A world without borders

Fragments of Maritime and Mercantour

An island of granite in the south-western Alps. With its rugged and wild mountains, the massif of the Argentera-Maercantour is the last grand crystalline rock castle within the mountain ridge. On the northern side, the Piedmont valleys, like fingers of a hand converging neatly into the Po Valley and then joining not far from Cuneo, a small city, a child of the mountains surrounding it. On the opposite ocean side, from the peaks of the ridge, down to the Cote d’Azur, is the chaos of a massive overlap, a maze of undecided valleys descending to where the water has forced the banks of sedimentary and volcanic rocks, and digging tight and deep gorges. The wonderful world of Mercantour. Canyons and vast meadows, dense forests and streams of rubble, dozens of lakes of all sizes and arid highlands with stone spears of granite and limestone cliffs, perennial snowfields and terraces of vines and olives: it is not easy to find another piece of the Alps where the diversity is equally strong and immediately recognizable. From the coast, with its air that smells of lemon and rosemary, with the light already coming from Provence, never passing by the sullen beauty of the glacial cirques of Clapier and Gelas, the quiet majesty of the pyramids of the Argentera, the Matto, the Bego…. There are mixed feelings that many people happen to feel along the valleys of this mountainous area. There is a live mountain, that is rich with water. Thought goes to Boreon, to Lauzenier, to Valasco, to the area around San Giacomo d’Entracque; snowfields and lakes, trams and waterfalls, forests and meadows, chamois and wild birds. An infinite number of sounds and noises, a mountain that inspires happiness. Without water, a place seems – a perception that only slightly corresponds to reality – asleep, locked in a disenchanted dimension of stillness. The Pelat, the Mounier, with their gray stony peaks, parched and cracked on their sides, the faces more severe and desolate mountain world of the Southern Alps. Only the gusts of wind, while now caressing now disturbing the clumps of fescue, and the bleating of grazing sheep, breaking the silence. It is a rugged mountain, and yet so gently touching, pushing to melancholy. A mountain of great open spaces, where thoughts can finally run to distant horizons. Joy, wonder, fear, confusions. Moods. Feelings that, in the mountains more than anywhere else, are often erratic, triggered by the continuous flow of stimuli: the surprise of a glimpse, a moment of strength or weakness, the peace of a sunset, the unexpected and sudden blow of emotion. Moments of life that the photographer tries to capture in one shot: scenes of mountains that evaporate into the mists of the plain or stretch out towards the sea, the snow tracks left by a rabbit, a sheep intent to care for the new-born lamb, warm light of a sunset in late summer. Great hours fixed in memory and reappear in the pages of climbers and writers: sometimes in few words, small shards of terrific stories, enough to reveal the truest identity; the inner soul of a place. There’s the magic of the Southern Alps within the sparse words of Patrick Berhault, when he describes passing through the maintains to the Corno Stella in the middle of winter. The photographs and texts in this volume do not have the ambition to present all aspects of the great Alpine area between the hills of the Tenda and the Maddalena, between the Piedmont plain and the Mediterranean. Nor, even less, will they illustrate the daily commitment to the preservation of the heritage of the Mercantour and the Maritime Alp parks. These are mere fragments, small pieces of valuable land, an extraordinary garden that deserves to be known, experienced and respected. They are a tribute to a space that knows no borders, a world of minerals that has been a refuge for humans, plants and animals for millennia.

Nanni Villani


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