An introduction to The Great Dolomite Road

Blue Horizons2

I’ve loved the Italian Dolomites for many years, and have been lucky to have travelled, walked and climbed in most of the major centres and on most of the big peaks. I’ve been aware of the importance to the area of the road running from Bolzano to Cortina d’Ampezzo (and vice versa, of course) since one of my earliest visits, when I drove its length over two memorable days. It is in many ways a key and vital artery through the area. It runs for about 140 kilometres (86 miles) and carries the road numbers SS241 (Bolzano to Val di Fassa) and SS48 (Val di Fassa to Cortina d’Ampezzo).

A few years back,
a friend who knew I had been trying to build a collection of old Dolomites postcards gave me as a birthday present a small, hand-made, soft covered booklet of sepia and white photographs. These had been put together to show “La Strada delle Dolomiti Bolzano - Cortina”. The booklet contained 36 photographs by A. Zardini of Cortina. We estimated that the booklet dated from the early 1920s at the latest, and had been produced for the tourist market to commemorate the Great Dolomite Road, the last pieces of which were completed in 1909. My friend had found the booklet in a local second-hand bookshop.

Sadly, I knew that the friendly Zardini camera shop, on the Piazza Roma in Cortina d’Ampezzo, had closed down a few years before I was given this book. (It used to be in the block of shops right in the middle of
this image from Google Streetview.) However, e-mail being a wonderful thing, I was able to contact a representative of the family, who agreed to me incorporating copies of the original Zardini photographs into a web-site based comparison between the views 90 to 100 years ago, and the same scenes as they are today.

This web site is that project. It gives me an opportunity to celebrate the excellence of Antonia Verocai Zardini, one of the great early photographers of the Dolomites, and to show how much, and at the same time, how little the area has altered.

Part of the fun (and frustration!) of this project is trying to date the original photographs with any degree of certainty. The same is also true for many of the postcards in my collection. Finding the viewpoints from which most of them were taken was easier than I had expected, partly because I have good local knowledge of the area, but also because, to my delight, I found many were still great and obvious viewpoints for the views today. The first part of my work to celebrate the Zardini originals was carried out in October 2011. I made a further visit in September 2013. For these explorations, I was blessed in the most part with some of the best weather the Dolomites can offer. The work is, however, nowhere near fully completed and I look forward to revisits.

I began with the intention of welding the photographs, old and new, like this, below. However, I could not have made montages of all of the photos that way, because the viewpoint for some has been lost (under new tree growth, for example) and I wanted to cover all of Zardini’s 36 photos.

Costalunga Combined PhotoCampitello Combined PhotoFrataces Combined PhotoPordoi Obelisk Combined Photo

Why a web site?

This project could have become a book in its own right. I’m glad it didn’t, because it might have been published before the second booklet came to light. However, the Zardini family clearly still have copyright of the original photos, and the potential amount of work needed to create something with split copyright issues etc was not enticing. Importantly too, I want to see this project as the start of a piece of “work in progress”, to which new facts, corrections, better modern views, and so on can easily be added. As a web site, the work is less likely to go out of date in the way that a published book would. Putting the material on a web site also allows an almost infinite amount of linkage to other web-based material. There is not much of this (see my Links page) but some of it is very interesting, and, as the discovery of January 2013, above, shows, the world is full of surprises..

The site includes many links in the text, shown in a
blue underlined font. Please do click on those. They will add greatly to your enjoyment of the material. That last one wasn’t a link, by the way!

The photographs on the site are not web thumbnails, but scaled down originals. That may sometimes make them a little slow to load, but if your computer has the ability to zoom in on them, you will be able to see good detail without pixellation on my own colour shots. The resolution of the Zardini originals is limited by printing technology of the time. I decided not to use any modern digital processing, other than quite high resolution flatbed scanning, to sharpen the Zardini photos.

What else?

I want to regard this web site as an open resource. No one, least of all me, is making any money from it. It is a labour of love. I am more than happy to receive comments, corrections and suggestions. I will look into adding a page specifically for comments and so on, if I get any. Each page of the site contains a link to me by e-mail at the foot of the page.

I’ve augmented the contents of the site from my growing collection of old postcards and other photographs of the Road and points connected to it. These are still remarkably easy to find on-line and in Italian flea-markets. The postcards were made by a variety of companies. Many are by Ghedina of Cortina, who are still very much in business, but many do not have any identifying mark on the back.

Some of my postcard finds and purchases can be dated by postmarks or dates written on the back, but many in my collection have not been written on, and postcard manufacturers seldom print them with a date, either. As you browse the site, however, you will share some of my infuriation that so few postcards as I have been able to obtain carry reliable dating evidence about when the photograph was taken. This can, of course, be some years before the postcard was published or posted.

I have had such success tracking down interesting old postcards of the Road and the site now includes numerous modern comparison views to some of these, too.

In August 2014, I had the rare opportunity to drive the whole of The Road in just over 4 hours, with a video camera attached to the car. I don’t recommend this, particularly not on a wet August weekday afternoon, but I got several pieces of film that show what The Road is like these days from a driver’s point of view. You can see these YouTube clips at
The Videos page.

In January 2015, I added several photos to the site that had been sent to me by Peter Barnes, the son of Edward Thomas Whitaker Barnes, known as Tom, who was an early member of the
International Motorcycle Tour Club (I.M.T.C), which still flourishes. Tom Barnes rode his Triumph motorbike on a huge solo trip through central and eastern Europe in the summer of 1938. Peter sent me several photos to confirm that they were shot at various points along The Great Dolomite Road. I was very impressed with these pictures and I’m delighted to have permission to include five of them on this site. You can see them under Photo 10, Photo 13, Photo 20 and Photo 22.

I also hope that at some point, the text on the site can all be translated into Italian and/or German. My own grasp of both languages is better than average, but not up to the task.

Oh, and enjoy the site, but do go and see for yourself, too.

(The site content was last updated in January 2016)

>The Zardini Booklets