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Barracks on Hoher Trieb
Barracks on Hoher Trieb

What is a peace trail? Traces of war and reconciliation in the Carnic Alps, near the Dolomites

Lesley looks at the poignant Peace Trails, such as the Karnischer Höhenweg near the Dolomites and the Pot Miru in Slovenia. There are signs of war scattered around these routes but now these Peace Trails are celebrated as emblems of reconciliation.

“Paths that were once dividing front lines shall bring us together today.” – The friends of the Dolomites – Dolomitenfreunde.

The Dolomites offer some of the most spectacular walking and trekking areas of the Alps, and are justifiably one of the most popular alpine regions. Towering spires of Dolomitic limestone rise sheer from their crumbling limestone scree bases, while within the deep valleys that bisect these great peaks lie pastures and pretty villages. The air is tranquil, enjoyed by both skiers in the winter months and walkers from all over the world during the summer, but it has not always been that way.

Barracks on Hoher Trieb
Barracks on Hoher Trieb

World War I left numerous traces on the mountains between the Ortler and the valley of the river Isonzo.

I remember being both moved and fascinated by the remnants of trenches and dugouts at Lagazuoi, near Cortina, while on the Alta Via 1. I had expected to see barbed wire lying rusted and contorted, and sections of fortifications and tunnels, but it was the fragments of leather boots and other tiny personal items that had once belonged to, and been worn by, someone who had been on that battle line that were really poignant.

Many thousands of lives were lost in these mountains, as successive campaigns and battles during World War I were fought to gain or regain outcrops and pinnacles deemed to be of crucial strategic importance. This region of Europe continued to be an area of mixed allegiances, both during World War II and the Cold War that followed. Even today it is the cultural identity of those who live in the region that exerts a far greater influence over the traditions, culture and cuisine, rather than the regional or political divisions.

There are now three designated Peace Trails

The AV1, which visits Lagazuoi, briefly crosses what was once a front line on its journey between Lago di Braies in the north and near Belluno. However, there are now three peace trails that have been cleared and waymarked by volunteers that follow the line of the old front lines, providing a selection of fantastic routes along high vantage points and ridges.

The fragments of leather boots that had been worn by someone who had been on that battle line that were really poignant.

Peace trails in the mountains provide an historical approach to exploring and understanding more about a violent conflict that once took place in that location. The creation of the Alps–Adriatic Peace Trails was mainly the work of Walther Schaumann, an Austrian alpinist, army officer and military historian. In 1973 he started on his project to restore the relics from World War I and to make them accessible to interested visitors.

The first cross-border project was the long-distance Alps–Adriatic Trail, officially opened in 2012. From the Grossglockner in Austria to the Adriatic Sea, this huge route passes through Italy, Austria and Slovenia in 46 stages. From this, three separate peace trails have been developed in these three countries: the Itinerari di Pace sul Carso della Grande Guerra in Italy, the Pot Miru in Slovenia, and the Karnischer Höhenweg, for which there is now a Cicerone guidebook.

The friends of the Dolomites – Dolomitenfreunde

The friends of the Dolomites – Dolomitenfreunde – is an organisation established 'with the aim of supporting peace and understanding through research and documentation of the former conflict areas’. Their main activity has been turning ‘war trails’ – the routes formerly used to supply troops – into ‘peace trails’. They have also established open-air museums at various locations in the Dolomites, and one such museum is at Plöckenpass, on the route of the Karnischer Höhenweg.

John Hayes has written a guidebook to the Karnischer Höhenweg and, throughout the guidebook, weaves his normal route guidance for the trail with references from the wartime conflicts, along with photographs taken on location both in World War I and on the trail today.

Extract from the Karnischer Höhenweg guidebook:

Stage 5B visits the most contested part of the World War I front line in the Carnic Alps, where fighting was close and personal, and includes a walk through the World War I Open-air Museum. This is not a museum in the conventional sense, where exhibits are curated and explained. There is no entrance fee and very little in the way of facilities, but a lot to stimulate the imagination. Getting to the top involves a 300m climb so don’t expect a queue to get in. The museum centres on the Austro–Hungarian positions around Kleiner Pal, but the Italian positions on Freikofel are also complex and well preserved. The Austro–Hungarian positions have been maintained by the Dolomitenfreunde (Friends of the Dolomites) in conjunction with an excellent museum in the village of Kötschach, in the valley to the north. The Italian positions are looked after by an equivalent Italian organisation, the Associazione Amici Alpi Carniche (Association of Friends of the Carnic Alps), who are also working on a restoration of barracks and trenches around the Passo Cavallo.

This all creates a fascinating project for both alpine walking and historical interest. When are you going?