Monday, March 21, 2016

Getting “High” In Italy

     When I first moved to Italy I did my best to see every famous cathedral, museum and castle within means, filling my weekends and sometimes weekdays fulfilling the needs of a tourist on a mission.  Unfortunately, the first few years of this gluttonous touristing caused what I call being  “museumed out”   This occurs when you have seen way too many museums, villas, castles, exhibitions, and far too many cathedrals.  Your eyes begin to tire and your tired brain slows and you begin to remember less of what have seen.   You enter a cathedral and you begin to hurry through and you take less notice of things.    Your foggy brain, eyes and soul need a change of pace.  This behavior is not akin only to foreigners, Italians also feel the need for change.  I have found a good answer to this. 

Rugged Exterior
After reading several books by Italian soldiers of WWI, I decided to set about looking for sites and battle areas of  “The Great War”.   I mentioned my reading about World War I to my neighbor, Luigi, and he suggested a short road trip up to Folgaria where in another 4 kilometers we we could visit an old World War I fort called Sommo Alto.  

Close To Verona, Padova
Viewing the map here you can see that Folgaria is north of Verona and east of Lago da Garda.  Look at the map and you will come to realize how close the battle lines were to Verona and the cities beyond.  This important area is all farming and Italy depends on it for agricultural products.  For this reason the lines of battle stretched from here all the way to Trieste.   This area has numerous forts similar to this one, which were occupied by both sides.  It was important for the Italian army to stop Austria and visa versa.

Beer Stop With A View
You have only two choices to reach the fort, hike up or take a chair lift which runs year round.   We chose the chair lift as it is quite a  walk to the top and  we were able to see a lot more perched in a chair above the trail.    The chair lift lets you off  very near a large house which has a beer garden atmosphere with stupendous view over the area.  Inside the  restaurant has a good menu and I recommend that after you visit the fort you walk back down for lunch.  

     After another ten minutes of walking up to the ruins (5,291 feet), the view, for me,  evoked a strong emotion, realizing that Austrian and Italian soldiers struggled to live here throughout the war.   What a hard life that must have been.  
Turret For Artillery
Sommo Alto, built and reinforced from 1911 to 1914 of reinforced cement, now shows signs of disrepair.  Occupied by Austrian soldiers through most of the war, and famous for the battle called Asiago it was bombarded constantly by artillery perched on other mountain tops.  Italian soldiers took it over in 1918 and years later the fort was given to the town of Folgaria.

      During the war the Italian government was very corrupt and sent the soldiers next to nothing to combat the cold, such as sending shoes that were made of cardboard and fell apart after one day.   The men did not eat well as food was scarce.   Everything was brought up by mules not by trucks.  During the war the  men staged a revolt and the officers reacted by using their weapons, shooting several men and forcing the men to realize they had no choice but to go back to the lines.  

    When the men were to climb out of their protective embattlements and charge the other side, the officers were ordered to shoot anyone refusing to go forward.   The men were forced to charge the three lines of barbed wire and multiple machine guns perched in high places with clear fields of fire all while being bombarded by artillery fire.   It was a life of multiple suicidal charges and the result was that thousands on both sides would needlessly perish.

There is no entrance fee to Sommo Alto or other forts in the area.  There are no guides, but you will find some information signs around  the fort.  You are allowed to go inside and also climb up on top.  The whole site is completely open.  There is also a lot of information on Sommo Alto written by Italians on the internet.
Hiking Trails In The Area

     If you are interested in World War I history, you might also look into visiting the Shrine of Redipuglia.  Built by Mussolini it is the largest shrine dedicated to the fallen military of the Great War.  It was inaugurated on September 18, 1938 after ten years of construction  and known as the Shrine "of hundred thousand", because it contains the remains of 100,187 soldiers who fell in the surrounding areas.    This memorial is easily found on the north side of the autostrada near Trieste. 

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