( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Situate on the left bank of the Boita, which here runs nearly due north and south, with the Tre Croci pass opening away behind the town to the east, and the Tre Sassi Pass widening before it to the west, Cortina lies in a comparatively open space between four great mountains, and is therefore less liable to danger from bergfalls than any other village not only in the Val d'Ampezo but in the whole adjacent district. For the same reason, it is cooler in summer than either Caprile, Agordo, Primiero, or Predazzo ; all of which, tho more central as stopping planes, and in many respects more convenient, are yet somewhat too closely hemmed in by surrounding heights. The climate of Cortina is temperate throughout the year. Ball gives the village an elevation of 4,048 feet above the level of the sea; and one of the parish priests —an intelligent old man who has devoted many years of his life to collecting the flora of the Ampezzo—assured me that he had never known the thermometer drop so low as fifteen degrees of frost in even the coldest winters. The soil, for all this, has a bleak and barren look; the maize (here called "gran Turco") is cultivated, but does not flourish; and the vine is unknown. But then agriculture is not a specialty of the Ampezzo Thal, and the wealth of Cortina is derived essentially from its pasture-lands and forests.
These last, in consequence of the increased and increasing value of timber, have been lavishly cut down of late years by the Commune-too, probably, at the expense of the future interests of Cortina. For the present, however, every inn, home-stead, and public building bespeaks prosperity. The inhabitants are well-fed and well-drest. Their fairs and festivals are the most consider-able in all the South Eastern Tyrol; their principal church is the largest this side of St. Ulrich; and their new Gothic Campanile, 250 feet high, might suitably adorn the piazza of such cities as Bergamo or Belluno.
The village contains about 700 souls, but the population of the Commune numbers over 2,500. Of these, the greater part, old and young, rich and poor, men, women, and children, are engaged in the timber trade. Some cut the wood; some transport it. The wealthy convey it on trucks drawn by fine horses which, however, are cruelly overworked. The poor harness themselves six or eight in a team, men, women, and boys together, and so, under the burning summer sun, drag loads that look as if they might be too much for an elephant.
To ascend the Campanile and get the near view ovcr the village, was obviously one of the first duties of a visitor; so, finding the door open and the old bellringer inside, we mounted laboriously to the top—nearly a hundred feet higher than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Standing here upon the outer gallery above the level of the great bells, we had the village and valley at our feet. The panorama, tho it included little which we had not seen already, was fine all around, and served to impress the mainland marks upon our memory. The Ampezzo Thal opened away to north and south, and the twin passes of the Tre Croci and Tre Sassi intersected it to east and west. When we had fixt in our minds the fact that Landro and Bruneck lay out to the north, and Perarolo to the south; that Auronzo was to be found somewhere on the other side of the Tre Croci; and that to arrive at Caprile it was necessary to go over the Tre Sassi, we had gained something in the way of definite topograhy. The Marmolata and Civetta, as we knew by our maps, were on the side of Caprile; and the Marmarole on the side of Auronzo. The Pelmo, left behind yesterday, was peeping even now above the ridge of the Rochetta; and a group of fantastic rocks, so like the towers and bastions of a ruined castle that we took them at first sight for the remains of some medieval stronghold, marked the summit of the Tre Sassi to the west.
"But what mountain is that far away to the south'?" we asked, pointing in the direction of Perarolo.
"Which mountain, Signora?"
"That one yonder, like a cathedral front with two towers."
The old bellringer shaded his eyes with one trembling hand, and peered down the valley.
"Eh," he said, "it is some mountain on the Italian side."
"But what is it called?"
"Eh," he repeated, with a puzzled look, "who knows? I don't know that I ever noticed it be-. fore."
Now it was a very singular mountain—one of the most singular and the most striking that we saw throughout the tour. It was exactly like the front of Notre Dame, with one slender aiguille, like a flagstaff, shooting up from the top of one of its battlemented towers. It was conspicuous from most points on the left bank of the Boita; but the best view, as I soon after discovered, was from the rising ground behind Cortina, going up through the fields in the direction of the Begontina torrent.
To this spot we returned again and again, fascinated as much, perhaps, by the mystery in which it was enveloped, as by the majestic outline of this unknown mountain, to which, for want of a better, we gave the name of Notre Dame. For the old bellringer was not alone in his ignorance. Ask whom we would, we invariably received the same vague reply—it was a mountain "on the Italian side." They knew no more; and some, like our friend of the Campanile, had evidently "not noticed it before."