"The Western Alps" Top 5 Page for this destination Torino Travelogue by ant1606
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- Excerpt from UNESCO document for the inscription of the Western Alps as UNESCO World Heritage Site -
Only for candidature purposes, we will refer to western Alps not as to the classic division (from Colle di Cadibona to Colle Ferret), but to the whole mountain range included between the high valley of the Tanaro river and the Valgrande National Park, which corresponds to the mountainous area of Piemonte (a tiny sector of Liguria) and Valle d'Aosta also including Pennine Alps and a small portion of the Lepontine Alps, close to the Ticino river.
The protected areas included in the management plan are located from an altitude of 800 mt (Certosa di Pesio) to 4810 mt (Monte Bianco) above the sea level; many parks and relevant areas are shared with neighbouring countries due to the fact that current political borders follow exactly the watershed. The formation of Western Alps is the result of a 75 million years process which involves the approaching of two lithosphere plates: the Palo European and the Palo African. The Western Alpine Arc is the location where this approaching process was more evident causing steeper relieves and higher elevations. Here, we can find the highest and the most renowned European mountains thanks to the greatness and to the spectacular natural scenario that they offer. Some of these mountains are:
Monte Marguareis-Mongioie (2651 m asl), Rocca dell'Abisso (2755), the Monte Argentera (3297) – Marittime and Liguria Alps; Aiguille de Chambeyron (3411), Monte Pelvo and Mongioia (3340), Monviso (3841), Monte Rognosa of Sestriere (3280), Orsiera (2878), Rocciamelone (3538), Ciamarella (3676) – CozieAlps; Gran Paradiso (4061), Monte Bianco (4810) Cervino (4478), Monte Rosa (4634) - Graie Alps.
The Western Alps, due to their geological history, the rugged soil morphology, the variety of substrata, the wide range of altitudes, the several local microclimates, host a wide range of the European ecosystems, many of which are only present in the alpine arc or here they act-out at their best. Due to the particular shaping of the Western Alps, these environments are all closely connected to each other as much as from the bottom valleys to the peaks of the mountain – 1 or 2 Km – it is possible to recognize all transformation steps between the Mediterranean flora and the Nordic one. The huge variety of rocky substrates renders unique landscapes.
The Alps are famous for their rich and multi coloured flora, estimated in approx. 4500 different species: more then 500 are exclusive of the Alps, 180 are endemic of the Western Alps and other 70 widely spread over the mountain range. Some areas of the Western Alps are particularly rich in flora: in the Liguria and Maritime Alps we can find 2660 different species accounting for 60% of the French flora. Here, live 5-6 taxa of a sub specific rank and 24 exclusive species. The fauna is also abundant. Apart from the “symbol species”, the Ibex, the Alps host many vertebrate endemic species: among the amphibious, the Lanza Salamander (Salamandra Lanzai) of the Cozie Alps; among the small mammals, the fatio's pine vole (Microtus Multiplex), among the bats, the brown long-eared bat (Plecotus Alpinus). Obviously, the most important factor for the biodiversity is represented by the invertebrates.
The mountain range going from the Maritime Alps to the big lake district has been defined by the ancient “probe inexpugnabilem finem” or rather the place of awe and concern (Livio XXI, 23-24). This mountain range has its own original aspects due to the geo-morphological shape and to the political situation that, during several centuries, induced a particular cultural landscape, variegated and rich.
The steep rock face of the mountains and the lack of a pre-alpine strip determine the aspect of a region - Piemonte – that shows strong contrasts, deep valleys engraved in the metamorphic rocks. The concept of border as a place instead of a bound is at the basis of the cultural landscape of the neighbouring countries and it also produces original and homogeneous features.
There are several examples of anthropic actions all along the Western Alps: ruins of Roman monumental art, religious settlements and the middle age castles. Between the XVII and the XIX century we assist to a complete and capillary colonization of the mountain landscape: the shaping of the sides to terraces and the stretching of the pastures to higher altitudes. The relation man-environment can be seen through the narrow network of rural settlements, the materials and the construction technique. As from the XV century, the territorial contiguity and the cultural uniformity of the newly established Sabuado State became a primary political target. This can be seen through the orderly fortification of the strategic spots.
Each single historic period is marked by significant technological and architectural innovations: for example, the great work to protect and to give practicability to the mountain crosses. During the XIX and XX century, we assist to a very important scientific development. This was driven directly by the problems raised by the Western Alpine Arc characteristics: geology, geo-morphology, climatology, the topographic and altitude detections, etc. Finally, the construction of the Frejus railway tunnel (1871) represents, on one hand a technological masterpiece and on the other hand the starting point for a new industrial centralization period which will induce to a gradual impoverishment and depopulation of the mountains.
Also from a cultural point of view, the aspects of this impervious natural landscape are at the basis of the difficult relation man-environment which has been developed through the centuries in this area. The cultural landscape of the Western Alps presents a set of exceptional sites which clearly demonstrate the above mentioned unique relation. This has grown in extremely difficult environmental conditions, which required precise cultural answers and solutions to the issues linked to environmental adaptation thus generating the optimal balances: crosses, hills, fortresses, and military path and veneration routes.
The Western Alpine Arc, due to its populating events and to its prehistoric man-environment dynamics, shows a set of interesting archaeological sites, where the human adaptation to the environmental conditions is clearly and constantly proved or rather the overall results of the human cultural answers to the challenges of the environment, it is, therefore, a real outdoor museum of the ancient civilizations. Some of those sites show even more relevance due to the fact that certain historical periods can be clearly read all through the various areas.
It represents an extraordinary set of places proving the hardness of the man-environment relation and it still preserves the traces of a multi-layered cultural landscape as alpine grazing, routes, path and example of folk architecture.
The area is associated with scientific studies and subjects created appropriately in a mountain environment: cultural and natural landscapes have been object of several writings, poetries, arts, pictures and movies. It is a very important land for the European linguistic evolution; there are still relevant communities from an ethnic point of view; the area preserves several religious sites as to prove the heritage of local traditions, typical food, feasts and local traditional feasts; these places gave birth to mountain climbing as a sport activity and also all the winter sports together with the related infrastructures.
Justification for Outstanding Universal Value
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity:
The registration will involve a huge number of important sites across the various countries involved. Those sites are already protected according to the current regulation system. This will also represent the natural value of the Western Alpine Arc, according to the Convention on the Protection of the Alps, adopted in Saltsburg the 7th of November 1991 and ratified by the Italian government with Law 1103 of the 14th of October 1999.
In detail, the registration will involve those natural parks who are notable for their geological and geo-morphological values, panoramic views, famous peaks and natural beauties. The Italian parks are: the natural park of the Maritime Alps, the natural park of the Tanaro and Pesio valley, the natural reserve of Palanfrè, the natural park of Trocea valley, the natural park of Orsiera Rocciavrè, the natural park of the Gran Bosco of Salbertrand, the Gran Paradiso natural park, the regional park of Mont Avic, the natural park of the Alta Val Sesia, the natural park of Alpe Veglia and Devero Alp, the national park of the Val Grande. The French parks are: the national park of Mercantour, the regional natural park of Queyras, the national park of Vanoise and the espace Mont Blanc.
The natural values which are preserved in the protected areas are linked to a network of sites of significant interest. Those sites offer a system of paths and routes which have an historical value (military routes, religious paths, trade routes, and famous crosses), artistic and architectural value (fortifications and castles), mining sites, abandoned villages, religious monuments, traditional architectures, soil uses and levellings.
The interaction between human and natural values is at the basis of the definition of alpine landscape in terms of "cultural landscape". This represents an added value to the candidature. As far as Italy is concerned, according to the article 142, paragraph 1d of the Legislative Decree of the 22nd of January 2004, "Codice dei beni culturali e del Paesaggio", the portion of alpine mountains exceeding the 1600 mt above the sea level, are protected.
Comparison with other similar properties:
The whole Alpine Arc is a natural and land-settlement area at the heart of Europe. Its importance has been recognized at many levels and also ratified by international documents, such as the Alps Convention. The Western Alps cannot directly be compared with any asset already subscribed in the World Heritage List. This is due to the absence in the list of any sites which cover such a wide cross-country geographical area with natural and cultural relevance. In Italy, the Western Alps can surely be compared with the Eastern Alps Arc; this represents the natural completion and at the same time is kept separately by the western counter part due to management requirements. With respect to this, it is important to remark that many protected areas are already part of the Italian network of parks. In comparing the Western Alpine Arc with other European mountain ranges already included in the World Heritage List, we can mention the following: the western Caucasian chain (Russian federation) with several ecosystems still unpolluted, the Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn (Swiss) as the widest glacier area of the Alps, the compound of Pyrenees-Mont Perdu (across France and Spain). Among the world sites, there are many compound subscribed to the list to be mentioned: the golden mountain of Altai in southern Siberia (Russian federation), the mountain compounds of Canadian Rocky Mountains park (Canada), the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (USA), the Kilimanjaro national park (united republic of Tanzania), the Nanda Devi national park (India). It has to be remarked that the sites mentioned above are a proof of the homogeneity of the natural environment and the uniqueness of its geographical and cultural contests.
It is worth mentioning the outstanding homogeneous feature of the alpine culture: the heritage of myths, legends, religious believes, that always accompanied and highlighted the steps and aspects of the relation between man and environment: this relation has been often complex and difficult, sometime with extreme outcomes.
In this view, a distinction between western and eastern fraction of Alps plays a functional character to territorial management and safeguard. Clearly, the eastern Alpine arch find natural and straight comparison to western one, both as to geologic and morphologic issues and as to artistic, cultural and traditional ones, which belong to resident local populations. It finds evidence, even if in the specificity of respective eco-systems and in the uniqueness of different cultural contexts, with other European and world mountain systems, many of those are already included in the World Heritage List.
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