After most of the season has passed by, me and the love went for a different vacation – hiking the Alps as I had not done for such a long time. A different type of culture and a very different type of architecture (and hey, I know this one is not about Berlin, but why not tell you something about a different part of the world?).
Celts and Romans
So we decided to hike on the so-called GTA (Grande Traversata delle Alpi), which is a long-distance hiking trail passing the Italian region of Piedmont, choosing a part of the trail that led us through the Lanzo valleys and into Susa. The Lanzo valleys have always been a bit hidden, due to the fact that no important Roman route went through them and the space in the valleys is rather tight (the Romans started to conquer the whole area in about 50 B.C., before that is was the Celts that had left their mark on the culture.). Later on those valleys were at first more connected with France than with Piedmont, the traces of which can still be seen in the local Piedmontese vernacular. In the late Middle Ages this connection turns around and the Lanzo valleys become more dependent on the whole area surrounding Turin.
Traditional economy in the Alps
Just like in the neighbouring valleys, the area’s economy was based on a mix of transhumance, a type of pastoral nomadism, in higher parts of the Alps as well as farming in the lower parts. The harsh conditions, long winters and scarce farmland, favoured the development of a tradition called winter cohabitation, where the family shares a living quarter with the livestock during the winter months in order to save energy. Humans would either stay in the front part of the shelter, near the door, and the animals stay in the darker back part, or shelters would have two floors, where the family would share the upper level and be kept warm by the animals on the ground floor.
Hiking the Alps on the GTA you will pass many of those buildings, some being still in use. Most fascinating is the fact how they blend into their surroundings, due to the near exclusive use of local stone for the construction of all of the outer (and often inner) parts. It is even so that the quality of the stone at hand in one area would determine the layout of the house and make it different from the houses of a nearby area: If the stone is firm, then a higher building with two storeys is feasible. If the stone is rather brittle, the house will be on one level and much simpler.
Apart from pastoral and agricultural activities, ore mining became an important part of the economy of the Lanzo valleys. Iron, silver and cobalt were mined and processed in the valleys.
However, the population of the valleys has been in decline since the 19th century and most of the local culture has changed a lot. The upcoming market economy with a focus on Turin and the early success of Fiat and other companies (for instance the coffee Lavazza, the vermouth Martini and the publishing house Einaudi) dragged many of the old inhabitants into the usual subjection to assembly lines and a life in suburbia.
(Needless to say that you can and should combine such a tour with a visit to places like Turin. We went to have a look at the old Fiat factory at Lingotto, which in its days was the most modern factory to produce cars. It even has a testing track on the top of the building, which allowed for every car to be tested on site after being assembled. These days the building serves as a rather sad shopping mall – but hey, it thus survived destruction and can be visited!)
Grande Traversata delle Alpi
The hiking trail GTA (Great Crossing of the Alps) came up the 70s of the 20th century and followed the idea of implementing a mild form of tourism in areas of the Alps that had hitherto not developed any such industry. No new trails were laid out and the whole path uses old existing tracks that in former times were used to connect the different valleys. Accommodation is only offered in the valleys, thus supporting the local economy. On the other hand this means crossing mountain passes, sometimes two, and differences in altitude of 1000 meters and more (about 3300 feet) up and sometimes down need to be accomplished every day. The rewards though are excellent. Not only the views of majestic mountain perspectives, but also insights into fauna and flora are phenomenal. I can proudly say that I passed the following mountain passes: Colle della Crocetta (2641 m), Colle di Trione (2486 m), Passo Paschiet (2435 m) and the Colle della Croce di Ferro (2558 m).
For a good guide-book to the Great Crossing of the Alps check out “GTA Grande Traversata delle Alpi” which is the English translation of the German Rother Walking Guide. The authors are Kürschner and Haas. As for maps, we found those of the Istituto Geografico Centrale IGC as well as those of Fraternali Editore useful.
To learn more about me and my tours of Berlin, check out my welcoming post!