Imagine to keep waiting for a war that is never coming. Weeks, months, years. Everything has been arranged: weapons, supplies, men. You are ready to fight or die, accurate news are saying that that the enemy is around you, but he is not showing. Is he waiting for you to collapse, exhausted for your desperate waiting?
Well, we are not speaking about Giovanni Drogo and his never-ending watch in the Bastiani fortress, against Tartars who will never show up, but something real: the Cadorna line, a complex of military fortifications running on the border between Italy and Switzerland. Originated from an old defense project of 1882, it was built during the Second World War, to protect Italy against a possible attack carried out by German forces passing through Switzerland. It was also suspected that Swiss had a secret agreement with Germany. The line includes 72 km of trenches, 88 artillery positions, 25.000 square metres of barracks, and it required the effort of more than 30.000 workers. Never used for fight and soon abandoned, it is now a fascinating icon of military archeology.
The fortifications of the Cadorna line were very innovative and differed greatly from the construction methods of the time. The main concern was to build semi-permanent works designed in every detail: the trenches were equipped with parapets, sheltered slits, shelters. For this reason, 1 century later, many of them are still in excellent condition. Particularly well-preserved are the trenches of Ornavasso (Verbania), Cassano Valcuvia and Mount Marzio in the province of Varese. Cassano Valcuvia will be our destination: close to my parents’ house, near the beautiful area of the lakes, we are lucky to have a refined “Document Center” in the village (you can visit the website here, it also organizes tours for the public). Due to the covid-19 restrictions, we couldn’t go to take pictures to the places, but I will include the beautiful shots, by Mario Parietti.
Due to the low availability of soldiers, the barrages were built along a backward line that took advantage of the orography of the territory. In the military conception of the time, it was planned mainly to face the attack of masses of soldiers rather than new technologies, in fact the line was built mainly with front-line concrete trenches, equipped with platforms where soldiers could climb to shoot, and niches for troop and ammunition.
The Italian-Swiss border was divided into six sectors: Val D’Aosta, Simplon-Toce, Verbano-Ceresio, Ceresio-Lario, S.Lucio-S.Iorio and Mera-Adda.
In early 1917 the works were almost completely completed, but already in the same year the artillery was sent to Veneto, together with the departments of Territorial Militia. The fortified system then came under the control of 6 battalions of the Royal Guard of Finance. After Caporetto’s route, these six battalions were also sent to complement the Piave’s defenses.
The Cadorna Line remained unguarded, until the end of the conflict…
My Walk on the Cadorna line: Cassano Valcuvia to Monte San Martino
The start of the walk is from the parking lot in Via Pasubio, Cassano Valcuvia, not far from the historic center of the village (you can get to Cassano from Milan taking “Autostrada dei Laghi”).
A narrow dirt road, after about 200 m, crosses the paved military road, that you walk up to the resort of “Büs e Bocc”, where you find a flat clearing. You cross the clearing and start the visit to the first fortifications of the Cadorna Line: tunnels, trenches, observers and shooting stations. You can then enjoy a panoramic view, above of the center of Cassano Valcuvia and St. Joseph’s hill. Here you can watch a video from YouTube.
Following the path you arrive in “Visighee” place, where you keep on visiting the fortifications, distributed over a large area, of particular interest both for its extension and for the variety artifacts; you climb the staircase that leads to a bomb station and high walkways, you reach a path and walk for about 2 km. At the end of this journey, you reach the spur of “ Sass Cadrega”, high on your left: a boulder looking like a chair, as the dialect name suggests. Here you take the path that leads you first to the stations for automatic weapons, then, through a system of walkways, to the fortified system of “Val Alta”, built near the military road Mesenzana-San Martino.
During the stop to have a look at the tank, whose water was intended to water the animals, it is possible to start the descent to return to Cassano Valcuvia or continue on the military road, climbing towards St. Martin at the peak. If you choose to continue, after traveling about 300 m, on your left you find the former barracks Cadorna (Villa St. Joseph is the name of the external part), then coming back you abandon the military road to take, bending to the left, the mule track.
Halfway through the road you encounter a cave observation pit (not accessible) connected to a small system of rooms; you continue and get to the summit of St. Martin, where you stop to visit the Observatory below the refuge, crossing the summit of the mountain from side to side. It’s an amazing view!
At the end of the journey, you take the road back to Val Alta and then take, in the direction of Mesenzana, the military road; following the directions, you return to Cassano Valcuvia, passing through the resort Cà di Rocco.
In a few hours, you have been thrown back 100 years ago, and return…
Visit the section official website of the province.
Visit the site of the Document Center in Cassano.
To see beautiful photos of Linea Cadorna and spots on Lake Maggiore, visit “Lago Maggiore e dintorni”.