First World War one day itineraries through Italy. Suggestion no. 11: the fort of Monte Rite and the “Museum in the Clouds”

View of the fort of Monte Rite
Not only an old fort of the WWI, but at present also the highest museum of Europe. It was 1977 when the renowned alpinist Reinhold Messner conceived the idea of restoring the fortification of Monte Rite (2.181m) and – after a long work, in renovating and transforming the architecture of the building – he inaugurated in the summer 2002 the “Museum in the Clouds”, which owes his name to the great 360° panorama that can be admired on its top: the view ranges over the clouds, starting from south with the Monte Schiara and Agner, the group of Sfornioi-Bosconero, then crosses over Civetta and Pelmo, overlooks the “royal pair” Marmolada and Antelao, catches even the Tofana of Rozes, move on the Marmarole and, to close the circle on the other side of the valley of the Piave River, gazes far on the northern horizon at the skyline of Tudaio and Cridola and finally turns to Spalti di Toro and the Duranno at east. The museum itself offers a lot, from the history of the region and its inhabitants through the centuries to collection of paintings and other temporaries exhibitions. It is open from 1st June till the end of September and you can find the latest updates on the Museum Program here.

The museum is however only a reason to visit Monte Rite, and not the main one for us, who would rather suggest a simple, yet very impressive itinerary related to the Great War. Monte Rite is placed on the crossroad of three of the most important valleys of the Dolomites – Ampezzo, Cadore and Zoldana – and had therefore a high strategic importance. That’s why the Italian Army started to build a fort on its summit already before the beginning of WWI, since about 1911. The buildings, with the storehouse, the cooking area and barracks that could host about 500 men, were connected with the valley by a mule track, that run then to the summit, where a military observatory was placed. As the Great War started the fort was not completed, nevertheless it became a defensive position from June 1915. Yet he was never at the really frontline: after the rout at Caporetto it was abandoned.

There are many ways to reach the summit – the most interesting one it’s maybe the path n. 494, which starts about 1km before the Passo Cibiana arriving from Forno of Zoldo and runs constantly through the wood. We’d like to suggest you however the shortest one (the ascent on the path takes about 1 hours), with starting point Passo Cibiana, so that you can have more time to spend on Monte Rite and on the ring path of its summit. The itinerary is very simple and even inexperienced hikers can undertake it, walking on the large mule track or eventually taking the shuttle bus to the “Museum in the Clouds”, available during the opening season (for fee, timetables and contact, see here; think about that during the summer the parking in the valley, the museum, as well the mule track may be quite crowded). 

For those who want to have a walk, instead, and to enjoy so the landscape at full, we suggest to park near the Rifugio Re Mauro or in one of the many areas nearby (pay attention, some of them are with fee), then walk along the mule track for about 10 minutes till you reach two small wood-houses. At the next bend you’ll see on the left a signpost that indicates the starting point of the panoramic path (the n.479, also called “Sentiero Col de Orlando”) entering in the conifer wood. The trail is really narrow and steep, maybe slippery with rain or snow, but presents no difficulties and the view, especially on the Group of Bosconero, is great. As soon as you come out from the trees, you have to cross some meadows before reaching the mule track and then, short after, the Forcella Deona. This is the first panoramic point which directs immediately your look to Antelao. If you follow the mule track you can reach in about 15 minutes the refuge and the museum-fort, but we suggest to proceed first on the ring path of Monte Rite. An information panel at Forcella Deona describes the main features of the 6 km trail: it takes about 1.30 hours and some equipped passage facilitate the walk, that has however to be undertaken only with good weather conditions and by trained hikers. Follow the indications and walk the small trail that runs around Monte Rite: you can reach so the different panoramic points, especially the Col Sette Prede, the Croce del Rite (on the peak of Monte Roan) and finally the top of Monte Rite. On this ring path you will discover remains of the WWI, many information panels describe moreover the flora and fauna of the surrounding. If it’s a sunny and clear day, the 360° view from the top of Monte Rite is indescribable, as we said; and even in a cloudy and snowy day (as this year was oft in the Dolomites till June) you can enjoy the view, breathe and imagine with the clouds. Close then the ring path and descend to the near fort that host the Museum – a visit is worth. Before coming back home, you can eat something and rest at the Dolomites Refuge, just walk 5 minutes on the descending mule track. Way back to Forcella Cibiana always on the mule track on feet or with the shuttle bus. 

(Here is the photo reportage about this itinerary.)

Great War in East Africa (CfP)

A map of the African continent
in 1919
Few months ago we announced the constitution of an international network for the study of the Great War in Africa. Today we’d like to support another initiative which aims to examine in depth the relationship between WWI and the African continent. Paper proposals for a conference which has to take place in forthcoming November in London are welcomed on any topics relating to the general theme of the campaigns in Africa. Furthermore a research day in The National Archives or Imperial War Museum is planned besides the conference. Below the CfP that you can find also on the home page of the Association here.

The second GWEAA conference will take place on 9 November 2013 at The National Archives, Kew, London (same place as last year).

At the request of many, we will have a conference research day on Friday 8 November for those who wish to access archival material whilst in London (details below). On the Friday evening, there will be an opportunity for everyone to meet at The Coach & Horses between Berkeley Sq. & Bond St. (max 5 mins walk from Bond St / Oxford Circus & Green Park tube / bus stops).

Given the centrality of the East Africa campaign to the Great War in Africa more generally, there will, pending interest, be a second strand of talks dealing with the Great War in other African theatres.

As there is no pre-determined theme for the day, topics relating to any aspect of the campaigns in Africa are welcomed.

If you would like to present a paper or talk on 9 November, please send a short overview to Anne at thesamsonsed[at] Papers and talks will be published following the conference event.

In order to cover the costs for 9 November, there will be a charge of £60 for participants and attendees. This includes lunch and refreshments during the day. There will be an additional small charge for the event on Friday evening 8 November for those wishing to attend. This will be advised in due course, as will details on how to book your place at the conference.

Research Day
If you would like to participate in the research day on 8 November, please let me know which of the archives (The National Archives or Imperial War Museum) you plan to visit. This will enable me to let you have the necessary information to access the collections (the two archives have different booking and entry requirements). There will be someone from the GWEAA at each venue to welcome members and to arrange a common place for those wishing to meet over lunch that day.

More information on the Research Day and the Conference will be posted here, but please do get in touch in the meantime to express your interest etc.

Pilates and the Great War

Did you know that the invention
 dates back to WW1 years?
Pilates was recently ranked as one of the Wellness-Trends of the past decades, and we guess a description of this training method is therefore not required. Yet, this “system of exercises that promote the strengthening of the body, often using specialized equipment”, as its founder described it, is closely related to the Great War. It is someway funny to compare the image of all people that nowadays go to the training centers and stand on their comfortable exercise mats on the one hand, and, on the other, the image of the places where actually this sport was ideated: an hospital for German prisoners in the Isle of Man during the WWI.

Born on December 9th, 1883 in a small village near Düsseldorf, Joseph Hubertus Pilates was the second oldest child of nine children. His father was a gymnast, his mother a self-educated naturopath, and they likely provided him the suitable environment for his early commitment with both Eastern and Western form of training, combined with the study of Greek and Roman Philosophy. Being during most of his childhood ill, Joseph Pilates tried in fact to overcome his physical illness developing his body with body building, boxing, gymnastic and diving. In his late twenties, after the death of his first wife, he moved to England, where he wanted to further his boxing-training. Here he was hired with his brother by a German circus troupe and toured through England.

But as in August 1914 the Great War broke out, he was submitted to the new policy of internment (in the United Kingdom, the “Aliens Registration Act” was introduced on 5th August 1914). With other German nationals he was confined first in Lancaster, then at the Isle of Man. It is not clear to which of the two Camps – the Cunningham’s Young Men’s Holiday Camp in Douglas or the Camp at the Knockaloe Moar Fram, established only by October 1914 – Joseph Pilates was sent. For sure, he spent almost five years of internment in the Isle of Man. And it was during this period that he started developing his new training method. First he offered wrestling and self-defense training to his fellow internees, then, in the fall of 1916, he began working in one of the hospital as a physical therapist. He tried to assure benefits also to those confined to a bed from illness or injury. Fixing bedsprings to the headboards and the footboards of the hospital beds, he enabled bedridden patients to exercises against resistance and offered so simple, yet effective instruments to train the patients and improve their strength and health. As the influenza epidemic that killed thousand in England in 1918 started to spread in the camp, he stated that most of the internees he had trained didn’t got sick.

After the war, Joseph Pilates came back to Germany, where he improved his exercise method combining it with the dance technique. Impressed by the results of his training, the German government asked Pilates to train the new German Army. But Joseph disliked the political climate of his home country and decided to move in April 1926 to New York, where he spent the rest of his life working and improving his techniques. Pilates’ history is for sure an adventurous one, and the training exercises and instruments he has invented and developed are for sure well known, and it is not up to us to talk about them. We referred shortly to Pilates, just to say once again, that we shouldn’t forget the even some of the most funny “trend” of our societies are rooted in the past, even up to the WWI Camps in the Isle of Man.

"Sur les pas de Wilfred Owen", the remembrance trail in Ors (Northern France)

Everybody knows that business-wise one of the most prominent points of the First World War Centenary is the worldwide tourism movement connected with it. Just to take the French case, every year millions of tourists visit the Somme battlefields. We have a similar situation in the Flanders fields. It's not the same with the Piave or Isonzo areas. Anyway, there's nothing wrong with the connection between the Centenary and tourism, provided that the touristic offer coming from WW1 tour operators is able to design always new and respectful paths and itineraries. Since the aftermath, the battlefields have always been the destination of people wanting to see and understand more about the battlefields where their beloved fought and too often died. So nothing is new on all fronts. We thank Delphine Bartier of ADRT NORD TOURISME for sharing with us the details, the press release and some pictures of the inauguration of the "Sur les pas de Wilfred Owen", a "remembrance trail" dedicated to one of the poets we already wrote about in this post

Here is the short introduction we read in the press release:

Ors, 4th November 1918, 05.45 hours: Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen of the Manchester Regiment and his platoon launched an attack on a German position on the opposite bank of the Sambre-Oise canal. Under a hail of machine-gun fire, Wilfred Owen and 104 other men perished just one week before the signing of the armistice. One of the great names in modern poetry had fallen. 120 years after his birth, an audio-guided walk will take visitors in the footsteps of Wilfred Owen. Nord Tourism opens this walking trail and its associated interpretation panel on 2nd June 2013 along with Nord Pas de Calais tourism. Starting out from the Maison Forestière or Forester’s House opened in October 2011 and Simon Patterson’s work of art in his memory where he spent his last night, the trail passes through the woodlands of the Bois l’Evêque and the cemetery where he was laid to rest and on to the banks of the canal. An audio guided tour by Cambrai tourism office is also available free of charge. The 6 km trail (allow 1¾ hours) is also something of a nature walk taking in part of the woodland of the Bois l’Evêque and its history. The trail also speaks of the motivation of the mayor of Ors in paying to the poet, who was little known in France, the homage to which he is entitled.

Download the guide (from mid June in English):

The trail was officially launched on Sunday 2nd June, to see the trail in pictures:

More links:

And here below we are able to share some images of the trail we received.