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The Alpe Cimbra: a Crucial Border of WWI

1914 is a year known to all: the outbreak of the Great War, the first world conflict that devastated Europe and that, even today, gives an important lesson in life, as well as history, to all humanity. On the Alpe Cimbra there were some of the bloodiest battles that took place in Trentino — the then Austria-Hungary — as these plateaus were the boundary between the Kingdom of Italy and Austria-Hungary (today the border between Trentino and Veneto).

At the beginning of 1900, on the plateau of Folgaria, Lavarone and Luserna, a powerful fortified belt was in fact erected, and if consisted of 7 forts: Fort Belvedere Gschwent (1177 m), Fort Lusérn (1549 m), Fort Busa Verle (1554 m) and Fort Cima Vézzena (1908 m) between the plateau of Vézzena and Lavarone, and Fort Cherle (1445 m), Fort Sommo Alto (1614 m) and Fort Dosso del Sommo (1670 m) in Folgaria. In addition to these fortresses, there were the observatory on Mount Rust and the Austro-Hungarian command post of Virti. The purpose of these war structures was to block the Italian advance towards Trento through the valleys of Vicenza. The loss of this border for the Austro-Hungarian Empire would have been a great threat to the center of Trentino.

The fortresses erected on our plateau were the highest expression of Austro-Hungarian war engineering of the early twentieth century. Their roofs were made of concrete, reinforced with large steel beams (400 mm), reaching a wall thickness of over three meters. Moreover, in each fort, there were rotating steel domes which were equipped with small caliber howitzers (100 mm). Instead, in cases where a closer defense was necessary, there were armored posts equipped with several machine guns. Deep ditches were also used for passive defense.

On the Vézzena plateau — on which the already mentioned Fort Cima Vézzena, Fort Busa Verle and Fort Lusérn were located — there were initially serious losses due to the heavy Italian bombardments, and the fortresses were almost forced to surrender. However, on August 20, 1915, they were able to successfully respond to the only Italian attempt to advance — an event that took the name of the Battle of Bassón — which cost the Kingdom of Italy the loss of over a thousand men.

Fort Belvedere Gschwent (you can find our post here), the "sentry of the Val d'Astico", also suffered heavy bombardments and recorded numerous losses. However, it preserved its state better than the other fortified works present on the territory. It was so that, unlike the other fortresses on the Alpe Cimbra, the Fort Belvedere Gschwent was declared a national monument by royal decree of Vittorio Emanuele III, and was therefore saved from demolition ordered by the fascist government in time of autarchy. This happened because they wanted at least one fort on the plateau to remain as a testimony to the Great War for future generations.

Today, Fort Belvedere Gschwent is a WWI museum and boasts over 28,000 visitors every year. Inside, there are multimedia installations and exhibition rooms to help understand and almost feel, thanks also to the humidity and the cold of the walls, the atrocious experiences of this major historical conflict.

In addition to all the fortresses we mentioned, also the the trenches of Nosellari bear witness to the Great War. Today, there you can find a thematic path which retraces the Austro-Hungarian front line facing the Kingdom of Italy, today the Val d'Astico.

The Alpe Cimbra territory bears many scars of the First World War: historical wounds that are territorial, cultural, but also human. And they are all there, ready to tell us — with vivid memory — among vast meadows, woods and breathtaking landscapes, what they have lived, what they saw. And they let us breathe that freedom that humanity, in some ways, perhaps a bit paradoxical, had to earn over time.

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