Massiccio del Grappa
The left slopes of the Brenta valley are the slopes of the Colli Alti, the portion of the Grappa massif that falls under Vicenza. The mountains, the backdrop to bloody battles during the Great War, now offer warm hospitality. You can go on hiking or mountain bike excursions, go skiing or walking with snowshoes there. More generally it offers stunning panoramas for people who want to enjoy some peace and quiet and enjoy its unspoilt natural beauty. Monte Grappa stands 1775 metres high and is the highest peak in the Grappa massif, part of the Venetian Prealps which rises up in solitary splendour between the valleys of the Brenta and Piave rivers.
The origin of Monte Grappa dates back to about ten million years ago, and can be attributed to the ongoing colliding of the African and European continental plates.
The collision forced the plates upwards and they crumpled to form the mountain chains and hilly belts that we see in the Italian territory.
THE GREAT WAR
There is little mention of the mountain’s past history and the origin of its name, which historical documents show as being changed on several occasions, until 1901 when the Patriarch of Venice, Giuseppe Sarto, before becoming Pope Pius X, took the famous Madonnina statue, which can still be seen in the Sacrario, up and blessed it. Monte Grappa took on great importance during the Great War, when in 1917 it became the bastion of defence of the Austrian troops, who after the battle of Caporetto aimed to conquer the Eastern bank of the Piave river and control of the Massif so it would be the link between the front lines of the Piave and the plateaus. It was here that the Austrian troops who started attacking on 13th November and continued attacking for ten days, with enormous loss of life on both sides, encountered fervid resistance to the extent of regaining part of the Asolone flank, after the battle of 11th December, with an Italian counter-attack. The following spring the fourth Italian corps, under the command of General G. Giardino, suffered a new enemy offensive that began on the night of 15th June 1918.
On the same day the Italian troops hit back with a counter-attack and on 24th June stabilised the situation again by, for the second time, foiling the Austrian attack designed to conquer Monte Grappa and open the route down to the plains. The Italian offensive of 24th October 1918 (exactly one year from the battle of Caporetto on 24th October 1917) finally managed to chase the Austrians off Monte Grappa, and definitive victory in the war fell to Italian troops. In honour of the soldiers who died for their homeland, after the First World War the Ossario monument was erected, a project assigned to the engineers who designed the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele III arcade. Work started in 1925 had to be suspended, because of water ingress in 1931 when a new design was created that cut the gallery off from the system and for the production of which work concluded with the inauguration ceremony presided over by the King on 23rd September 1935.
In memory of the victory, every year on the first Sunday of August, there is a celebration on Monte Grappa in remembrance of the placing of the Madonnina and the war dead. In the Second World War, and in particular the period from the fall of Fascism (25th July 1943) to its return to power after several months (8th September) in the Bassano area anti-Fascist partisan brigades were formed that amassed mostly on the Grappa massif, so as to control Valsugana, Germany’s connecting route with Nazi forces operating in Italy.
In July 1944, the Nazi-Fascist alliance responded to the guerilla warfare launched by the partisans with a tragic massacre employing 15-20,000 troops against 1,500 partisans. A bronze statue stands in their honour near the Ossario, the Monument to the Partisan, a piece by sculptor Augusto Murer.
Monte Grappa, with its historical load, is still a reference point and symbol of Italian identity and even more so that of the Prealpine area. The symbols (most important of all the Sacrario on its peak) that recall the Great War not only survive, but are looked after with care, veneration and jealousy The peaks of the massif that were the theatre of the final phase of the First World War, constituting a single battlefront with the Piave river and the plateau, reveal the traces of trenches and communication trenches to those who make the effort to get up there to seek out the historic testimonies of that event besides representing a real goldmine of war relics for the delight of collectors. There has been such a wealth of interesting material collected over these last ninety years since the end of the conflict that our entire territory in the mountains and foothills can boast numerous museums and displays scattered pretty much everywhere. But the most remarkable signs that the mountain landscape can certainly offer to the tourist or hiker curious about history are the paths of walkways, communication trenches, combat trenches and mule tracks that cross all the slopes of the massif.
With regard to that, not only the old war paths were restored to their former state but also the trenches of what was, for at least a year, the actual battlefront. Recently groups of the Montegrappa di Bassano Italian Alpine Regiment National Association have been working hard in recuperating as much as possible to pass on to future generations who will not be able to count on direct testimonies of war veterans because of the obvious question of age.
The geographical position of Monte Grappa and the whole southern face of the massif, just before the Veneto plain makes it a particularly rich area, which represents a quarter of the whole national heritage. In fact, the climate conditions deriving from its position have favoured the integration of macchia scrub, typical of Mediterranean areas, with Northern mountain formations that occupy quite contained spaces in which you find mostly conifer forests and sub-alpine bushes, right in the zones that are covered in snow for a long time.
In correspondence with the harsh crags of the lateral valleys, in particular the Brenta valley, there are plenty of plants capable of tolerating long periods of drought and wide temperature variations, that come from the more continental areas of Eastern Europe and Siberia.
Very interesting are the so-called Illyrian species which have their maximum diffusion centre here. They include the extremely rare Centaurea rupestris of karst environments, Genista sericea, Seseli gouanii, Cytisus pseudoprocumbens and others. The role of Monte Grappa as a refuge for rare species is confirmed by the presence of Centaurea alpina, a plant found in only two zones of the massif: in the Cornosega valley and in the dry-stony stations above Carpanè. It is also the limit of expansion for certain species: limit of eastern penetration for Primula spectabilis, limit of western diffusion for Euphorbia kerneri and Lilium carniolicum. But the extreme wealth of flora of Monte Grappa also derives from anthropization which, favouring flocks and hay meadows has lead to deforestation of huge areas of sub-mountain and lower mountain areas (600-1200m a.s.l.) populated by ravine forests creating new environments and favourable conditions for propagation of new species, including those of exotic origin. Alteration of the natural environment has lead also to negative consequences like the rapid propagation of new species and their prevailing over the typical vegetation of the massif. A meaningful example comes from robinia, an invasive weed that spreads in vast expanse in deforested or abandoned belts.
It is typical vegetation of the sub-mountain and lower mountain areas. Ravine woods: populated mainly by maple and limes and, in the minority by maple and ash, species cohabit belonging to the noble broadleaved trees like common ash, linden, Scots elm, sycamore, Norway maple and in lower quantities, beech and hop hornbeam and common hornbeam. Undergrowth: mostly yew, common spindle and the rare Philadelphus coronarius; Meadows and pastures: grass varieties including Lunaria rediviva, Phyllitis scolopendrium, ferns, wolfsbane, Dentaria pentaphyllos and Asperula taurina. Upper mountain belt vegetation: Forests: pure beech or mixed with silver fir. In certain areas, unaffected by human intervention, there is rich, well-stratified undergrowth. North western slopes with wide, varied range of forest type species and considerable spread of chestnut forests.
You may encounter an equally valuable selection of fauna, and particularly birds and various types of birds of prey like falcons, sparrow hawks, buzzards, alpine choughs, ravens, kestrels, peregrine falcons, long-eared owls, and even a few rare specimens like the golden eagle, with roe deer and other small mammals like foxes, hares, martens, weasels, skunks, squirrels, dormice, voles and hedgehogs. There are also reptiles like the innocuous slowworm, water snakes, Aesculapian snakes reaching up to two metres in length, whip snakes, locally known as carbonazz because of the charcoal colour of their skin and lastly the common viper Some lizards live between the rocks and on plants like common lizards or green lizards, while near ponds inhabited by crested newts and dragonflies or wetlands you might catch a glimpse of slow fire salamanders and other amphibians. There is a massive number of insects with a huge range of butterfly and moth species.