The 9 systems of the Dolomites | Puez-Odle
- 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 Puez-Odle system covers an area of 7,930 hectares within the Province of Bolzano and entirely contained within the protected area of Il Parco Naturale Puez-Odle. It is made up of a relatively compact mountain chain surrounded by three delightful valleys, Val di Funes to the north, Val Badia to the east and Val Gardena to the south.
The northern part of the system is dominated by two imposing massifs, Le Odle d’Eores and Le Odle di Funes. A high plateau occupies the southern face, at an altitude of 2,500m. Towering over the archetypical Alpine scenery of pasturelands and little lakes are Col de Puez (2,725m) and Col de la Sonè (2,634m). The highest peak of Odle d’Eores chain is Sas de Putia (2,875m), while the Odle di Funes chain is dominated by Sas Rigais (3,025m).
Protecting the environment
Designated a protected area in 1978 and extended in 1999 to its current size of 10,000 hectares, the Puez-Odle natural park is a veritable geological treasure trove, the reason why it is often called “The Earth’s History Book”. The dazzling array of geological phenomena tell its story in terms that are plain to see, as do the landscapes, ranging from limestone plateaus to rolling pasturelands, from majestic peaks and dizzying rock walls to deep canyons and of course magical woodlands.
The park abounds in high-mountain flora, with woodlands of Norway spruce, larch and Swiss pine and countless wild flowers, among them crocus, rhododendron, lady’s slipper orchids, Turk’s cap and tiger lilies, Alpine poppies, and edelweiss. The parkland fauna is also a showcase of Alpine wildlife, full of chamois, mountain goats, deer and marmots and such birds as eagle-owls, capercaillie, black grouse and many other rare species (www.provincia.bz.it/natura-territorio/temi/parchi-naturali.asp).
Traces of an island in the archipelago surrounded by deep sea
In the Parco Naturale Puez-Odle it is possible to trace, with a few exceptions, the entire stratigraphic sequence of the Dolomites from the Permian to the Cretaceous periods, about 200 million years of history, in a good state of preservation with little deformation.
In the northern part there is a predominance of aligned massifs of Dolomite rock, Sas de Putia and Sas Rigais, while the southern part, Gardenaccia, features karst plateaux with strange conical ridges, as on Col de la Soné. Near the Passo delle Erbe and in Valle di Sant’Anna there are outcrops of rock that tell of the arrival of the first Dolomite Sea, starting from the Permian desert plains. This exceptional area also features rocks that were witness to the mass extinction that occurred between the Permian and Triassic period, while the Anisian rocks show clear signs of the recovery made by the constructor organisms after the disastrous extinction. The rocks of the deep sea of the Anisian and Ladinian periods in Seceda are of major scientific interest in that the abundance of fossils makes extremely precise timescale measurements possible.
What is so special about this area is that it is uniquely able to relate the evolution of the period in which atolls and tropical reefs were the dominant features. The islands are presented in sequence, their original shape intact and perfectly recognizable. The geometric relationships between the islands built from organisms (carbonate structures) and deep-sea deposits surrounding them (basin) are also preserved intact. This complexity creates dramatic variations in the landscape, from the even slopes of mount Rasciesa, formed from the volcanic porphyry rock of the Permian Atesino chain, to the contrasting jagged rocks of the carbonate platform consisting of islands built from organisms, of Odle (Sciliar Dolomite), Puez-Gardenaccia or Sas de Putia (Cassian Dolomite). At the base of these vertical Dolomite walls deposits have been found resulting from the deep-sea sedimentation that is the foundation for the gently undulating formations found in Livinallongo, La Valle and San Cassiano. Finally, worthy of note are the Gardenaccia high plateaux on which can be found hummocks of soft dark rock full of ammonites of all sorts of unusual shapes that are among the youngest in the Dolomites, from the Cretaceous period.
These places provide some wonderful panoramic views that display the paleo-geographic distribution of a part of the Triassic Dolomite archipelago preserved in today’s landscape. From the Puez Odle island it is possible to see the Gardena and Sella Passes that were once stretches of sea, and Sassolungo and Monte Sella, once Triassic islands.
This system is formed from two broad plateaux, Gardenaccia and Puez, surrounded by some of the most emblematic crests and peaks in the whole of the Dolomites, such as Sassongher, Sass di Putia and Sass Rigais, standing in stark contrast to the gently undulating surrounding landscape. The geomorphological set-up is a faithful reflection of the architecture of a Ladinian-Carnian fossil atoll, uncovered by erosion which has carved deep into the softer basinal rocks that covered its sides.
A splendid example of small-scale morpho-selection linked to lithological variation is the Col de La Sonè “pyramid”, all that remains of the soft multi-coloured Puez marl formation that originally covered the whole of the rugged Gardenaccia plateau which is made of harder calcareous and Dolomite rocks. A sub-vertical fault system running in a NE-SW direction sets the orientation of the main valleys, Val Longia and Val di Funes, that cut across the system. The regularly shaped grid of tectonic lines running NE-SW and NW-SE across the massif also determines the alignment of the main walls bounding the Gardenaccia and Puez plateaux and creates the geometry of the prism-shaped towers and pinnacles of Sass de Putia and the Sass Rigais. The only morphologies relating to glaciation are the hanging cirque valleys of Val de la Roa, Val Chedul, Val di Lietres and Valle Stella Alpina, with late glacial-age moraine deposits and their associated ponds, the most significant of these being in Val di Funes and near Longiarù.
The phenomena associated with freezing-thawing processes are clear to see. Extensive debris and regularly-shaped cones and layers cloak the foot of all the main walls, subsequently becoming sources of debris flows. There are frequent landslides from the vertical walls, usually of moderate size, such as the Cir-Piz Sompluf landslide of 2006, while more extensive and slower-moving landslides occur where the rocks are mainly basinal clays, such as in Seceda. A prime example is the complex landslide that occurred in Gardena pass, involving the heavy banks of Cassian Dolomite rock and the underlying more plastic strata of the San Cassiano and Wengen formations.
Much more can be learned of the unique history and geography of the Puez-Odle system in the museums and exhibition spaces dotted all over the territory. Take a voyage in space and time, immersing yourself in the landscape and geology of this very special corner of the UNESCO Dolomites.
The Ladin Ćiastel de Tor Museum in San Martino in Badia, is the place to discover the Ladin culture. Here you can explore the history of this mountain civilisation, with its own distinctive language, customs and traditions, among the wealth of exhibits and innovative multimedia installations (www.museumladin.it).
The Gherdëina Museum in Ortisei focusses mainly on the history and culture of Val Gardena, with fascinating sections on the local art, including traditional wooden sculptures, antique toys and the cinematic art of Luis Trenker. The museum also houses the best scientific collection relating to the western Dolomites of Alto Adige, with sections on palaeontology, mineralogy, natural history and a fascinating collection of prehistoric artefacts recovered from the land (www.museumgherdeina.it).
In Val di Funes, the Tiso Mineralogical Museum has a stunning array of the minerals and crystals unearthed by Paul Fischnaller during his years hiking in Alto Adige and other Alpine regions.
Funes also boasts the visitor centre at the Puez-Odle natural park, a must for anyone wishing to learn all about the parkland’s landscape and natural history, for a hands-on experience of the wonders of the Dolomites (www.provincia.bz.it/natura-territorio/temi/parchi-naturali.asp).
The Puez-Odle system is crossed by Alta Via n.2, known as the Trail of Legends, running from Bressanone to Feltre.
Anello di Malga Zannes
You can take your car from the Santa Maddalena district of Val di Funes to the Zannes car park, the start of this ring-shaped trail. Follow woodland way 32 as far as the kiosk from where you take footpath 33 leading to the Gampen dairy and then on until you pass the Genova refuge and Passo Poma, following the route that links the Putia pass with the Puez chain (signpost 3/2). Now you reach the highest point of the trail, at La Cresta di Juac, 2,421m, after which you head downhill to the Medalges dairy, the Munt de Furcia pass and then on to the Ciancenon dairy. After this detour on the forest trail Malga Zannes-Malga Gampen you start to climb again toward the left-hand slope of the valley, as the map shows it, along Via Adolf-Munkel, straight after which you reach the turn-off for the Glatsch dairy, returning to Malga Zannes along a steep woodland path.
Anello di Ortisei
Another ring-shaped trail that starts in the town of Ortisei, from where you take the cable lift to the foot of mount Seceda. In no time at all, you reach the highest point of the trail, l’Alpe di Seceda, and head off along footpath 1. Before going on your way, take a few minutes to drink in the view – a vast panorama over the entire Alpine chain and, of course, the Dolomites, stretching as far as Tofane. Your hike continues at the foot of the Odle chain, first encountering the Troier refuge and then the little lake Iman. As you cross the Alpe di Cisles you pass by the Firenze refuge from which you take footpath 4 leading to Col Raiser with its refuge of the same name. Once you have passed the Gamsblut refuge and Bosch de Frëines, you reach San Giacomo, heading back to Ortisei.
The stark, majestic contours of the Dolomites and their mysterious forests and little villages scattered among valleys, rivers and high pastures, seem to have come straight out of a book of fairy tales peopled by knights, damsels, witches and woodland sprites. Countless legends have grown up in the shadow of these mountains, inspired by religious feelings and by observation of the natural landscape and influenced by the sagas and tales told by the balladeers. The Puez-Odle chain, enclosed by the three valleys Val Badia, Val Gardena and Valle di Funes with their ancient cultures, must surely, in the popular imagination, be inhabited by the creatures of fables.
Donna Dindia is one of the many stories retold by Karl Felix Wolff in his collection of legends from the pale mountains “I Monti Pallidi: leggende delle Dolomiti” (Mondadori, 1931).
Once upon a time there lived a beautiful maiden in a castle set on the road linking Val Badia with the Veneto side of Livinallongo. Many men wished to win the hand of this, the last descendant of a wealthy noble family. However, the girl, who possessed a magic mirror given to her by a woodsman, turned them all down. This mirror was capable of revealing the thoughts of those who gazed into it, and so she soon found out that, despite their fine words, all those suitors were nothing more than greedy hypocrites. One day a young bard turned up at the castle and after he had won a contest in which he had challenged all the other young knights, he won everyone over with his poetry. The young lady fell in love with him and decided to put him to test with her magic mirror, which the bard passed with flying colours, then the young couple became engaged. On his mother’s advice, the young man asked his fiancée to destroy the magic mirror, but she angrily refused. To win back the love and trust of his beloved, the bard agreed to embark on a desperate mission. He was to attempt to capture the Rajètta, the most beautiful jewel in the world, hidden on Mount Gardenazza. With the aid of one of the Cristanna women, a tribe of wild women who lived on this mountain, he arrived at the castle of Donna Dindia, where the priceless gem was being kept. The castle was guarded by a dragon who took no notice of the young man’s arrival.
Donna Dindia, the mistress of the castle, received the young bard and listened to the reason for his visit, telling him that, in order to win the Rajètta, he would have to do battle with the dragon. Donna Dindia convinced him to wait for a while before taking the monster on. Several months passed during which the young man discovered Donna Dindia’s story. The magic mirror had originally been given to her as a wedding gift by a sorcerer whose advances she had previously spurned. The marriage had been happy at first but then it was ruined by that mirror when it revealed to Donna Dindia that her husband had taken a mistress. The grief-stricken woman fled and her husband was so distraught that he died. Donna Dindia made a pact with the sorcerer who despite the earlier rejection was still pursuing her. If a knight appeared and proved himself capable of winning the Rajètta by defeating the dragon, the woman would be freed from captivity in the castle. If this did not happen within a certain time, Donna Dindia would marry the sorcerer. Ever since then the woman had been held prisoner in the castle by the dragon who did not however, interfere with anyone else.
The young bard fell under the spell of the alluring mistress of the castle and the months flew by without the young man confronting the dragon. One night his fiancée appeared to him in a dream. She was concerned as to his fate, so he finally resolved to do battle with the dragon.
Beforehand he encountered the sorcerer, who attempted to dissuade him, telling him that he could not serve two women at once and that he had been enchanted by Donna Dindia. This did not change the young bard’s mind and he defeated the dragon, liberating Donna Dindia. However, in his dying throes, the dragon had bitten the young man, inflicting a mortal wound.
Donna Dindia was carrying away the corpse, when the young man’s erstwhile fiancée arrived from Val Badia, imploring her at least to give her back the body of her beloved. But Donna Dindia reprimanded her for having caused the death of such a sincere young man, then she carried his lifeless corpse back to her castle.