The Dolomites have long captured the imagination of locals and visitors. In the oral tradition of local communities in the Dolomites, these mountains have a central cultural importance, and local legends together form an epic history, in which the Dolomites have an essential and defining role.
For those from outside these valleys, the Dolomites have long been a place of passage, often facing significant challenges on the way. More recently, beginning in the eighteenth century, with a renewed interest in the natural sciences in Europe, and a newfound aesthetic appreciation of the sublime, the Dolomites became a subject of study and admiration. The dolomitic landscape thus ceased to be a place of passage, hunting and alpine pasturelands, and increasingly became a destination that drew visitors with its geology and sublime beauty.
What is meant by sublime? Eighteenth-century thinkers and artists, exploring the concept of beauty itself and the emotions evoked by observation of natural phenomena, deduced that it was precisely the spectacle of nature, governed by forces greater than man, and in fact often hostile to man, which triggered contrasting emotions such as horror, pleasure, fear and attraction in the observer. How can one rationally explain, for example, the human fascination with a storm or volcanic eruption? Today, technology and knowledge permit us to visit the Dolomites with a different perspective from visitors in the past, and they have now become akin to a consumer product. Yet, we can still be awestruck by the great majesty of these mountains. In fact, in an age in which we increasingly view the world through screens and smartphones, the Dolomites still possess the power to evoke deep emotion and, if we let them, to lead us towards the threshold of the irrational world of the spirit.