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Once upon a time the Mont Cenis.

Once upon a time the Mont Cenis.

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Once upon a time the Mont Cenis.

Page Type: Article

Activities: Mountain


Page By: chaberton

Created/Edited: May 17, 2013 / May 18, 2013

Object ID: 286942

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The pass of Mont Cenis is used by thousands of years to cross the Alps

It has always been considered a gateway to the Italian peninsula. Any person who, after crossing the impressive mountains in the French Savoie, wanted to reach the fertile Po valley, would be passed to the Col du Mont Cenis.

Objects have fallen to the wanderers to the hill during this crossing of the Alps, which occasionally are found fortuitously, representing almost one clock time,
and the time has stopped at the Mont Cenis.

The first shelter built in the Alps
825 A.D.
The pass of the Monceniso was also the first of which is built a mountain refuge. The Cistercian monks, in the year 825 A.D. and with the permission of the Emperor Louis the Pious, built a small refuge for travelers to the hill.

The best time to visit the Plateau of Mont Cenis is not in the summer, when the lake level is at maximum, the pastures are lush and full of colorful flowers, but in early spring, when the waters recede and the ice begins to form, even better if it is reached after an early snowfall.

The plateau is completely devoid of tourists, the road is closed to traffic by the French, but above all, from the bottom of the lake, emerge evocative ghosts of the past.
These are the ruins of the ancient Hospice of Mont Cenis and submerged dams built by the Italians in the twenties.

The construction of the gigantic dam of E.D.F. (Electricité de France), in the sixties, has completely upset the original beauty of the Mont Cenis.
Only the ghosts of the past that resurface in the fall and vintage photos, can bring us back to those days of splendor and constant human presence at the Mont Cenis.


Ancient Map

Ancient Map
The water level of the lake after the construction of the new Dam

as it was as...it is today

Getting There.

The Map.

From Turin:

take the A32 motorway Turin-Bardonecchia, exit the Town of Susa (35' by car); then follow the indications for the Hill of MontCenis. You have to do the route that follow the ancient path of the Napoleonic Road (It's thank to him if the most important Hills between France and Piedmont were finally opened with modern routes). You have to do nine chilometers to reach the beautiful plateau of MontCenis (approx 20' by car). Don't forget that in the late autumn, the first snow could cover the last bends of the road (Scale del Moncenisio), then if you go with a fourweeler it is better!.

From France:

Take the A43 motorway exit Fourneaux-Modane.
Then take the D1006 road direction Lanslebourg-MontCenis. With 40' by car you can reach the hill of MontCenis starting from Modane. Just remember that in the late autumn, the French Gendarmerie close the road and the Hill.

Visit the ancient dams.

The best starting place is in front of the ruins of the anciet fortress of :" Fort La Cassa". This Fortress was built in the nineteenth century by the italians, the construction of the new French Dam of E.D.F. (Electricitè de France), it has destroyed the main part, but what remains is truly impressive and is an amazing panoramic view of the lake.

La  Cassa  Montcenis.
"La Cassa"

Before starting the Trail you should visit the new dam. Because from the summit, it has a broad vision of the semi-dry basin of Lake of Mont Cenis. You see very well the old dam, located farther upstream, the channel fill of the basin, which receives water direclty from Mount Rocciamelone and you can make an idea of what was to be the ancient plateau of Mont Cenis.

What appears as a reservoir of water ice, was once a beautiful plateau, rich in pastures. There was a small cemetery, now destroyed, for the numerous community of Mont Cenis. Even before the construction of dams, submerged, there were some beautiful natural small waterfalls, which were the natural estuary of Lake of Mont Cenis.

Returned to the fort :" Cassa", follow the trail that skirts the lake on the left bank, in the direction of the Pyramid Church dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte (with is beautiful museum of Montcenis below) and the refuge of the Mont Cenis : "Plain des Fontainettes" (20 ').

Plain des Fontanettes
Plain des Fontanettes
Going into the frozen lake.
Going into the frozen lake.

From the pyramid has a great view of the ancient dams and you can see the ruins of the old hospice of Mont Cenis (completely destroyed by rising water).

On those grounds and the pastures, they camped for thousands of years men and animals, from the ancient Celtic Allobroges, the Romans, to the armies that invaded Italy.
A few years ago, a seeker of metals, has found an ancient Roman coin of gold (worth several thousand euros).

From the pyramid you go down to dry bed of the lake and icy, this side you're coming down is full of tunnels, bunkers belonging to the Second World War. Externally you will know why you can see the loopholes of the embrasures.

The First Dam
The first Dam

Once you reach the shore of the lake, we leave to our right the gigantic walls of the antitank ditch (WW2) and we reach what was once the ancient route of the road of Mont Cenis. Before us, appear as a ghost, the remains of the "Red Bridge"; in the autumn appear out of the waters as if to say: "I am still here, you can cross me wanderer." Nearby, from the mud, appear many remains of ancient life lived, there was a military dining facility and you can find old bottles, glasses, dishes.

The Red Bridge.
The Red Bridge

Now proceed on the first of the three ancient submerged dams. It was built in the twenties and headed toward what today is a small island, but that was once a promontory overlooking the lake (the Offshore of Fort Gatto).

Alternatively you can safely proceed on the snow at the base of the dam.

Shortly before reaching the hill, on your left, you can see the remains of masonry, is all that remains of the little cemetery of Mont Cenis. Are still unable to intuit the size due to the remains of walls and you can still see the base of the tower.
Unfortunately not all the bodies of the inhabitants of the Mont Cenis had been transferred, some human bones have emerged from the earth.

You have arrived High Place of "Fort Gatto". It owes its name to a ancient fort to defend the pass Savoy place, you can still see the perimeter walls built with beautiful cut stones. In the bowels of the rise, in the thirties, were built tunnels and underground stations that communicated with bunkers and cannons outside (still visible). The whole area facing south, was a huge pasture, where (in 1944-45), German soldiers were accustomed to camp. It is still full of their belongings, evidently used to practice with the gun, because, even today, many shells emerge from the mud.

The second Dam
The Second Dam

Immediately after the hill is the second dam was built of reinforced concrete (unlike the first which is on earth and stones) and has a considerable height. You can cross it, keeping close to the shoulder protection, and as you do, think that this giant wall in the summer is completely submerged. Approximately half of the dam, there are still the gears of the gate opening.

Proceed towards the next headland and climb the slope and overlooks the third and final dam.
It was built around 20 years, and was the first semi-circular dam (in drywall), made to increase the capacity of the lake, which was already used for hydroelectric purposes. Through an outlet which collected the waters of the Rio Bar coming from the glacier, and then direct them through a tunnel to the central staircase in the Great Plain of San Nicolao.

This Dam is the most impressive of the three, still has its gate, the tower and the cottage of the keeper, who rarely emerges from the waters.

Peak Laro and 1,2,3, ancient Dams
From left to the right: 1,2,3 Ancient Dams

The visit to the ancient submerged dams takes about an hour's.

After visiting the last dam and past it, you can climb the side of the lake located below the imposing fortress: "Varisello".
From here a path leads you back on the new dam and, once crossed it, you reach the starting point of the fortress: "Cassa".

Red Tape

<FONT COLOR=RED>Montcenis 1943</FONT>. First bike...First color image.
July 1943

Just remember that from the Piana of San Nicolao you are in France, in autumn the road of Mont Cenis could be closed, then you can encounter the French Gendarmes, placed to control the pass.

The pass of Mont Cenis is often used by illegal immigrants to transit in France.

But hikers and bikers are quietly passed by the gendarmes.

All this does not exist anymore!

The lake of Montcenis in 1920.
The lake of Montcenis in 1920.
All this does not exist anymore!
The lake of Montcenis in the fifties

The Lake Today



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