The 9 systems of the Dolomites | Bletterbach
- Pelmo, Croda da Lago
- Pale di San Martino, San Lucano, Dolomiti Bellunesi, Vette Feltrine
- Dolomiti Friulane and d’Oltre Piave
- Dolomiti settentrionali
- Sciliar-Catinaccio, Latemar
- Dolomiti di Brenta
The Bletterbach system covering just 271 hectares within the Province of Bolzano, is the smallest of the UNESCO Dolomite systems. This natural monument is a narrow gorge running through the territory of the municipalities of Aldino and Redagno, Monte Pausabella/Schönrast and Passo degli Oclini. Geographically separated from the other Dolomite chains it is dominated by the summit of Corno Bianco/Weisshorn, 2,317m. The enchanting landscape of the Bletterbach system is also a geological treasure-trove.
The gorge was formed by the Bletterbach mountain stream (Rio delle Foglie in Italian) eroding the rock formations of volcanic origin found in this area. The canyon narrows from a width of 200-300 metres at the top, to 20-30 metres at its floor and it is over 400 metres deep. The riverbed is punctuated in at least four places by spectacular waterfalls dozens of metres in height. The upper part of the gorge opens up into a basin, 600-700m in diameter, over which looms the Corno Bianco/Weisshorn mountain in all the immaculate glory of its white Dolomite rock.
The 900m gradient between the Corno Bianco/Weisshorn peak and the bottom of the Bletterbach gorge is a journey in time, relating the history of our planet. No other place in the Alps or Dolomites has such perfectly preserved rock strata visible to the naked eye, demonstrating in minute detail how the Dolomites were transformed in the time between the Early Permian era and the extinction event of the Late Permian/Triassic era.
Protecting the environment
Bearing in mind the enormous geological importance of the Bletterbach system, the Municipality of Aldino created the Bletterbach Geopark, stretching from Aldino to Redagno, a geological park within a natural monument. The Geopark is well equipped for educational activities and excursions, allowing visitors a hand-on experience of the processes that went into forming the Earth and the Dolomites in particular, and how life evolved therein. Among the excursions in the Geopark are a geological trail, leading visitors to the very heart of the canyon, and a woodland path that is also suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs. Along both routes there are plenty of information boards on the geological history and the flora and fauna of the Bletterbach. Next to the Geopark is Il Parco Naturale del Monte Corno, a natural parkland covering some 6,800 hectares spread over the municipalities of Anterivo, Egna, Montagna, Salorno and Trodena (www.bletterbach.info.
The ancient tale of a land gradually invaded by the first Dolomite Sea
This is the smallest of the nine systems, but it could be called the Grand Canyon of the Dolomites. It consists of an incision up to 400 metres deep, carved by the Bletterbach mountain stream, that makes it possible to observe the sequence of basal Dolomite rocks laid down between the late Permian and Anisian periods. The incision also cuts through the layers containing traces of the largest mass extinction ever to have happened on Earth, the Permian-Triassic extinction.
The outcrops of rock bear witness to the sequence of different paleo-environments, from volcanic rocks to the marine rocks of the first Dolomite Sea. The latter preserve a perfect record of the changing nature of this sea, as it went through its various stages of advance and retreat. One particularly powerful advance resulted in deposits of fossiliferous calcareous rocks, full of cephalopods, that formed a terrace over which a marvellous waterfall now flows.
Travelling up the gorge is like moving through time, making it possible to observe the advance of the sea in the late Permian period and the deposits of the Bellerophon formation, with the precipitation of evaporates followed by beach deposits, carbonates and the terrigenous ramps seen in the Werfen formation, on which the conglomerates created by erosion were deposited and finally, the carbonate banks of the Corno Bianco (Contrin formation). The Bletterbach is famous the world over for its wealth of fossil footprints left by many species of Permian reptiles and for the abundance of fossil plant remains of the same period.
The deep gorge carved by the Bletterbach runs for about 8 kilometres and it has a maximum depth of 1,100m. It mainly runs E-W, its path sometimes interrupted by some entrenched meanders, the result of a network of tectonic fractures. This system of the Dolomites UNESCO World Heritage Site is notable as the ideal laboratory for the study of forms of stream erosion and the way in which these are affected by the stratigraphic architecture of the underlying bedrock.
The width of the gorge reflects the rock formation’s degree of erosion resistance, being as narrow as some tens of metres when the water is carving through such hard volcanic rocks as porphyry, growing increasingly wider, up 200-300m, when this is in less resistant rocks such as the sandstones, evaporates and marls of the Permian-Scythian sedimentation period. A number of waterfalls, some ten of metres high are found along the gorge where there are local variations in hardness of the layers. The final part of the gorge widens out into a basin 600-700m in diameter, displaying the spectacular sequence of multi-coloured rocks, the Bellerophon and Werfen formations, that bear witness to the arrival of the Dolomite sea. These contrast with the pale Dolomite rock of the Corno Bianco, the first stage in the formation of the Triassic archipelago.
Around the gorge can be found glacial deposits that can be linked to the Last Glacial Maximum and which are full of clay and pebbles, and striated and rounded boulders. Closer to the Corno Bianco these deposits give way to ancient deposits of debris with sizeable blocks only partly eroded by glacial transport. Along the steepest banks of the gorge and on the sites of the principal waterfalls there a large number of small landslides providing evidence of the dynamism marking the evolution of this area.
The Bletterbach system is a treasure trove of geological, natural and cultural rarities, on display in a number of excellent museums. The Bletterbach Geopark visitor centre, just a few kilometres from Aldino, is a space designed with families in mind, bursting with fascinating facts about how this canyon, truly one of Nature’s masterpieces in all its glorious colours, was formed (www.bletterbach.info).
The geological history of the Bletterbach can also be delved into at Il Museo Geologico in Redagno, with illustrations and exhibits relating to the rock sedimentation process that led to the canyon’s birth and subsequent development. There are also dinosaur footprints and plant and animal fossils recovered from the gorge that bear witness to the evolution of life in this very special environment.
Il Museo dei Mulini (Museum of the Mills) in Aldino documents the era in which the villages were almost completely isolated and therefore had to be self-sufficient in order to sustain themselves. Here you can visit the historic mills, now restored and again in working order, and a blacksmith’s workshop. Other exhibits include long-forgotten artefacts and machinery such as mortars, husking machines and carding machines.
Il Museo Civico in Aldino, houses a wonderful collection of precious sacred objects of the Baroque and Rococo periods and other priceless works of art, making this one of the leading art galleries in the region.
The Bletterbach system offers a range of well-sign-posted footpaths and more demanding hiking trails to give everyone the opportunity to explore at close quarters this magical natural environment, regardless of their fitness, age and personal tastes.
Da Aldino al Corno Bianco (From Aldino to Corno Bianco)
This is a medium difficulty trail taking about six hours, recommended for reasonably fit, experienced hikers.
Starting from Aldino, on reaching the Lahmer dairy, you take the woodland trail to Kösertal. Here you can choose from three routes.
If you take footpath 5 to the right, you pass a roadside crucifix, then the trail heads uphill along the northern crest of Corno Bianco, quite a steep path, but well worth the effort for the breath-taking view over the Bletterbach gorge.
On the woodland trial and footpath 9, you come to Neuhütt. From here you continue along woodland trail 2 to reach the Auerleger dairy and the Oclini pass. Now you can reach the peak of Corno Bianco following the signs on footpath H.
The third option is to take footpaths 5 and 5A as far as footpath 1, leading across the Hofer meadows to the Oclini pass. As in the last option, you take footpath H to the top.
Just a single trail brings you back. From the top of Corno Bianco, you take footpath H to the Gurndin dairy where you turn right at that building and follow footpath N, then footpath W, also known as the Zirmer trail. You bear right onto footpath G (Gorz) and climb back up the Bletterbach gorge until you reach the Lahner dairy. You carry on to the Schmieder dairy, then take footpath S (no. 2) leading to the main provincial road back to Aldino.
Nella gola del Bletterbach (In the Bletterbach Gorge)
This delightful ramble, suitable for all, takes you right into the natural wonders of the Bletterbach gorge with its amazing rocks and other natural wonders. It takes about two and a half hours.
From the Geopark visitor centre, you take footpath 3 which enters the gorge at the site known as Taubenleck. You carry on, climbing back up the canyon, until you reach the Butterloch waterfall. Now you head back along the footpath known as Jägersteig, the hunters’ trail.
The otherworldly landscape of the Bletterbach gorge has, just like the rest of the Dolomites, inspired a multitude of folktales, myths and legends peopled by fairy-tale characters.
The legend of the giant Grimm explains the shape of the canyon and its amazing colours.
The legend of the giant Grimm
Once upon a time between Corno Bianco and Corno Nero, in the Oclini pass, there lived a giant named Grimm. He chose as his wife Hilde, the beautiful daughter of a nobleman from Val d’Ega. He kidnapped her and took her to his palace among the mountains. In order to get his daughter back, Hilde’s father sought the help of the knight Dietrich von Bern, who was famous throughout the land. The knight challenged Grimm to a duel and defeated him at the Salorno pass. The furious giant withdrew to his home-territory but decided to attack the army of knights who were heading for the Oclini pass to free Hilde. To halt his enemies, Grimm started to hurl enormous rocks at them from the surrounding mountains. However, he failed to notice that the rocks he was hurling formed the foundations for Corno Bianco and, without the support of these, the mountain suddenly collapsed on top of the knights, also burying Grimm and his bride. It was a terrible massacre and the rock walls beneath the summit of Corno Bianco were stained red by the blood of the fallen. Stains that would never wash away. Still today, the contrast between the red rocks of the Bletterbach and the immaculate white of the summit of Corno Bianco takes your breath away.