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The "Via Vandelli": road archaeology in the Apuan Alps

Florence, Italy
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The "Via Vandelli": road archaeology in the Apuan Alps

The Apuan Alps are known to be a training ground for hiking and rock climbing, almost unique in the Apennines. But even for those who have mostly historical interests, there are particular suggestions. I am not referring here to the picturesque villages and castles perched on the mountains, but to an attraction of real "road archeology".

To illustrate it, I must refer to the first half of the eighteenth century, when Italy was divided into many independent states. In 1738 an union by marriage occurred between the Duchy of Modena and the Principality of Massa and Carrara. The Duke of Modena, previously secluded into other States, saw then the possibility of having access from his State to the Thyrrenian sea, through a road - carefully avoiding other States - starting from the Po Valley and crossing not only the main Apennines ridge, but also the rugged, steep Apuan Alps.

This is the origin of the "Via Vandelli", named after the mathematician and engineer (working at Duke court) who planned it.

The fact that, shortly after it was built, much of the road has been abandoned in favor of other routes (routes made ​​possible by a new geopolitical situation; it is the case of so-called "Strada Giardini", from Modena to Pistoia and further to Florence) allowed a long stretch of "Vandelli" road to be preserved with the technical characteristics of the eighteenth century up to the present day. In short, a sort of "Pompeii-like" road relic.

The most striking part of the road is precisely the one that climbs the Western Apuan Alps, starting from town of Massa. Or rather, starting from Resceto, a hamlet 11 km above Massa: here the paved road ends and in fact the ancient "Via Vandelli" now begins.

The road climbs with steeply but uniform gradient along the steep side of the mountain, up to "Tambura" pass (a pass so called by the peak which dominates the road, one of the highest peaks of the Apuan Alps). It's an altitude difference of almost 1,200 meters / 4000 feets in little more than 6 Km.

The road has been restored in recent years in its first section, up to the "finestra Vandelli" (see below); in particular the pavement was reconstituted, and its original width was recovered - the width was established, as noted by Luca Giovannetti in his research <http://www.barganews . com/blogs/tambura/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/via_vandelli1.pdf>, only in Italian - in 2.5 meters, which allowed the passage both of carts and carriages.

The crossing of two carriages was obviously impossible, except in an artificial widening carved into the rock near the pass, the so-called "Finestra Vandelli" (Vandelli window), close to the "Nello Conti" hut, a rest facility run by the Italian Alpine Club, at an altitude of 1442 m. (see http://www.movieinitaly.com/nelloconti/)

An English summary about the road, and a few illustrations, are readable at:


Overall, a day trip along the road, leaving from Resceto hamlet, and at least up to "Nello Conti" hut, is a unique experience not only for the views that this route allows you to enjoy, but also for the experience that it allows to have about the most daring road technologies of the past.

Moreover the hike, although quite heavy (beware: no shadow!), is accessible to everyone, and doesn't cause particular problems even to those who suffer fear of heights (even if it is recommended just for children aged 10 years and older). From this point of view I would like to approach the Via Vandelli to some ancient alpine routes also well preserved. For example, the mule track which from tha ancient spa town of Leukerbad, Valais (Switzerland), climbs to the "Gemmi Pass", track called by some "the safest between the scary roads in the Alps".

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Nature & Wildlife Areas, Parks
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2 replies to this topic
1. Re: The "Via Vandelli": road archaeology in the Apuan Alps

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Removed on: 08 November 2013, 12:01
Edited: 08 November 2013, 12:01
Florence, Italy
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4,838 posts
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2. Re: The "Via Vandelli": road archaeology in the Apuan Alps

Many thanks Mike for introducing me to this website.

I didn't know it, and it's very appreciable


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