Monte Lagazuoi, September 16, 1917

On 23 May 1915 when the Kingdom of Italy declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire, their opponents set up a line of defense from the Stelvio Pass along the Dolomites to the Carso and the Adriatic sea. Cortina, which had belonged to Austria since 1511, was abandoned by the Austrian troops, who strengthened their positions at the Tre Sassi Fort in the Valparola Pass and on Mount Lagazuoi, in order to bar access to the Badia and Pusteria valleys, which were the Italian objectives in this sector.

Austrian Fort at Tre Sassi

In the early months of the war, the Italian assaults on the Austrian defense positions in the Valparola Pass were unsuccessful despite the Tre Sassi Fort being immediately knocked out of action by the Italian artillery grenades fired from the 5 Torri. Both armies then began to tunnel Mount Lagazuoi to seek shelter for troops and guns, transforming it into a new 20th century fortress. They soon found that the only way to conquer the enemy positions was by blowing them up. Five charges of dynamite exploded on the mountain, changing its appearance radically. The explosion captured in the photo at the top of the page is an Austrian mine detonated on September 16, 1917.

Fearing an Austrian counter-attack, the Italians prepared a defense line at 5 Torri, where the Italian artillery headquarters was based. The positions where Italians and Austro-Hungarians fought have been restored thanks to international collaboration and funds from the European Union, and can be visited in a great open-air museum. On Lagazuoi visitors can walk through the long galleries under the mountain and see the Italian and Austrian front-line positions; at 5 Torri there are the Italian defense lines and positions and artillery headquarters while, at the Tre Sassi Fort, there is a museum with exhibits recalling events of the Great War in the Dolomites.

View from Galleria on Lagazuoi

These three museums are about 15 kilometers west of Cortina on SS 48 delle Dolomiti and are located within a radius of 5 kilometers. They illustrate the different aspects of mountain warfare during the First World War: the defense of the Alpine valleys in the Austrian fort, the front line in the mountains and mine warfare on Lagazuoi, and the Italian defense line and artillery headquarters at 5 Torri.

Lagazuoi in Distance from 5 Torri

Lagazuoi and 5 Torri may be visited during the summer by walking up the mountain paths or using the cable car or chair lift. In the winter cableways should be used to get to the museum area and then the entrenchments can be seen using skis or snow shoes, preferably with an Mountain guide. The Tre Sassi Fort, on the road through the Valparola Pass, is accessible all the year round.

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Original artwork & copy; © 1998-2003, The Great War Society