A few technical notes about eastern Vallo Alpino

Chapter IV


 A clearing remark

Vallo Giulio

Julian Alps



"IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO GET THROUGH HERE". This warning is right since the passage is almost fully obstructed by concrete blocks and debris from the damaged surface block! 


Before going on speaking about important technical arguments such as the weapons or the ventilation system, we will dedicate this small fourth chapter to a different argument. While the technical details can be more or less easily looked up somewhereelse, the argumentations here written are peculiar to this region. The argument will be historical or geographical rather than technical. Infact, we will shortly make a simple note about the terminology of Vallo also solving a curiousity to most of not italian readers (the term "littorio" will be explained). Then we will develop a sheer geographical subject which has been (and probably still seems to nowadays have) a tremendously deep, then political, now historical significance.  Finally the chapter will end up with a small collection of funny writings found painted inside the bunkers. This chapter hence tries to answer a few historical and geographical questions related to easternmost sectors of Vallo alpino absolutely without any political idea creeping  in the background (excusatio non petita: accusatio manifesta!). 

I want to apologize with kind italian readers for not writing in Italian because the question about littorio should be well known to them and the geographical question about Julian Alps has been already developed in pages written in Italian dealing with the natural beauty of this area. 


A clearing remark

All the website, as well as this document (take a look at its title), continually refers to its main topic as "eastern Vallo Alpino". Since the Alps are a long arc and the vallo is said to be as long as 1851 kms (with the last much fortified one km in Fiume!), it is supposed to be called according to the corresponding sector of the alpine ridge. So the Alps being, for geographical convention, divided in western central and eastern ones, the same convention should be adopted for the defensive structure itself: western, central and eastern vallo. I apologize with local readers or usual visitors to whom the observation may be obvious. When on this website we speak about eastern vallo, we actually limit our discussion to the easternmost sector of the eastern Alps, not the whole eastern vallo. If the specific vallo sector has to be called according to the corresponding alpine ridge on which it runs along, eastern vallo alpino, strictly speaking, should be the defensive structure built from Brennero pass (South Tyrol, Alto Adige) between Alpi Passirie and Alpi Atesine to Fiume in Croatia: much longer a stretch than the sector in western Slovenia and Croatia. 

By the way, the dividing point between eastern and central Alps is subject to a convention as well. Most consider the pass of Brennero (Brenner) between Alto Adige and Austria (between South Tyrol (Italy) and Tyrol (Austria)). Others include Alpi Venoste (Oetztaller Alpen) and Ortles (Ortler) group to eastern Alps considering the Bernina Pass or Stelvio Pass as the conventional linit.  

For the geographer's sake, italian eastern Alps (Alps with italian border line on them) eastwardly running from Brennero Pass to Adriatic shores are (ordered from west to east): --Alpi Noriche subdivided in : Alpi Atesine (Sudtyroler Alpen), Alpi Aurine (Zillertaller Alpen), Alti Tauri (Hohe Tauern), Alpi pusteresi (Pustertaller Alpen), --Dolomiti di Brenta, --Dolomiti, --Dolomiti di sinistra Piave, --Alpi Carniche (Karnische Alpen) and finally --Alpi Giulie (Julische Alpen, Juliske Alpe). 

Vallo Giulio

A very smart way to call the vallo on the old border with former Jugoslavia (now mainly in Slovenia and Croatia) is directly suggested by military official sources which called the stretch of our interest "fronte giulio" (julian front). This name was actually used before the offensive against jugoslavia in april 1941. The "julian front" (or wall for our purpouses) is the tract between Coccau pass in eastern Carnic Alps (road pass between Italy and Austria near Tarvisio) down to Fiume in Croatia and, for the convention cited before, it practically corresponds to what Italy considered were the Julian Alps.

For the historical or fortification enthusiast, eastern vallo should include all Alto Adige (South Tyrol) fortifications, the Dolomiti passes blackades, the vallo fortifications in northern Friuli (Carnia) and the last sectors presently in Slo and Cro. For the affectionate reader of this website, eastern vallo is just the defensive structure between Coccau and Fiume. 

The voice "eastern vallo alpino" somehow recalls the eastern front (Isonzo river battles) which was used in Italy during the first world war to distinguish the war actions along that river from the front of Tyrol (Ortles, Adamello, Garda lake region, Pasubio etc).

This picture has been taken in the heart of western Julian Alps: the northern wall of Montasio (2753 m) seen from the summit of Jof Fuart (2666m).

The watershed splitting the Carso from the Donau river affluents seems almost indefinable because, in this area, rivers flow underground in a very complicated plot. But the matter is not about the watershed: these mountains and highplains are too low and developing in too narrow a ridge to be defined "alpine". The indefinable watershed is an aggravating circumstance for our argument, but it makes this carsic area unique at least in Europe.

Note the extension of Julian Alps in this map of ninteen twenties; this bi-millennial historical convinction reveals itself to be a very debatable geographical notion .

This austrian map, going back to before 1918, shows the correct geographical position of Julian Alps (underlined by a red line) along with the old border between the kingdom of Italy and the austro-hungarian empire. The limestone rock is the same, but Carso and Carniola hills and highplains may have undergone a different orogenesis (maybe the same difference existing between the Alps and the Appennines constituing the spine of italian peninsula).

Julian Alps

For Italy during the ninteen thirties (and maybe for many Italians living far from this area), the Julian Alps physically begin at Sella di Camporosso (watershed between Adriatic vs Black Sea near Tarvisio) down to Vrata Pass, east of Fiume.  The physical complexity of this area is remarkable and a certain approximation is necessary. The arc of the Alps, at a certain point, becomes a rough straight line not too slowing declining towards Vienna. Speaking about the southern limestone alpine belts, at the same point, a second considerable mountain range separates from the main line dividing the first plains of Pannonia from the Adriatic and its near outback. This second range is linked and lined up with another very long mountains systems: the Dinaric Alps, i.e. the framework of the balcanic peninsula. As said, while the main limestone alpine range continues straightly on the west - east direction with Karawanke, Kamniske Alpe which parallely follow the main framework to Vienna (Niedere Tauern and Steierische Niederoesterreich kalkalpen), just the first sector of the separated range has summits having a proper alpine height. Being clear that the Julian Alps and the Dinaric Alps are linked and almost lie on the same line stretching along the north west-south east direction, the fundamental question is to find a conventional and reasonable limit to make the Alps end up with. And this is the key point: how to choose a proper splitting point since the height is different but the limestone rock is similar. What is sure is that too many a time, the geography is a matter of good sense and conventions; but conventions unfortunately are by humans and they can be changed to fit the one or the other opinion. 

The physical situation is the following: the first tract of the separated north west - south east mountain range is made up with wild towering peaks of limestone rock as high as nearly 3000 metres above the sea level. This higher mountains range symptomatically has indeed a west - east direction keeping parallel to Carnic Alps and Karawanke while the overall developing direction is north west - south east. This higher area approximately extends from Gemona (Italy) to Skofia Loka (Slovenia) (west-east axis) and, as approximateley, from Tarvisio (in Italy near the border with Austria) to about Idria (Slovenia) (if we quite wanted to include some smaller pre-alpine ridges). In this area the watershed between the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea is clearly detectable and it divides the water basins respectively of Isonzo (Soca) river and Sava river (affluent of Donau). Past the last prealpine ranges, the mountains rapidly degrade into the Carso region fraying into low ranges of limestone highplains and hills. It is strange that this long series of low mountains South East of Idria could be considered "Alps"; infact as all know, there is a large sector (around Postumia) in which the "alpine mountains" broke being interrupted by a hilly land (the Carso region) more famous for its underground rivers rather than for its "alpine peaks". Moreover, the Carso not only is where the mountains ridge seems to loose its alpine features, but the watershed is almost indefinable since rivers flow in their underground world making this place unique at least in Europe. This tract ends up with Mt Sneznik (Monte Nevoso) and Gorski Kotar highplains with peaks of 1500-1700 metres. Mt Sneznik and Gorski Kotar belongs to the same mountainous system and they both seem not to show so neat an interruption from the continuing range of Dinaric Alps as from the alpine featured area limited before. The watershed is again foundable since the mountains divide the narrow adriatic outback from the huge plains of inner balcanic peninsula. One pass east of Fiume was chosen as a convention by Italians to mark the limit of Julian Alps. Although the choice of that pass was probably little more than casual, the general idea that the Alps finish on the adriatic shores was not a last minute conviction of the fascist regime during the ninteen twenties, but much older an historical convention. Infact, not only does it go back to the old roman times, but it's also cited, who knows how many times, on historical books, documents and poems written during ancient and middle ages.

In 1915, two positions were clear: italian point of view considered belonging to Italy all eastern provinces of the old roman italy. Old roman provinces of this area had their natural limits drawn by the Alps whose last easternmost branch is referred to as Julian. For two thousand years, the historical convention wants that Italy was limited by the Alps whose huge arc begins on the tyrrenian shores and finish at the Adriatic Sea. Not italian point of view, on the contrary, recognizes that Italy had always considered italian land what spreads south of the Alps: but, in order to justify her expansionistic aim over the so-called Venezia Giulia, the conventional place at which the Julian Alps were made end up with was chosen east of Fiume in Croatia.

This is not of course the right place to give a comment on this argument. Anyway, if we wanted to be cool geographers (or alpinists), on the one hand a reasonable place to make the Alps die could be the large belt of the carsic highplains with no well distinguishable watershed line rather than a meaningless pass east of Fiume. We should admit that the "properly said" Julian Alps are the area with peaks of 2200-2800 metres above the sea and the nearby pre-alpine ranges (1500 - 2200 m). On the other hand, we can't forget the "historically said" Julian Alps which correspond to an idea rather than a homogeneous mountains range with proper alpine features. Making the Julian Alps dying at Fiume isn't geographically correct but this idea has to be concerned having undoubtly influenced the lives of many hundred thousand people in the ninteen century. Let's think, for a moment, of all the fallen of both sides during the WWI (680 thousand only on the italian side) and the fallen during the WWII; let's think of what happened during both post war periods to people living in this area whatever the nationality.

Old pre-WWI austrian maps show the Julian Alps extending in the alpine area whose limits have been approximately given before. It's to be said that in most of modern italian maps the Julian Alps have regained their original position, but in some other italian maps the Julian Alps keep being stretched out almost down to Fiume (as a "memento" of gone times).

This concrete fascio littorio was not a monument to commemorate someone or something to be recalled, but the signature by those who built the nearby military road and fortifications (photo: courtesy of A.Jankovic). An example of visual rather than sculptural art having this subject, can be also found exactly on the summit of Jalovec (Gialuz) (Julian Alps, 2643 m), where a big fascio littorio had been painted on a naturally smooth slab.   











The official name of the defensive structure was "Vallo alpino del littorio" but it was simply called "vallo" or "vallo alpino" by the soldiers and military commands. The complete offical name was used by the regime authorities on official ducuments or during pubblic celebrations (i.e. it was almost never or seldom used). Infact, unlike France, where Maginot line was largely boasted and shown off to incute respect, italian regime was more inclined to keep its vallo well hidden (for obvious reasons since, at least after 1938, Italy's first alley might have shown irritation seeing Italy building defenses against himself).

Littorio letterarly means "of or belonging to the lictor". The lictor (littore) was the lowest degree officer of the old roman court of justice. Lictor (in english) directly comes from latin word lictor, lictoris (nominative: lictor (meaning: the lictor), genitive: lictoris (of the lictor). Lictors (lictores in latin) were the justice executors and pubblic servants one of whose duty was escorting the magistrates. The lictors usually walked one after the other preparing the ceremonial entrance of the justice officials; they had to patrol the road, to defend the justice house, to guard people under imputation and to execute capital sentences as well. 2 lictors came before and escorted praetors, proconsoles had 6 lictors, consoles had 12 lictors, dictators had 24 lictors while the imperator had an indefinable number of lictors. 

Each lictor bore a "fascio littorio" or "fascio del littore". The "fascio" was a bundle of branches tied along with an axe: these were the working tools used by lictors. Infact they had to execute minor degree sentences wipping guity people by means of the branches and, of course, they executed capital sentences by decapitating the condemned using the axe. In the centuries, the bundle of rods and the axe became the symbol of the penalty certainty, the roman law inexorability towards guilty and one of the main symbols of the power of Rome herself. 

The political movement born in Italy after the first world war which would have led the rise of the italian people, could only go back to the old roman splendour and its symbols. So, not only did the bundle of rods and axe become the well known symbol of that post war italian movement, but the party itself was given a name directy coming from the latin of the bundle (fasces in latin, fascio in italian). The "fascio littorio" or abbreviated simply "littorio" became the emblem of the italian state by royal decrete issued in december 1926 so becoming part of the state seal after the royal decrete of 11 april 1929.  Having this political symbol became synonimous of Italy herself once the fascism took the power in Rome and the dictatorian regime began, the littorio became an emblem walled in every building or pubblic work done by the regime. Moreover, many pubblic organizations or institutions had been named by the emblem of the italian state and they were officially referred to with the attribute "del littorio" to distinguish them from similar things founded before the regime. For instance, we remember: Figli del Littorio (Sons of fascist Italy), Prestito del Littorio (Lend from fascist Italy), GIL: Gioventù Italiana del Littorio (Fascist italian youth organization) etc. Now it is clear that "Vallo alpino del littorio" means "having the emblem of the italian fascist state" hence "alpine wall planned and made by fascist italy" or "done during the fascist age".


"LA VITA DEI RISCHI CONTINUI LEGA LE ANIME"."Life in continous risks bonds the souls": the sentence is written inside a firing chamber under the emblem of the italian royal army.

Inside the main dwelling room of a standard concrete bunker.

"CORAGGIO E FEDE, CUORE CHE NON VACILLA MIRA CHE NON FALLA." (see the text for the translation).


When visiting bunkers of Vallo along the julian front, many writings can be often observed painted on the inner walls of main dwelling rooms or inside the firing chambers. These are not sentences of any deep significance or philosophy, nor smart verses by famous poets. Instead are they simply somewhat rough words perhaps written in order for the commands to infuse the toops with a little more courage. Some sentences instead recall mottos of the fascist regime and they were painted alomost everywhere in this region: on civil houses outside walls, pubblic halls, factories etc. 

Their translation may be of some interest to not italian curious readers.

Many sentences are harsh and sometimes full of hate. We think that they were addressed to those men whose sacrifice would mean a longer resistance to advancing enemy. The longer the men would hold the position, the better it would be to organize the counteraction. It was clear (to commands as well) that however self sufficient and well organized a resistance center may have been, it could have resisted for a certain time strech, not for ever. Infact sooner or later any center, if surrounded, was destined to be won. These words were intended for men to fight up to the end committing their duty without any early yielding because every moment would have been precious.    

The written sentences are very many. Many of them are totally unreadable since rooms have suffered the destruction of inner walls and the collapsing of the plaster layer on which thery were commonly written has saved only single words or fragments. Moreover most are simply fading away due to the dampness, the water draining or dripping on those white walls which will be for ever swallowed by the darkness. 

Here it is an incomplete bunch of complete sentences. The original sentence is written in capital letters; then there is the english letteral translation and, between brackets, a reasonable interpretation whether it's not obvious.

"SE HAI UN CONTO DA REGOLARE COL NEMICO, FATTI VALERE". If u have a bill to solve with the enemy, assert yourself! (if the enemy artillery has been beating upon you for days, and the following fantery action has claimed a friend fighting beside you, avenge him).


"RESISTERE A OGNI COSTO". Stand at any cost! (the message is clear).


LE MITRAGLIATRICI NON BASTANO SE NON V'E' L'ARDORE DEL COMBATTENTE. Machineguns are useless, if the fighting man lacks in bravery.


CREDERE OBBEDIRE COMBATTERE. Believe, obey and fight! (it is one the fascist mottos written everywhere).


LE MITRAGLIATRICI NON BASTANO SE NON C'E' NESSUNO CHE LE FACCIA CANTARE. Machineguns are useless, if there isn't anyone able to make them sing.

LA VITA DEI RISCHI CONTINUI LEGA LE ANIME. Life in continous risks bonds the souls.

CORAGGIO E FEDE, CUORE CHE NON VACILLA MIRA CHE NON FALLA. Courage and complete trust, firm spirit: aiming which does't fail (the braver the men, the better they shoot). 

LA FRETTA E' NEMICA DELLA CELERITA'. Haste is an enemy to celerity (it is the finest sentence: the shooting speed is not reached by men acting with excitement and confusion).

DI QUA NON SI PASSA. Nobody will be able to get through here (a warning to advancing enemies).
DI QUA NON PASSERANNO.They will never pass (Incouraging words to make shooters spirit rise).

SE SI E' DATO TUTTO ALLA PATRIA, NON S'E' DATO ABBASTANZA. If one has given everything to the country, it is not enough (another motto of Mussolini, the leader of fascist Italy). 

OGNI COLPO ABBATTE UN NEMICO. Each shot strikes an enemy (an invitation to shoot with calm and only after taking a good aim).



To Chapter V