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Over ten thousand years of Maritime Alps

Fragments of history

A valley dweller observes the old Rifugio Genova: locals discover mountaineering! (PNAM archive)

The Maritime Alps were already inhabited in prehistoric times: we can see this from the famous rock engravings in the Merveilles valley, the caves at Aisone, which conserve traces of a Neolithic settlement, the findings in the nearby Tanaro valley, which take us back to the nomadic shepherds that lived in the area 15 thousand years ago. Since then, these mountains of passage between the coast and the plains have been crossed by countless shepherds, merchants, soldiers, pilgrims...

Each one has left traces: animal enclosures, salt routes, forts and sanctuaries snuggled between the mountain tops.
This part of the site briefly covers those stages of pre-history and history which left marks so deep that they are still visible today, centuries or even millennia later: these could be caves with the remains of cave bears, settlements from the fifth century BC or Bronza Age burial grounds, but also paved roads high in the mountains, barracks and hunting lodges for the King of Italy himself...

In the middle of the nineteenth century the kings and queens of the house of Savoy arrived in the Gesso valley. Struck by the savage beauty of these places and by the abundance of game, they decided to stay: and so one of the poorest areas in the Western Alps all at once became one of the "hunter king's" favourite residences right until the end of the Second World War.
Between 1943 and 1945 many locals fought on these mountains in the war for Liberation: in fact it was at Madonna del Colletto, near Valdieri that the first partisan group of Piedmont formed.

The last event that marked the history and the scenery of the what was to become Alpi Marittime Nature Park was the construction of the artificial reservoirs Piastra and Chiotas for the production of hydro-electric energy. The building sites changed the face of the Valle Gesso, but they also created job opportunities for the youngsters in the valley, slowing the massive depopulation of the 1960s and 1970s.

Then came the Park and Alpine tourism as we know it today, but that is history...

Prehistory in the Maritime Alps

The first inhabitants

The first to venture into these valleys were nomadic pastoralists that moved up here at the end of the last ice-age, looking for fields and pasture.

Kings and Queens in Valle Gesso

A century with the house of Savoy

Love at first sight between the House of Savoy and the Maritime Alps. It happened on 29 August 1855, when the princes Vittorio Emanuele and Ferdinando, Duke of Genoa, came to visit.

Fortification in the Maritime Alps

Military roads and fortications

Armies of every nation have trodden the ancient paths over these mountains, building new ones and leaving behind bunkers, forts, trenches, mule tracks...

Terme di Valdieri

Historic health-giving waters,

In the heart of the Park, from beneath the rocks of Monte Matto flow waters whose beneficial properties have been known for centuries.

Quarries and mines

Marble, limestone and slates.

The unmistakeable blue-grey marble from Valdieri, found in the roman theatres in Turin and Serravalle Scrivia shows the ancient origin of mining in Valle Gesso.

Alpine explorers in the Southern Alps

The pioneers of the Maritime Alps

Probably because they are off the beaten track and have no 4000 metre peaks, the Maritime Alps were discovered relatively late by climbers, compared with other parts of the Alps.

Hydroelectric plants in the Upper Gesso Valley

The dams and the power station

To make use of the abundance of water in the valley, in the middle of the 1960s, the electricity board Enel built the reservoirs that feed the underground power station near Entracque.

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Ente di gestione Aree protette delle Alpi Marittime