The mountains in Italy are crucial, geographically (physically) as well as historically (culturally).
Italy is a very mountainous country. Mountains cover a large part of Italy’s territory, and Italy has many of the highest peaks in Europe.
Italian mountains belong to two major groups: the Alps and the Apennines.
The Alpine mountain range represents and gives a clear delimitation, a line of a precise shape with its immense arc to the western, eastern and especially northern borders of Italy.
The Apennine mountains run along the whole of the Italian peninsula, parallel to the sea with its two coastlines, on the Ligurian Sea and Tyrrhenian Sea on the west, along the Adriatic Sea on the east.
In contrast to peninsular Italy, which is bordered by the sea on three sides, some of the Italian mountains, the Alps, therefore, define the territory and borders of continental Italy north, west and east and in the past they were a formidable border, much harder to cross than the sea.
The Alps, much more than the Mediterranean Sea, have made Italy de facto an island.
The Mediterranean, that Romans called “Our Sea” (Mare Nostrum), in reality helped the communications, when the high, rugged mountains, the Alps, created impediments to them.
The hazardous, perilous, hard travel of Carthaginian general Hannibal, enemy of Rome, crossing the Alps with his elephants brought all the way from Africa in order to go down the Italian peninsula and descend on Rome are an excellent, effective symbol of Italy’s historic impenetrability through land paths, rather than from sea routes.
Today the Alps, far from being an obstacle, of course, attract many visitors, not least for practising skiing on their snow-covered slopes. One of the ski resorts is Champoluc, the largest resort in the Monte Rosa (“Pink Mountain”) ski area, in the Aosta Valley region which is in the north-west corner of Italy, at the border with France. Aosta Valley is not only for skiing, but mountaineering and hiking, especially around the Monte Rosa, one of the highest mountains of the Alps. The Gran Paradiso National Park is also in the Val d’Aosta.
As it happens with every treasure that is at risk of being lost, the earthquakes that shook Italy a few years ago helped the public to rediscover its “Apennine civilization”, namely the Italy of the villages clinging to the hills and the mountainous ridge of the peninsula.
But this “Apennine Italy” is much more than picturesque villages built of stone. The Apennine mountains ranging from Norcia to Assisi, from Greccio to Gubbio and Cascia, strikes the heart of mystical Italy.
It is from here that Christian Europe began to rise: from the mountains of Norcia where St. Benedict was born (and with him Western monasticism) and from the hills of Assisi where St. Francis was born and lived, and where Giotto – Apennine painter par excellence – achieved the decisive turning point in Italian figurative art.
Italy has in its territory two active volcanoes, both in the Apennines mountain range.
The Apuan Alps are, among Italian mountains, a case apart.
Although being part of the Apennines, they are called “Alps” because of the way they appear.
Located in northern Tuscany near the border with Liguria and the Cinque Terre, the Apuan Alps are a long and narrow mountain range wedged between between the Apennines proper and the sea.
Because of their sharp shapes and peaks and the whiteness of their marble, which from the coast looks like snow, this range of mountains has taken the name of Alps.
The Apuan Alps are a prestigious mountain chain, because the marble of which they are made is the white Carrara marble of world fame and is the same marble used for his sculptures by Michelangelo, who worked in these marble quarries and laboured as a navvy to build the road connecting them to the sea.
The Apuan mountains, extremely rugged in their median part for the gashes of the quarries and the vertical cliffs, have thus adopted the name of Alps, the chain of mountains that best characterizes its appearance. But the looks are not all that the two groups of mountains have in common: the Apuans also have the same geological origin and the same lithological constitution, namely physical character as rocks, as sectors of the Alpine range.
Walking on the Apuane Alps is a demanding journey because of the differences in height (between 1,000 and 2,000 meters above sea levl) but the landscape, first green and then harsh and rocky, and the panorama that sweeps from the sea to the Apennines are worth the effort.