Since the Middle Ages, the Dolomites formed a natural border between Austria and Italy. After Italy’s entry into the war together with England, France and Russia in 1915, this line became a fiercely defended mountain front during the First World War.
With the Italian declaration of war against the Austro-Hungarian forces, a sad chapter in the history of the Dolomites had begun: The area surrounding the Three Peaks has become a battleground, with the “Kaiserjäger” soldiers on the Austrian side against the “Alpini” on the Italian side, fighting for each metre under the toughest conditions.
Gruelling static warfare
The soldiers on both sides excavated miles long tunnels and galleries in the Dolomites mountains, built temporary emplacements and cableway stations, trenches and caverns. Supply up high in the mountains was difficult and in winter, the soldiers often had to wait for weeks without getting supplies, in their trenches on Mt. Paternkofel, on Mt. Lagazuoi or on Marmolata, without obtaining supplies.
The static warfare lasted almost four years and had a fatal ending for many soldiers on both sides. In fact, around 8,00o soldiers only died on Col di Lana, whose peak was burst. During the mountain war, more soldiers died of hunger and cold, avalanches and rockfalls than from hostile projectiles. 1,259 soldiers are buried in the cemetery of Nasswand, 6 km south of Toblach towards Cortina d’Ampezzo, which is under monumental protection.
The open-air museum on Sextner Rotwand (part of the Bellum Aquilarum) as well as on Monte Piana above Lake Dürrensee still offer remains of emplacements and tunnels reminding us about the war’s horror and deprivations. Also, hikers and mountaineers will find many proofs of the First World War in the Dolomites.
After the end of the war, many borders in Europe had changed and South Tyrol was annexed by Italy. The project Dolomites without borders emphasise not only the separating part but also the connecting aspect between Italy and Austria. The high-alpine path with 12 fixed-rope routes goes from Cadore, to Hochpustertal in the area f the Three Peaks to the Tyrolean Gailtal valley. As a transregional peace trail, it is an alpine challenge with memorable historical background.