• Trekking

The tenacity of Major Martini

The Great War on the Martini Ledge, in the gallery of the Lagazuoi and the Kaiserjäger path. A story of men and heroes, among the Dolomites peaks

The tenacity of Major Martini

The cables of the cable car shake over our heads. The red cabin moves with the sound of an electric engine which revs and its shadow covers the parked cars in the parking lot of the Falzarego Pass. 600 meters higher another cab - from here is as small as a matchbox - is coming down from the top and the two cable cars meet. Valentina look at them, then she looks at me and then she looks the path that climbs through the pine woods.

In front of us the wall of Lagazuoi. From far no signs of the war. Only going closer, in front of ourselves, we see fortified ledges, holes in the rock, old wooden poles and iron clamps: footprints of struggle, death and desperate survival that are camouflaged so bitterly and perfectly. Nature, as children, is naive and has no prejudices. The fence of a pastor or an old trench, who cares? Nature forgets the bad in a hurry, it rather doesn’t  understand it at all, but the scars, as appropriate, it takes a lot to fix them. One of the most evident is the ledge that starts from the base of the moraines and leads to the entrance of a long tunnel. We put on our helmets and we turn on the lights and we skirt it.

In October 1915, on this rocky balcony that obliquely cuts the wall of Lagazuoi, the Major Martini and his battalion settled. Their goal? To reach the Austrian placements on the top of the Piccolo Lagazuoi and the Sas de la Stria. Until that time the Italians had been confined on the other side of the valley, on the Averau and 5 Torri, allowing enemies the highest and most advantageous position. From the ledge, instead, Martini managed to annoy the Austrians like a mouse with an elephant. After getting it, the Alpines fortified the mountain ledge and they also built kitchens and a small field hospital, while the others, who were on the top, tried to do the impossible to eradicate the enemies. Nothing. They tried with the mines, and still nothing.

Martini and his men became almost legendary, even among the enemies. Why they didn’t retreat with the mines? Why they always get away with it? The Alpines, meanwhile, didn’t remain on the ledge doing nothing just trying to passively avoid the mortars: they began to dig a tunnel to go up the mountain from the inside.


The entrance of the gallery is simple, as many others. However once inside, after wearing a sweater and turned on the lights, we realize that the tunnel is different from all other types of tunnel. A long rock staircase - the steps are edged with wooden beams and they are high from 30 to 40 cm - goes up in a dark tunnel. The climb is long, it shortens our breath and our stride. Families, couples and groups come towards us and then they disappear into the darkness behind us. Sometimes a room or a side tunnel lead to small windows on the valley from which enters a translucent flash.

In the last part, the gallery goes up further and it turns on itself in a steep spiral, after which we came out in the open air. A few minutes away passing through trenches and walkways there is the refuge Lagazuoi and the station of the cable car. That's the highest point: our small goal and the big one, suffered, by the 100 years ago Italians. Martini Alpines worked for months, for years, at the tunnel, to get a few steps from the enemy. In June 1917 they blew up the smaller peak of the Lagazuoi, destroying the lives and the settlement of the Austrians with which they had shared, a few hundred meters away, the same mountain for more than a year and a half.

We reach the refuge, we pass it and we begin to go down from the other side, along the Kaiserjäger path. It's five o'clock in the afternoon on a late August Sunday. The weather is clear and the clouds in the sky further amplify the spaces and the contrasts between the peaks of the Dolomites. During the descent to return to the Falzarego pass the view is wonderful. However, just seeing a piece of tin between the stones it takes us back with the memory when the young men with the tabard built, destroyed and rebuilt walls and barracks, trenches and tunnels. They were Italian or Austrian, they fought in the mud to conquer a few meters of barren rock from the enemy, and they left all their loved ones, to come up here in the cold, to die of starvation, avalanches, bullets and mines. If I think about this, even though the view, the perfect climate and the sweet smile of Valentina, I feel a shiver down my spine.