In the early days of World War One Austro-Hungary occupied parts of what is now northern Italy, and perhaps thinking itself overextended, withdrew from Cortina and built fortifications along parts of the Dolomites where valleys might allow Italians to invade in the wake of the withdrawal.
We walked through some of the fortifications today. The loss of life was said to be large, though I’ve not found any numbers (World War One was a slaughter so large that the conflict in the Dolomites might be a footnote).
Notice the high mountain on the right – Il Castelletto. It is the high ground over a valley that looks down over a potential invasion route for Italian forces. All we read in the area say that casualties were devastating on both sides. The mountainside itself was bombed to great effect.
”The Dolomite mountains have become a legend and will be remembered not only for the blood that was shed there, but for the kind of warfare that was engaged: it did not set anonymous armies against each other as it did on the Russian Front – it was a war of man-against-man that valued heroic individual actions.
In addition, the idle moments that soldiers were forced to undergo because of the extreme conditions and severe winters in the high mountains provided time to study the adversary who – during the pauses between one battle and another – sometimes assumed a human face: conversations between “tenemies” – the exchange of cigarettes, letters, Christmas wishes – are now the stuff of legends.” (L. Palla)
It is quite different to read about such human conflicts, and walk through and see the places they took place. It creates a sense of awe.