The Dolomites from a theatre of war to a universal symbol

Event ended


During the First World War the Dolomites became a vertical theatre of war, presenting challenges in terms of mountaineering, combat and engineering. The war caused these mountains to be analysed and studied as never before, particularly their history and geological structure.

The Geological Heritage Network of Fondazione Dolomiti UNESCO is supporting the project Dolomiti – Montagne e Paesaggio: da teatro di guerra a simbolo universale, conceived by MUSE (the Trento Science Museum) and Museo storico italiano della guerra (The Italian War Museum) in Rovereto. The study for the project, still underway (2013-2015), will eventually become a travelling exhibition and it will generate conferences, publications and educational projects for schools.

The war profoundly transformed the Dolomites. Its very silhouette was altered by explosives, its earlier role as a thoroughfare and a trading space gave way to conflict with technological innovation and some surprising architectural feats introduced into what had traditionally been a somewhat marginal area.


Because mountain warfare is such a complex endeavour, fighting in such hostile conditions was only made possible by the hard work and ingenuity of the dozens of researchers and academics working on the Dolomites between 1912 and 1918. Indeed, this was the first time this high mountain terrain had been studied on a large scale, regardless of regional boundaries.

The starting point for the project Dolomiti – Montagne e Paesaggio: da teatro di guerra a simbolo universale was a study of the documents in the archives dealing with the geology, geotechnics, botany, meteorology and engineering issues, in order to tell the story of the war on the long Dolomite front through the eyes of the geologists and naturalists of that era.


The Dolomite Mountains that acted as a wartime defence, now, a hundred years on, are themselves in need of defence and preservation as a World Heritage Site. The craggy peaks that today enthral millions of visitors would not be as they are without the First World War. This is true for the entire territory of the Dolomites, profoundly and painfully transformed by a conflict that gave rise to the landscape we see today.

Photo: MUSE