Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mount Viso and the Italian Alpine Club

Mount Viso, Italy (October 21, 2007)

I was born in Torino, which is a large (about 2 million people in the metropolitan area) industrial city in northern Italy. It is like Detroit, dominated by its automobile industry. As everything in Italy, though, it is profoundly infused of history. Founded by the romans in the first century BC on the site of a pre-existing celtic village, it survived through the middle ages to finally become the capital of the small Duchy of Savoy in 1563. This was to be a crucial step for the history of the city, because the Duchy would manage to conquer the rest of Italy in 1861, briefly elevating Torino as the first capital of the country, until it was moved to Florence, and then Rome. Torino is crossed by several rivers, the largest of which is the river Po (Eridanus for the Romans). With over 600 km of length, the Po is the longest italian river. It collects the waters of the Italian Alps and brings them to Adriatic sea. On its basin live over 16 million people, nearly 1/3 of the total population of Italy.

The source of the river Po is on the flanks of the mountain shown above, the Mount Viso. With "only" 3,842 m, it is not the highest peak of the Alps, but it has the distinction of being the only high peak in its area, half a kilometer taller than all the other neighboring mountains. If you look at the arc of the Alps from Torino, you will immediately recognize its pyramid of rocks standing out on the south-west. This makes Mount Viso special, and in fact it played a central role in the creation of the Italian Alpine Club shortly after Italy become a nation-state. While this mountain was first climbed in 1861 by an english-french expedition, it was the first italian expedition that in 1863 stirred the imagination of the newly created italian state. It was organized by Quintino Sella, an italian statesman at the head of the ministry of finance in the first italian governments. Passionate about mountains, he put together a team that included representatives coming from the North as well as the South of Italy. The "heterogeneous" composition of his team was a publicity coup and won the admiration of the whole country, still infused by the patriotic spirit following the recently gained political unity. The success of this expedition directly led to the foundation of the Alpine Club, which is still the largest organization of italian mountain aficionados (and of which I am a member myself).

The river Po basin, crowned by the Alps (October 21, 2007)

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