Universal values | Landscape value
“The Dolomites are widely regarded as being among the most attractive mountain landscapes in the world. Their intrinsic beauty derives from a variety of spectacular vertical forms such as pinnacles, spires and towers, with contrasting horizontal surfaces including ledges, crags and plateaux, all of which rise abruptly above extensive talus deposits and more gentle foothills. A great diversity of colours is provided by the contrasts between the bare pale-coloured rock surfaces and the forests and meadows below. The mountains rise as peaks with intervening ravines, in some places standing isolated but in others forming sweeping panoramas. Some of the rock cliffs here rise more than 1,500 m and are among the highest limestone walls found anywhere in the world. The distinctive scenery of the Dolomites has become the archetype of a “dolomitic landscape”. Geologist pioneers were the first to be captured by the beauty of the mountains, and their writing and subsequent painting and photography further underline the aesthetic appeal of the property.”
(UNESCO, Declaration of outstanding universal value, criterion VII:
to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance)
The Dolomite landscape can be separated into its main landscape units in order to emphasise those elemental features that are most recurrent and recognisable throughout the region.
The beauty of these landscape units is the product of the intimate relationship between its genetic and geological origins, its morphological structure and the nature of its topsoil.
The characteristic morphological features can be classified according to a vertical scale, working from the bottom up.
- Ample, gently undulating basal foothills of diverse origin.
- Imposing mantles of scree enveloping the bases of the carboniferous limestone edifices.
- Horizontal structural elements cutting across the rock walls creating vast ledges and strong colour contrasts.
- Huge, perfectly vertical white rock masses in a great variety of shapes, rising abruptly from the soil giving the landscape its energy.
Associated with these morphological features are the properties of the topsoil, adding further value to the basic landscape morphology and which include biodiversity, the variety of natural habitats and the abundance of their plant life, with seasonal variations in density and colour.
In this high mountain zone the topsoil is laid down in two altitude bands, corresponding to the nearby climatic zones and beyond the limit of the arboreal vegetation. The first of these bands consists of woodlands of conifer and sub-Alpine shrubs, while the second contains the Alpine meadows and the plant life sprouting from the cliff faces and rocky debris, much of which is exclusive to the Dolomites.
This is a dynamic landscape whose aspect is dependent upon both natural and human factors.
The Dolomites have always had a profound impact on all who visit them. These imposing stone giants have also inspired the peoples who inhabit them. This is an epic story with its roots buried in prehistory and which has become the essential point of reference for their very cultural identity. After the scientists began to unveil the mysteries of these mountains, came the travellers of the Romantic age who recognised them as the incarnation of those ideal landscape that had hitherto only lived in the imagination of painters.
No one has managed to stay immune from their ineffable fascination, leading them to be universally regarded as “the most beautiful mountains on Earth”.
This begs the question what is it that makes the Dolomites so beautiful and what is the secret of their extraordinary fascination?
The Dolomites can be considered a world icon of the Aesthetics of the Sublime. According to this branch of philosophy that contemplates the beauty of the natural world and that was conceived immediately before these mountains were officially “discovered”, the Dolomite peaks were to become a model of fundamental importance and thus make a major contribution to defining the modern concept of natural beauty.
The very first images of these mountains were not rendered as paintings or portraits, but rather they were portrayed in words, narratives of extraordinary visions and powerful emotions that invaded the mind with an almost irresistible force and manifested themselves in the opening words of the first scientific treatises and the first travellers’ accounts. The descriptive phrases they are peppered with: towering, grandiose, monumental, a torment of forms, essential purity, intense colours, stupefying, transcendent, mystical asceticism, express a vision of the Dolomites that ticks all the boxes of that which is defined as sublime.
From the methods for analysing landscape devised for the candidature of the Dolomites and deemed innovative by UNESCO’s scientific teams, it emerges that the Dolomites are the universal archetype for a specific mountain landscape that takes its name, “dolomitic landscape”, from these very mountains.
A number of key features define this particular landscape. First comes the extremely complex topography, distinctive for the mountain ranges that, while separate, are juxtaposed in a particularly contained setting.
Secondly, the uncommon variety of shapes, both vertical (cliffs, needles, spires, pinnacles, towers and jagged peaks) and horizontal (ledges, roofs, natural cornices, crags, plateaux and high plains). First and foremost however, the Dolomites are famous for their exceptional varieties of colour and the extraordinary contrast between the soft lines of the meadowlands and the sudden vertical thrust of the stark, bare mountain peaks.
Moreover, that fact that these mountain structures can be stylised as recognisable geometric figures and precise volumetric elements, such as prisms, cones and parallelepipeds, has led to them being interpreted as artificial structures, more reminiscent of limestone edifices that simply natural phenomena.
The vivid imagination of the early inhabitants of these mountains likened them to the vestiges of a legendary epic civilisation, thus projecting the Dolomites into a mythical dimension. More recently, the gigantic scale of their architecture and fantastic spatial relationships led the poets of the Romantic era to see them as the ruins of a city inhabited by Titans, and later still, that arch-modernist Le Corbusier to dub them “the most beautiful constructions in the world”.
The power of their image has made these mountains recognisable far beyond their natural boundaries, their name evoking such iconic visions that others have taken their name. There are “Dolomites” in France (Dolomites Françaises), in Austria (Lienzer Dolomiten, Salzburger Dolomiten), in Switzerland (Unterengadiner Dolomiten), elsewhere in Italy (Dolomiti Lucane, Dolomiti Siciliane), in Norway (Porsangerdolomitt) and in Slovenia (Polhograjski Dolomiti).
The visual impact of these mountains is amplified by a fascinating natural phenomenon, the Alpenglow, known locally as Enrosadira. As the day wears on, the unique structure and limestone composition of the rock walls react to the changing light patterns in a spectacular way. At dawn and dusk they take on warm shades of orange, red and purple, at midday they gleam pale and evanescent, while twilight and moonlight clothe them in a cold, unearthly aura, to which they owe their name the Pale Mountains.
Although the Dolomites cannot boast the highest peaks, the greatest glaciers or the most extensive wilderness areas, this is the only region in which pale dolomitic rock is paired with dark volcanic rock.
The Dolomite region is distinctive for the unusually high concentration, over one hundred, of peaks over 3,000 metres with a remarkable number of small glaciers and year-round snowfields at relatively low altitudes. The series of staggeringly sheer vertical rock walls, from 800 to 1,600 metres and gorges plunging to exceptional depths of from 500 to 1,500 metres add up to a morphological diversity that further enhances the natural beauty of the Dolomites.