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The Gavia Pass, an Ancient Crossing Point

A demanding climb. The Gavia Pass is not straightforward but, like so many difficult things, it rewards your efforts. It is a road with stunning views at every turn and a wealth of sporting heritage and stories. Such as the story of Captain Berni.

The origins of the road over the Gavia go back a very long way: since mediaeval times, convoys of merchants from the Venetian Republic would cross the pass to link up with the Via Imperiale d’Alemagna, a route leading to the countries of northern Europe. Many died attempting the journey, due to the often adverse weather conditions, as well as landslides and avalanches, so much so that the pass was also known as the Pass of Skulls. One particularly tragic example of this name came in 1954 when 18 young members of the Alpine Regiment died when part of the road collapsed.

Over the centuries, the road has been repeatedly widened and rebuilt and today, although some sections are still narrow and exposed, it is fully asphalted and has its own unique charm.

But the true spirit of the Gavia is Captain Arnaldo Berni, a young soldier whose final resting place is on these mountains. During World War I, the Gavia (along with the Stelvio pass and the Forni glacier) were on the frontline between Austria and Italy and the scene of numerous battles. Of these, one that stands out is the Battle of San Matteo, fought at a height of more than 3500 m. The young captain led the capture of the summit of Punta San Matteo in August 1918. Along with his troops, he dug in to defend the peak but, on 3 September, he was killed during an Austrian counter-offensive and his body was never found. However, his friends and relatives have never given up and every spring new expeditions are organised to search for his remains.

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