a couple.

Of course, many of those buldings were also erected in correspondence of long-forgotten places of Pagan worship – but that is a whole different story altogether.


Legends and Sagas of the Belluno Province

The ‘Anguane’

The ‘anguane’, on the contrary, are mythical female figures resembling witches, sometimes with nails instead of hair, who are said to inhabit rivers, caves and other holes; most times they act as a primeval sort of 'water Goddesses', but often they also keep guard to caves, as openings on to the otherworld.

Theanguana’ is a creature linked to the water, with characteristics partly similar to those of a nymph and typical of the Alpine mythology. Legends that concern it are particularly widespread in the Friuli region, where we find her often in town and villages along the course of the Tagliamento – in particular in the Val d'Arzino and the Tagliamento Valley itself.

They are present also in the Ladin valleys of the Dolomites and in the NE of Italy, especially in the territory of the Upper Vicentino and in the Cimbrian territories of the mountains north of Verona. As well as in the Veneto, traces of this ancient mythical figure can be found also in the valleys of eastern (Val Camonica) and western (Valli di Canzo and Vallassina) Lombardy.

The histories on the ‘anguane’ (agane in the traditions of Friuli, Carnia and Ladinia) are connected above all to mountainous regions, but as mythical characters they are sometimes present also in other areas – such as, for example, in the folklore of the Laguna di Grado and Marano, on the Friuli coast. The ‘anguane’ present different characteristics and natures according to the various legends and the areas; they are also known with different names such as subiane, aganis, ogane, gane, vivane, pagane, zubiane, acquane, longane.

The most ancient use of the term seems to date back to the 13th century; as characters, they are present in the ancient Saga dei Fanes – the count mentioned below. The mythical 'Kingdom of the Fanes' is located in the area that still bears their name, today also protected by the Fanes-Sennes-Braies Nature Park.

Generally speaking, the ‘anguane’ are represented as spirits of nature akin to the nymphs of the Roman world (most likely, they were the original model of the myth), whose characters are very often being fused with those of the undines and other figures of German mythology. In some areas of Friuli, their myth becomes superimposed (and confused) with that of the krivapete (creatures typical of caves and mountains), with whom they share many features.

Some stories maintain that the ‘anguane’ represent the souls of suffering women, but according to many other traditions they were creatures of the woods, dedicated to a Pagan cult (the myth would evidently merge with the reality of shamanistic religions still present in Friuli and Carnia until at least the 17th century); mostly, however, they were considered non-human figures belonging to the world of spirits.

They are usually described as young women, often very attractive and seductive; some other time, however, they appear as being half-women and half-animal (snake or fish). In other stories they appear as old women that only come out at night and who always manage to disappear before anybody can see their face. In the legends of Friuli they are almost invariably dressed in white, while other traditions say that they love bright colours such as red and orange (more rarely, they appear in ragged black clothes).

The other common element on which most of the legends seem to agree is the fact that the ‘anguane’ tend to live by springs and streams, as they protect water and sometimes fishermen too (to whom – if treated with respect – they usually bring good fortune). In many stories (in common with the krivapete and other supernatural beings) it is mentioned how the ‘anguane’ have taught men many traditional activities such as wool weaving or cheese making (these stories generally end with the men who break the pact or do not show gratitude, and the ‘anguana’ goes away offended, without teaching her essential art – be it the production of salt, sugar, glass, or other skills or produce which are lacking in a particular territory). In the Cimbrian communities of the Lessinia (Verona), the ‘anguane’ were in charge of the wells, and they would wash the clothes of the local people but would refuse to wash anything black.

Sometimes, exactly as their ‘sisters’ krivapete, they can take a more sinister outlook. In several legends, they are seen terrorizing or mocking the night-time travelers; they can also spread secrets and rumors, especially amongst women; also, if and when insulted, they are inclined to take revenge – even though it is often specified that they never take the life of animals or humans. More features are somehow connected with water: a curious habit they seem to have is to enslave young girls, forcing them to fill willow baskets with water for all their lives (a useless task, as these baskets cannot hold the water); in other versions, the ‘anguane’ are tricked by a human being, who has them filling willow baskets until dawn – thus keeping them busy; indeed, in various areas of Friuli there was a habit of leaving an empty basket outside the homes for the night, so that the ‘anguana’ would spend the whole night trying to fill the basket without succeeding, whilst letting the inhabitants of the house in peace.

According to popular tradition, the ‘anguane’ stopped mixing with humans after the Council of Trento, while their association with the devil is to be seen in the context of a typical process of demonization of Pagan deities during the Middle Ages. The cult of the ‘anguana’ was present in places such as the ‘Scalfìn dal diaul’ (= ‘The Devil’s Heel’), also known as Cèpp da l'Angua (= ‘The Rock of the ‘Anguane’), in Canzo, Lombardy; this event is also remembered during the sophisticated celebrations of the so-called ‘Giubiana da Canz’, with the re-enactment of the mythical character.

Also, several place names in Veneto remind of the ‘anguane– especially caves, boulders, rock ledges and valleys; the Anguan-tal, for example, is an area of Contrada Pagani, Campofontana, in the mountains of Lessinia (province of Verona), while the “Buso dell'Anguana” is the name given to several caves in the province of Vicenza.

The 'Mazaròl'

In the valleys of the province of Belluno the myth of the Mazaròl is still quite widespread and very much alive to this day: this is a tiny, playful creature resembling a gnome, always dressed in red and with a cap, who is said to wander in the woods and take pleasure in leading people astray, causing them to lose their way especially at dusk.

The 'Mazaròl' is a fantastic character typical of the folklore of Primiero and some areas of the province of Belluno. Generally, it has the characteristics of an old man with a robust built, dressed in red with a turquoise jacket, a big hat and a black mantle. He is usually quite good natured, but a bit grumpy and wild (as it would be!); being very susceptible and also vindictive towards whoever betrays his faith, he would sometimes hide under his mantle the children who do not behave. Also, whoever puts inadvertently a foot over a footprint left by him would be obliged to follow his footprints until coming to the cave where he dwells; there, the unfortunate traveler would forget everything about himself.

According to a legend, the 'Mazaròl' from time to time abducts people in order to make them his slaves. An episode frequently told recounts the story of a girl from Primiero who found herself in the presence of the 'Mazaròl' soon after having stepped on one of his footprints. The creature then blew on her face, and so she forgot all her past life, spending several years at his service. However, the 'Mazaròl' treated her well, and taught her how to make butter, cheese and a special round cheese locally known as ‘tosella’; he also promised her that he would teach her how to extract wax from whey, but he didn’t make in on time: one day a hunter who was passing through the woods recognized the girl, and brought her back to the village. Several attempt were made in order to retrieve the girl’s memory, but to no avail; eventually, the only thing that worked as an antidote was the milk from a white goat that was offered to the girl by an old lady. Being so happy at having managed to go back home, the girl taught everyone in the village how to make butter, cheese and the ‘tosella’ – but despite that, still today, in Primiero it is not known how to extract wax from whey!

The ‘Wild Man’ 

The ‘Wild Man’ ("Uomo selvatico" in Italian) is a legendary human being present in many popular traditions, especially in the valleys of the Alps and Apennines, where it is being given different names depending on the local language; for instance, in the area of the Dolomites, it is known as Om salvàrech in the province of Belluno and as Om pelòs (‘Hairy Man’) in Trentino.

The stories connected to this creature – commonly described as hirsute, with long hair and unkempt beard, are handed down from time immemorial in the oral traditions. It is interesting to report the definition of ‘wild man’ as it is given by Giovanni Sebesta, founder of the Etnographic Museum of Trentino: “(The ‘wild man’) is substantially a common mortal who lives outside of the human consortium, preferring instead isolated places such as mountains and woodlands. In constant contact with nature, this has made him develop to the fullest his physical characteristics, which ensure him his livelihood: strength, hardiness and an exceptional flair in hunting down his preys. He is quite timid, and tends to shun human interaction, preferring instead to isolate himself – to the point of weakening his psychic capacities, which gives him a ‘dumb’ outlook sometimes. He doesn’t wash or clean himself; he does not shave or cut his hair, so that these tend to merge, reaching down to his knees: for this reason, probably, he becomes a frightening figure, exalted by the goatskin mantle with which he wraps himself up. However, a gentle act may touch him and soften him sometimes, as he feels the need to fraternize with other men  and so he occasionally entertains himself with humans, teaching them the arts of milk production and cheese making, of which he is a master”.              

The places where there is an association with the “wild man” abound: he appears in cycles of frescoes in several villages of the Alps, but a representation of the “wild man” even appears among the spires of the Duomo in Milan; his character is also present in the celebrations of the “Giubiana da Canz”, which takes place in Canzo every January (see the ‘anguane’ above).      

Besides being a legendary character and a widespread iconographic symbol in the whole of the Alps, the “uomo selvatico” is also a Carnival mask; his function is almost invariably that of a scapegoat, and he personifies the obscure and incontrollable side of Alpine nature. However, the “wild man” never totally underwent the transposition from the ancestral and unsettling figure of Alpine popular imagination to theatrical mask, as it happened with other characters – if not  occasionally in performances at the time of Carnival.       

In the valleys of Canavese (Piedmont) it is considered to be a wise man, who knows the secrets of making butter and the rearing of domestic animals. He resists everything apart from wind, and it is said that he is so old as to have witnessed the countryside change and evolve seven times: seven times was the valley a field, seven times a pasture, and seven times woodland – until it was abandoned.

He teaches shepherds how to produce butter, cheese and ricotta, and how to manufacture kitchen utensils with a chisel; in some villages he would also have taught the secret art of transforming milk into oil (sic) – if the shepherds hadn’t allowed him to go away! It even seems that the “wild man” laughs when it rains and cries when the sun shines; this behaviour – incomprehensible at first sight – is sometimes explained (perhaps naively) by the fact that the weather conditions of the present are the opposite of those that will follow (but being the creature ‘wild’, I think a more likely explanation is that he would rejoice in what people normally consider ‘bad weather’).       

Selvatico’ (‘wild’) is also a term used in heraldry to indicate a hirsute or hairy man, girdled and crowned by leaves, sometimes armed with a club and cloaked with a skin mantle on his shoulders.  

A similar character to the “wild man” appears in the “Fiabe italiane” (‘Italian Tales’) by Italo Calvino, while in other traditions the figure of the “wild man” is present in the folklore of many nations – at least since the Middle ages (and before, as even the character of Enkidu, in the myth of Gilgamesh, shares some of his characteristics).  The “wild man” appears also in the following Brother Grimm tales: “The Wild Man” (De wilde Mann) and “Iron John” (Der Eisenhans"L'uomo di ferro" in Italian; "Zan De Rame" – 'Copper John' – in the Ladin variant); in this latter tale, in particular, he has the function of a Helper or a Donor.

 

Myths and Legends of the Ladin Valleys

But it is in the Dolomites’ heartland that these stories multiply, and there indeed a really thick 'mythical layer' overlays the land, on top of which counts, myths and tales coming from different traditions all seem to mingle and gain in intensity in the Ladin valleys that radiate around the Sella group, which could be considered in many respects as the most pivotal mountain in the Dolomites – if anything, for its central position and its isolated location.

Here the Italian, German and Ladin (an old Roman language) worlds meet and converge in a cultural region known as Ladinia: an intruiging melting-pot of Northern, Latin and Mediterranean traditions – a tangle which would be paradise for ethnographic as well as for anthropologic researchers. But there’s a lot in it for the ‘common’ visitor too especially if one is curious.

There are also institutions and museums where these fascinating stories can be further investigated – especially on a rainy day! Such places include the Museum ‘Dolomithos’ in San Candido/Innichen, but especially the network of the Ladin Museums in the Dolomites' region: the most comprehensive of these is the Museo Ladino della Val Badia at Castel de Tor’ in San Martino in Badia/St. Martin in Thurn, but all of the Ladin valleys have their museum.

The Val di Fassa, for instance has a Ladin Museum at Pozza di Fassa; in the Livinallongo area there is a Ladin Museum in Pieve di Livinallongo and another one in nearby Colle Santa Lucia, in the Upper Agordino area.

The Val Gardena/Grödnertal also has its own Ladin Museum in Ortisei/St. Ulrich.

The Ethnographic Museums are also an important source in that respect. The Museo Etnografico of the Provincia di Belluno at Cesiomaggiore, the Museo Etnografico of Trentino at San Michele all’Adige and the the Museo Etnografico of South Tyrol at Teodone near Brunico/Bruneck all provide a rich documentation in that regard, while good books to read are those written in the first half of the 19th century by Karl Felix Wolff (see more on him below) – a writer, journalist and anthropologist who devoted a good part of his life to gather myths, tales and legends of the Dolomites, especially in South Tyrol.

Being Wolff a pioneer in this field he was sometimes sneered at for being too ‘un-scientific’, but other contributions – deemed more comprehensive and ‘scientific’ – were compiled later, especially by Ulrike Kindl; in any case, Wolff's publications are considered classics by now, and the works written by both authors can easily be found in most bookshops in the area (the only limit being that they will mostly be in Italian or German – you won’t easily find an English translation).

Among Wolff’s more celebrated titles (all very telling) are: “L’anima delle Dolomiti” (‘The Dolomites’ Soul’ – its first and perhaps more successful collection), “I Monti Pallidi” (‘The Pale Mountains’) and “Rododendri Bianchi delle Dolomiti” (‘White Rhododendrons of the Dolomites’).

Some of these legends are really incredible, and they almost amount to sagas in their own right, which have nothing to envy to more famous ones – such as, for instance, the cycle of the so-called “Regno dei Fanes” (‘The Fanes’ Kingdom’), which takes its name from a mythical people who is said to inhabit the eerie, rocky plateau that extends between the Ampezzo Dolomites and the Val Badia/Gadertal, protected today by the Fanes-Sennes-Braies Nature Park


Legends and Sagas of South Tyrol

There are different sagas belonging to South Tyrol, and some of these are also applicable to the territory of the Dolomites at large. These myths and stories are born out of the imagination of the people who have lived for hundreds of years at the foot of these magnificent mountains, and they often involve fantastic presences such as gnomes, fairies and elves. First evidence of such legends dates back to the 17th century, but for the most part they were written on paper only from the 19th century onwards.

Many of them are known also outside of this territory, and a significant contingent belongs to the so-called Ladin sagas; all in all, as many as 1,324 legends have been collected. Significantly, the “Alta Via No. 2” (linking Bressanone/Brixen to Feltre) is also known as the "Via delle Leggende" (‘the Legend’s Way’), as it crosses a territory which is particularly rich in them, and populated by so many fantastic stories.

Karl Felix Wolff

As anticipated above, the best known collection of sagas comes from the traditional legends collected by Karl Felix Wolff in his work "Dolomitensagen", whose first edition is dated 1911. This collection comes from the late Romantic tradition of the Grimm brothers’ school which means that the original narrative nuclei could have been modified. Wolff was very keen on recounting the legends collected in the various parts of South Tyrol – in particular the saga of the Kingdom of Fanes – the only problem was that he wanted them to be more consequent than they were actually narrated to him, but as a legend is very rarely told in a unique and consistent fashion, he sometimes took the freedom to build a “unique” version – a move which has somehow invalidated his work.

Ulrike Kindl

In contrast with the work of Wolff, the extensive collection “Racconti delle Dolomiti” (‘Counts of the Dolomites’) by Ulrike Kindl is more strictly in line with the current scientific knowledge on the topic.

Willi Mai

In between the two, stands the lesser known collection complied by Willi Mai, which was actually carried out in the midst of WW2 (one of the hardest time ever for South Tyrol). With the goal of saving the local folklore and in order to collect its legends, Mai would incessantly move from village to village, from farm to farm, always carrying with him a small machine with which to record not just the stories but also anecdotes, jokes and the odd wits, most often in the various local dialects. The value of this work is that the legends and stories were transcribed exactly as they had been told by the narrators, thus rendering the collection reliable and unique. Unfortunately, however, Mai died young during WW2, and his association with Nazi Germany certainly did not help his work: this is perhaps the reason why this valuable collection was not published until a few years ago, and Mai's name is still relatively unknown.

But perhaps the best known legend of all – and certainly one of the most enchanting – is referred to a mountain, Catinaccio, which is called Rosengarten in German: a name which is already telling a story in itself.

In the 'Garden Of The Roses'

The German name of Rosengarten is in fact referred to the tale of the mythical Re Laurino (King Laurin; König Laurin in German). It is probably the best known legend in South Tyrol, and it aims to explain the spellbinding daily phenomenon of the ‘enrosadira’ as one of the peculiar characteristics of this celebrated mountain is that it takes on a crimson tinge at dawn and dusk.

This phenomenon is due to the composition of the rock faces of the Dolomites, formed of Main Dolomite – a compound of double calcium carbonate and magnesium that reflects the low rays of the sun; in the Ladin language, however, this daily occurrence (which happens only when it is sunny, of course) is explained more poetically with the expression enrosadirawhich literally means ‘becoming pink’.

In any case, the legend of King Laurin is, without a doubt, one of the most mesmerizing stories, part and parcel of the popular tradition of tales of the Dolomites, and the mythical explanation maintains that Laurin was the dwarf king of the Ladins, who had a splendid rose garden (Rosengarten in German) on the mountain.

There are actually two versions of this story. According to the first version, the legend maintains that on the Catinaccio, where still today we can see until spring an area with a patch of snow (that later remains white, as it is made of gravel) known as Gartl – literally, small garden – this is where the King’s mythical rose garden was situated.

Laurin's kingdom was inhabited by dwarves who found crystals, gold and silver for him through excavations in the mountains. Besides these riches, the King also possessed two magical weapons – a belt which gave him the force of 12 men, and a mantle that made him invisible. His most beloved treasure, however, was the Rose Garden itself, which was in front of his crystal castle and that had been created for him by the Valkyrie Sittlieb in name of an old, unrequited love. The most beautiful flowers were protected by a thin silk thread, and the king guarded his treasure jealously.

One day, the king of the Adige proclaimed the intention to marry her daughter to another king, and so he threw a party and decided to invite all the local noblemen – apart from king Laurin (because he was a dwarf), who nevertheless decided to attend anyway as an invisible guest (his mantle made him so).

When he saw the beautiful Similde, he fell in love with her at first sight: he instinctively put her on his horse and ran away. All the noblemen and knights invited at the party ran after the king to free Similde, and so it was that they reached the Rose Garden. The king wore the belt that gave him the force of 12 men, but his magical powers were not enough given the high number of opponents. He then wrapped himself around his mantle and started running and jumping in the territory he knew best – his Rose Garden.

Unfortunately, however, the other knights could follow his moves by watching the rose bushes trembling at the king’s passage, and so they could capture him. They then cut his belt off, and led him to prison; meanwhile Laurin, angry for what had happened to him, addressed the roses that had betrayed him as such: “neither by day, nor by night”, he sentenced, “will human ever be able to cast his eye on this garden again”.

In his curse, however, the king forgot dawn and dusk … hence the reason why, still today, the garden and its hypnotic colours become visible again for a short while at those magical times which are neither completely lit nor completely dark.

The second version is quite different, although similar in its outcome: Laurin was a good and wise king, whose daughter – the beautiful princess Ladinia – had a large rose garden, which she took care of together with her father. One day the Prince of Latemar (a nearby peak), struck by the roses, strayed into Laurin’s kingdom, saw the king’s daughter Ladinia (now also the name of the region), fell in love with her, and kidnapped her to make her his bride.

King Laurin, desperate, cried all his tears, and before dying out of a broken heart, he cast his famous spell on the rose garden, guilty of having deprived him of his beloved daughter, and therefore putting his kingdom at risk. Then, after having commanded that the roses would never flower anymore neither by day nor by night, he died. The ending is the same in both versions, with the "Rosengarten" becoming visible only at those moments which are neither fully light nor fully dark.

The 'Kingdom Of The Fanes'

The Legend of the Fanes, on the contrary, tells of the expansion and decline of the so-called Fanes Kingdom – in origin a peaceful people who had an alliance with the marmots living with them on the plateau. The problems here arose when the Fanes' Queen married a foreign King, avid and aggressive, who came to the point of substituting the traditional marmot in the Fanes' coats of arms for an eagle at that point, the atmosphere suddenly changed.

The king decided to turn his daughter, Dolasilla, into a powerful and unbeatable Amazon, helped by the armor given her by the dwarves. With Dolasilla taking the reins of the army, the kingdom expanded – until her fateful encounter with the enemy warrior Ey de Net. The two, who had in fact met already many years before, fell in love and decided to marry. The king opposed this marriage with all his might, as the dwarves had already warned him that Dolasilla’s powers would disappear if she was ever to marry.

Fearing the end of his reign, the king betrayed Dolasilla, and sold her and his people; in her last battle Dolasilla was killed by her own arrows, which had been stolen with a trick by a wizard, Spina de Mul (‘Donkey’s Thorn’). As a punishment, the traitor king was turned into a stone (hence the rocky wasteland of the Fanes plateau), while the few survivors left of the Fanes’ Kingdom took shelter – with their marmots – in caves under the plateau, where they are still said to dwell today, waiting for the silver call that will decree the kingdom’s rebirth.

Once more, if you wish to visit the area where the mythical 'Kingdom of the Fanes' is said to have been, head to the plateau that still today bears their name, in the area of the Fanes-Sennes-Braies Nature Park, at the border between Veneto and South Tyrol.

Well, these are just two among the most famous examples of Dolomites myths, because there are hundreds of them! One could easily think that these are just odd and long-forgotten stories, but in fact that is not so. It just takes a walk in one of the towns and villages in the Dolomites to notice how many streets and hotels are called Dolasilla, Fanes, Laurin – as well as Conturina, Lajadira, Merisana: and all these are mythical names, which confirm that these heroes and their deeds are still very much alive and well in the local imagery – and, may I say, luckily so!

It is also worth adding that the myths and legends of the Dolomites have been included in the so-called ‘Culturonda Dolomythos’, an initiative devised by the province of Bolzano/Bozen, whose aim is to propose twelve ways in which to explore the culture of South Tyrol and the Dolomites, divided into thematic areas.


The “Messner Mountain Museum” (MMM) Initiative

Talking about Dolomites myths and other stories from the Dolomites, it is also worth pointing out an initiative conceived and carried out by the volcanic mind of Reinhold Messner, one of the best known climbers in the world – mountaineer and adventurer of the extreme – who was born in the Val di Funes/Villnöss, near the Puez-Odle mountains, in South Tyrol.

In the latest part of his carrer (although he is still alive and well!), Messner has embarked on an ambitious project, centred around the creation of a network of museums dedicated to different aspects of life in the mountains, which he called Messner Mountain Museums” (acronym 'MMM'). The network is currently composed of five institutions – all in extremely interesting locations – but it is expected to further expand over the next few years.

The “Man-Mountain Relationship” at MMM Castel Firmian

At the centerpiece of the “Messner Mountain Museum” network stands Castel Firmiano/Sigmunsdkron, near Bolzano/Bozen, which addresses the subject of man’s encounter with the mountains. At Castel Firmiano/Sigmunsdkron beats the creative heart of the whole Messner Museum enterprise, and the exhibit here is organized as an itinerary among works of art, paintings, installations and natural relics that are housed within the ancient walls of the castle, enhanced by a modern structure in steel and glass. The various paths, stairs, rooms, towers and courtyards of the castle lead the visitor from the ‘origin of the mountains’ as an archetype – with the religious significance of the peaks and the meanings they carry – to its ‘cultural invention’, to finish with the history of mountaineering.

The “End of the World” exhibition at MMM Ortles

This Museum is situated in Solda/Sulden at 1,900 m of altitude, on the slopes of Monte Ortles/Ortler, the highest peak in the Oriental Alps (3,902 m). The underground structure is dedicated to the theme of eternal ice. Here Reinhold Messner describes the terrors that haunt the adventurer of the extreme: the awe inspired by Ice and Darkness, the archetypal fear of the Snow Men and Snow Lions, the threat of the ‘White-out’ and the quest for the ‘Third Pole’. The Museum houses also the world’s largest collection of paintings on the Ortles, often considered a sacred mountain by the local people. Nearby there are also an inn with a yak farm and a bio-homestead, plus the mini-museum ‘Alpine Curiosa’. Every year, the Museum also hosts temporary exhibitions.

The “Myth of the Mountain” at MMM Castel Juval

The Museum of Juval Castle, located in the Val Venosta/Vinschgau, besides being the residence of Messner himself, houses various works of art: a collection of Tibetan art, a gallery with paintings of sacred mountains and a collection of masks coming from the five continents: all this to tell about the importance of mountains in the spirituality of many different nations and peoples around the world. This location too includes a mountain homestead (bio-wine and other organic produce on sale at Ortlhöfe) with an inn, a small area with mountain animals and a shop with local products.

The “Mountain Heritage” at MMM Castel Ripa

The Museum of Ripa in Brunico/Bruneck Castle is devoted to the life and culture of mountain people around the world. The collection focuses on the everyday life of people inhabiting the most important mountainous regions of the planet, such as the Alps and the Himalayas. In an exciting tour of the five continents, the museum at Ripa also illustrates the stages of human development in high-altitude habitats – from nomadic culture to the sedentary world of the mountain farmer – through objects of daily use and artifacts of religious nature. Temporary annual exhibitions are hosted here too.

The “Museum in the Clouds” at MMM Dolomites

This museum is hosted in the old fort (1912-14) on Monte Rite (2,181 m), in the muncipality of Cibiana, part of the historical region of Cadore, it is the only museum of the network located outside South Tyrol. Situated in the heart of the Dolomites, it offers a 360° panorama on the most spectacular mountains of the entire Alps. Inside the Museum there is a vast gallery housing a collection of unique paintings of the Dolomites, from the Romantic period up to today, as well as a collection of objects and documents pertaining to the great climbers in the history of the Dolomites. Like the other structures, this Museum also hosts temporary exhibitions every year.

The Messner Mountain Museum network is also part of the Culturonda Dolomythos’ initiative, described above. 


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