The Vallalta Mining Center
Between historical charm and oblivion
Gosaldo, Dolomites UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site
In a previous article we told you about the first improvised visit to the Vallalta Mining Center and the abandoned hamlet of California area, in the Agordino Municipality of Gosaldo; on that occasion we had discovered, not without surprise, how the Val del Mis is rich in historical attraction connected to its centuries-long mining past. At the same time, it was impossible not to wonder why such a priceless historical heritage for the Agordino area is kept in a state of complete abandonment in the middle of the woodlands at the foot of the Cimonega Group. From the Titele bridge on, the road winds through a dense forest which is completely inhabited since the closing go the Vallalta Mining Center and the 1966 Flood that destroyed the area.
On that occasion, relying exclusively on the very few pieces of information found on the net but counting on the recent renovation works the area had undergone, we had been able to penetrate the thick and sometimes impervious forest only thanks to the clearly visible red-blue signs scattered through the wood. The rare information panels of the Belluno Dolomites National Park (in which much of the area lies) and the total lack of signs at the access to the area from the Titele bridge are very serious shortcomings from the Public Administration. And although many important hiking trails crosses the Vallalta area (the Tilman Route, La Montagna Dimenticata Historical Trail, the Alta Via delle Dolomiti n. 2, just to cite a few of them), the work the Public Administration has carried out rise a lot of questions about the touristic usability of the area.
Eternally grateful to those who placed the hiking signs on the itinerary, we had invite them to contact us to meet them and thank them for the very useful work they have done; as we had speculated, the signs were the result of a private initiative, and the care used in the work suggested us it could have been some local people who sincerely and selflessly cared for the preservation and enhancement of the past and their valley. After a few months, we have been contacted by two brothers from Gosaldo, Vincenzo detto Cencio and Renato Chenet, that thanked us for the interest we showed, corrected some errors we made with place names and above all invited us to join them for a visit of the area together with them. To discover a wild area with a rich past and with a fascinating natural environment together with experts that know the place from an entire life: an unmissable chance for agordinodolomiti.it. In this article we tell you more about the (almost) forgotten Miniere di Vallalta with the fabulous Chenet Family.
A short break in a very cold Fall day; from Monday to Friday temperatures have gone lower and lower and snow has fallen on the top of the Dolomites. Cold and bad weather have fortunately left space for two marvellous Autumn days pretty warm and full of sun. The meeting point with Renato and Cencio was established at the parking area right after crossing the Titele bridge nearby California, exactly from where we left last time. Finally the chance to meet us in person after a long correspondence and to swap jokes with them before leaving for the core of the Mining Area through the dense woodland. Together with the two brothers there are Mara, Cencio’s daughter, and Luigina, Cencio’s wife.
When asked why they should spend their time caring for an almost forgotten place, striving against the unstoppable growth of the woods and the complete abandonment of the area, the Chenet brothers smile and answer: “as a hobby” or “to avoid to spent too much time at the pub”, with the modesty that characterize the wise, calm and cleaver people. Actually, it is evident that even keeping just walkable the routes through the forest on the left side of the Mis River, which is completely abandoned both from the Municipality of Gosaldo and from the Nationa Park, must be a hell of a hard work that requires lot of devotion and passion. The Chenet brothers immediately stated that much of the funds needed for the works are paid from themselves and from the Alpini Group of Gosaldo, with no public contribution. The Chenet brothers are free from controversy and definitely prefer the collaborative approach to the maintaining of the usability of the area, but they rightly wonder who will carry out this work after them. To us, the most frequent question we have as we dive further into the dense wood is: have the sirs of the National Park or the Major of Gosaldo ever gone through the trails of the Vallalta area? It’s pretty evident they haven’t, because it they would, they would have also appreciate the wonderful work these two brothers have carried out though the years and possibly helped them somehow. It’s only thanks to them that the Vallalta Mines are nowadays reachable and only thanks to them visitors can find the right way to go there through the woodlands.
At the beginning, we went through the same itinerary as for of our previous tour of the area, this time taking advantage of the infinite and fundamental knowledge of the place of the two brothers. They made us notice immediately a mining tunnel, dug in the first Postwar period, that we hadn’t seen last time, on the other side of the Mis River in Pian de le Loppe (unfortunately, since the water of the Mis was remarkable, we couldn’t come closer to the tunnel, that can be normally reached). Furthermore, the Chenet brothers gave us a complete overview of the mining activity in the valley with excellent pieces of information we will use for further updates and article. In Pian de Le Loppe we noticed also the prosecution of the archaeological works by the Gruppo ARCA on site we had already seen last time on the ancient Middle Ages melting furnace. Also this time, this works are the result of the passion and hard work of a private group, and not supported by the Public Administration. Our best wishes also to them for a successful continuation and for the successful valorization of the mining complex.
After half an hour, we reached the abandoned Macatoch Mining Complex, always taking advantage of the excellent trails realized by the Chenet brothers. Without these trails, reaching the place would have ment to be compelled to cross the Mis three times and to enter an almost inaccessible wood without any visible human sign for kilometers. Through the tales of the Chenet brothers, we found out how the Macatoch melting furnaces worked and the use of the several buildings still present in the area (stables, warehouses, clubs for the miners, administrative offices, etc.) and the position of the original roads that connected the proper extraction area of Vallalta to the Macatoch melting furnaces (completely erased by the 1966 Flood). A huge causeway crossed before the flood the Mis River, allowing trucks to discharge the minerals directly in the stock units of the Macatoch furnaces in the so-called “cernita” [thérnita], the area in which quicksilver and gold minerals were sorted. Interesting stories that would totally deserve a more accurate treatment from the Government.
We visited then the abandoned hamlet of Macatoch, a few steps upstream from the melting furnaces. This ancient dwelling area was the house of many mining workers, as many other abandoned hamlets scattered through the surrounding woods that nature is slowly incorporating. Here, on the other hand, the work of the Chenet Family has maintained the touristic usability of the area . Another wonderful example of devotion and caring for the past that would deserve much more support from the Province of Belluno.
Right above the hamlet of Macatoch, the Chenet brothers showed us the ancient boundary between the Reign of Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, marked by an old boundry stone that the 1993 flood has freed from the riverbed. The boundary stone, that was unknown to the Chenet Family ancestors (father and grandfather), still has a clear writing on it, stating “Boundary stone replaced in the year 1892” , lies turned upside down on the Mis shore, but years of immersion in the water of the river hasn’t completely cancelled the red dye that originally colored the writings. Given the high historical value of the stone, it’s a shame that it has to remain in these conditions; we definitely hope for a more caring approach to the area from the Public Administration, for they have showed the capability of spending public funds easily when they want to, often for less useful and interesting works.
We then reached the second bridge on the Mis River and the second, ancient boundary between Italy and the Austro-Hungary (here there are other information panes put there by the Chenet Family); we found ourselves in what was called in the past the “triangle”, that is a land portion located between the Pezzea and the Mis rivers that was Austrian territory (nowadays located in the Trentino Region and not to Belluno), gained for the interest of the Tyrol in the usage of the mining ressources present here with many wars throughout the Middle Ages and the Modern Era. Like for the case of Passo San Pellegrino, the Tyrolean gained with wars the possession of land from the Venetians through wars and agreements with the European emperors even in places like this where natural boundaries would have prevent them to do so (the area is entirely geographically located in the Province of Belluno, since the Cimonega mountain range completely devides it from the Trentino).
The ancient boundary area between the Reign of Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire corresponds nowadays to the current boundary between the Provinces of Belluno and Trento. This place was pretty attracted for the two ancient Nations also for their richness in timber, testifies still nowadays by the place name “Pian de la Sièga” [Sawmill Plane], that is still visible on a sign put there by the Chenet Family. The walnut wood needed for the building of the new Church of Gosaldo (1867) was taken right here. Thee Chenet Brothers’ cousin, Mr Vincenzo (he also known as Cencio), that we met a few steps far from the ancient boundary working on the trail to the Casina, gave us further interesting pieces of information about the exploitation of these woodlands and also many interesting inputs about how the touristic usability of this area could be enhanced by a serious arrangement of the road that connects the Titele parking lot to the Macatoch area on the left side of the Mis River.
After greeting Mr Vincenzo, we went on on the trail to the Casina, the old administrative seat of the Tyrolean part of the Vallalta Mines. From the Casina, the mining tunnels of the Vallalta Mining center are clearly visible in the valley floor, and after taking a look at the interesting building, we wend down to the level of the Pezzea River to finally see the mining tunnels.
The mining area of Vallalta is composed of three mining tunnels: the O’Connor and Vallalta) tunnels, which belonged to the Italian Reign and a few meters away, on the other side of the Pezzea River, the Terrabugio tunnel, which was the mining tunnel of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Chenet Brothers showed us the opulent brand-new bridges made of red larch that the Province of Belluno installed in the area in 2016, which we found pretty ridiculous because they costed a fortune and are located in an area which is extremely difficult to be reached by foot. A strange way to spend the taxpayers’ money, given that there would be more urgent and more useful works to be carried out, but anyway… The area is equipped by a picnic area which was destroyed at the moment of our arrival (the wooden tables and chairs were completely rotten, although they were pretty new. And this is a shame, given that one of the 9 historical thematic trails of the Belluno Dolomites National Park, La Montagna Dimenticata, ends right here, at the Vallalta Mining Center.
The Chenet Brothers, that had remained very vague on the Public Administration up to that moment, took the occasion to remove some pebbles out of their shoes; why did the Public Administration spend a few hundred thousand euros to build (beautiful) but useless bridges in Vallalta instead of enhancing the information panels, the parking lot, the access roads, the two bridges on the Mis River, the Machatoch area and all the rest first? Why did they bought the bridges Abroad, instead of choosing local companies? Why the Terrabugio Tunnel (Province of Trento) has undergone restoration works, and the Vallalta and O’Connor Tunnels are left falling apart? Why building up expensive bridges and not even a euro for the picnic area? These and others are question that the Chenet Brothers keep on asking to the Gosaldo Major, but up to know without any credible answer.
Instead of returning to Macatoch on the same trail, the Chenet Brother showed us something different. We took the final part of the above mentioned La Montagna Dimenticata, admiring a completely different kind of wood, this one ample and full of fresh air.
With this second trail, we reached the Casin, and ancient rural house located in an ample meadows right in front of the amazing Croda Granda (Pala Group), and a few meters after we bumped into another Public shelter; well, the Casin was built in the End of the 19th Century and it was better looking that the Public shelter built up in the 80s. Another example of waste of public money that made us think a little bit.
We shudder at the thought that the new Vallata bridges could look like the shelter soon; what we hope, is that the new generations will be more caring about the treasures of their land than their parents. Our grandfathers used to live in contact with nature and caring about their community and their territory, the Heart of the Dolomites, but the situation completely changed with the generation of our parents. You can call this globalization or whatever, the fact is that they didn’t care as much as their parents about their land. A tendence which is, luckily, changing with our generation. We will see how the things will go on in the future, in the hope of being able to welcome more and more guests in our marvelous area.
Fun fact: if you go through the La Montagna Dimenticata trail after visiting the Vallalta Mining Center, you will bump into… a landslide. The itinerary has been created no more than a decade ago and has undergone several arrangement works already. As the Chenet Brothers said, wouldn’t it have more sense to enhance the other trail than spending so much money in this second itinerary?
After crossing the famous Via Tilman that connects Falcade to Asiago, in the footsteps of the legendary H.W. Tilman, we met the hamlets of Pattine and Mori, also dwelling places of the miners of Vallalta. These two small villages are almost abandoned (except for a couple of people still living there) and are one of the aspects of the true “Montagna Dimenticata” (Forgotten mountain), as we laughed a lot together with the Chenet Brothers.
In the hamlet of Mori the Chenet Brothers showed us two ancient crucibles belonging to the Macatoch complex that have been used as fontain tanks after the closure of the mines. The hamlets of Pattine and Mori are the setting of the event called Sognando California, a day organized by the Pro Loco di Gosaldo and by the Pro Loco Monti del Sole di Sospirolo, that every August promotes the knowledge of the rich history of the area with guided tours and a small festival open to everybody.
From Pattine we returned eventually to the parking lot; after thanking the Chenet Brothers for the marvelous tour, we returned home with mixed feelings.
If you wish to know more about the Vallalta history, please feel free to visit our dedicated section on this blog. If the history of these centuries-long mercury mines fascinates you, we definitely suggest you to go through the itinerary we made with the Chenet Brothers. Although winding through a dense forest, the peaks of the Pala Group and of the Monti del Sole are often giving splendid views during the tour and contribute to give the trail an additional touch of wildness and charm. A good mountain equipment is essential for this tour, which is generally pretty easy but requires a minimum of physical preparation. Don’t forget to turn to the local tourist offices to get further information about the place and the attractions of the area (contacts below). And if you meet the Chenet family by chance, don’t miss the occasion to ask them to tell you the interesting stories hidden in this remote corner of the Heart of the Dolomites. Let’s keep together this place alive!
Tourist information offices:
Pro Loco Gosaldo Dolomiti Tel. +39 437 68383 E-mail: email@example.com
Ufficio Turistico di Agordo Tel. +39 437 62105 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org