Mountains, and the Alps in particular, can act to unify the people living in the valleys or to separate the people of the opposing plains. The Romans already had to resolve the problem of crossing the Alps in order to connect up their empire. Today, railways and roads tunnel through and climb over mountains, creating transit corridors for the new Europe at the cost of serious hardship for local populations. Mont Cenis is one of the historic Alpine passes: the road was built by Napoleon.
The Alps, a barrier, the Alps a hinge
The problem of crossing the Alps was posed right back in Roman times, when they were seen above all as an obstacle between Rome’s southern and northern empires. On the contrary, during the late Middle Ages, the Alps became a ‘centre’ for communities of equal rights and equal culture on both sides of the mountain. After the closure of boundaries following the 18th-century founding of nation states, the Alps were destined to take on the role of European hinge.
The revolution of the motor car
At the end of the 19th century, the railway broke the isolation of the Alps: boring the first tunnels through them, it brought the two sides into contact as never before. But the real revolution would be made by the motor car in the second half of the 20th century, bringing the mountains to just an hours’ distance from the cities and introducing that ‘fleeting’ tourism which represents a moment’s recreation for city people and an illusory fortune for valley dwellers.
Mountains have always inspired fear. Inhabited by gods and demons, dragons and evil beings, dispensers of landslides, avalanches and floods, they were places of mystery to be explored and tamed. But mountain civilisation has gone beyond this: even where nature was at...
Rocciamelone was climbed in 1358 by Bonifacio Rotario of Asti, but this was an isolated event. In actual fact, townspeople discovered the Alps only towards the end of the 18th century, driven by scientific reports and by the emotions of romantic spirits. After Haller,...
When the Italian Alpine club was founded in the 19th century there was no division between mountaineering practice and scientific research. Quintino Sella, finance minister of the newly-fledged Kingdom of Italy, was equally at ease on rock faces or in geology...