Atlas of Cultural Heritage

An agile encyclopedia for everyone, to browse over the web: the twelve information sheets and four cards for the cultural Atlas open up on the history, traditions and architecture of the two parks: without pretending to exhaust its wealth, with the intention of inviting to discover... jumping from one sheet to another can change the events of the Marittime Mercantour past, to the alpine architecture, you can stop on the pastures and discover, en passant, foods of another time, to then conclude with museums and the still-living languages of the mountains. Explore the Atlas: satisfy your curiosity!

The Atlas of Cultural Heritage is still being reviewed. A new expanded and updated edition will be published shortly.

The Story Engraved in Rock

The Valley of Wonders

The Valley of Wonders has a unique cultural context that is exceptional due to its geographical position in the south-western Alps. The site of Wonders can be regarded as the cradle of a culture that influenced the original towns of the neighbouring valleys. Undoubtedly, the influence of the presence of man on these mountains is anterior to the time of the incisions, but through this we are able to discover the first clues of the area’s settlements, which have revealed important aspects of its culture. The remarkable continuity of the incisions, in all historical periods, allows us to “read” the wonderful story of the cross-border area.

The history of the border

An imaginary boundary

An original member of this protected area is tied to the concept of borders, materialized both natural and artificially, by the Alps. Ever since there were political borders, the confine has experienced significant fluctuations, never impervious to trade between the two parties. Indeed, within the cross-border area, the line has always allowed the aggregation of populations: in good times and in bad.

The Living Occitan Language

Idioms and Place Names

The linguistic element creates a deep bond between the two sides of the border. Starting from a base which of both pre-Latin and Latin, the language common to all people of the south-western Alps and shows specific archaisms and very characteristic interplay of influences. Since the cross-border area is a place of contact, the language has the full range of possible arrangements between Piedmontese, Provençal and Ligurian. This feature gives a unique character and its own dynamic.

Cross-Border Traffic

The Alps throughout the centuries

From the Col di Tenda to the Magdalene Pass, the backbone of the main Alpine watershed between Italy and France, spread south-east to north-west and take the form of an open semi-circle culminating in the Mount Gelàs (3143 m). This presents a rich variety of natural openings, some of which originate in the valley gorges that cut deep into the slopes over Piedmont and Provence. The main crossing points on the watershed of the Alps, during ancient times, were crossed by lines of communication between one side and the other. Most of these passages are of interested today for hiking, but some of them are more adapted to modern requirements, having maintained their relevance for liaison and trading exchange.


An Old Need

The Alpine hills on the main watershed have been affected by constant transfers of populations, from both Italy and France, both over short distances (tens of kilometres) and to faraway destinations that opened up new horizons to those who saw them. The causes of this migration are varied: marital, professional or political, with the dynamism and intensity varying throughout historical periods. The peculiar character of the south-western Alps, a generator of movements, appears to be a historical constant.

Border Fortifications

From Vauban to Mussolini

Our region is a transition zone. Troops from all places have walked its streets and where they are come through show the traces of their presence, guard posts, and both old and new fortresses, all of which have frequently arisen in the same locations through previous eras, from antiquity to the Middle Ages. Recalling that a mountain border is also an area of tension, the military structures are reminders of a troubled past. The fact that they are now abandoned gives hope for a better future.

Towns and Human Settlements

Ancient Occupation

Man has left very early traces of permanent settlements along the entire cross-border area. The foundation of the towns in the area responds to the economic and natural resources needed by the inhabitants over time. Similarly affected are the succession of historical events (local and general history) whose themes, with the same intensity, occur on both sides of the Alps, with other settlements as the expression of the need to survive, to trade and to protect themselves.

Architecture and Construction Techniques

Construction based on local materials

Man has been able to adapt manufacturing needs to available resources within the natural environment. The typical architecture of the valleys testifies to this. Whether the slope of the roofs or the use of available materials in those areas of construction (wood, stones, clay…), each building has a certain homogeneity within its own area. We can distinguish some “models”, details of which will gradually fade, but never get lost by moving from their territory of origin. Sometimes there are also perceived external influences, reached through the communication routes that crossed through the border space.

A planned and Leveraged Territory

A Living Mountain

United by the same economic concerns – those related to the survival of the family unit – Alpine populations have maintain a conditioned space through topography and the capability to produce food surpluses through the best vintages. The follow a particular administration, articulated through a rational management of grains and on a reduced zoological patrimony, profitable only thanks to the joint exploitation of pastures, which have a reasonable potential for economic expansion.


From antiquity to modernity

Exploitation of high altitude pastures in the south-western Alps has allowed the whole of the Alpine community to launch an original yet balanced economy. The inhabitants, one ensured with their survival, have been able to develop their range of food products from breeding through to production. The alpine pastures have thus represented the opportunity to get some product surplus to be exchanged and turned into additional income. This opportunity led the local officials to quickly take control of areas used for grazing, raising a new model of organization and management of the highlands. These are the strongest marks of quality and origin providing the key to a mountain pasture in constant mutation.

The traditional diet

Simple and frugal plates

Almost identical eating habits attest to the presence of a common cultural basis, typical of the border region. The traditional cuisine of the French and Italian valleys is characterized by using the same products, sourced locally for the most part, which a small number of ingredients are purchased outside of the border. The local cuisine has been enriched over time due to various influences from neighbouring regions linking commercially with the heart of the Southern Alps. Finally, each cook brings something to their inventive cuisine. All this adds to the recipes, but the common heritage is always recognizable.

Art and Religion

Shared Forms of expression

In the cross border area, all architectural periods are represented. We start with the traces of pre-Romanesque and Romanesque, which is undoubtedly very important, and continues through with its late Gothic declensions. A large number of chapels, frescoed like a flowering rosary dating back to medival times are found on both sides of the Alps. We also find the presence of a following alpine Renaissance style. This territory also has an exceptional collection of monuments in the Baroque style, strongly impregnated with the principles formulated at the Council of Trent. The “mountain” was able to transcribe within the materials and colours of these structures. The unusual form of expression attracted many visitors, who soon discovered a different, unique, romantic, and even exotic world; one between the Alps and the Mediterranean, a “baroque” frontier.

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