The Military Memorial of Pocol is clearly visible from almost every point of Cortina. You should look from the center of Cortina in the direction of the Five Towers, to the left of Mount Tofane. It is a vaguely orange tower, which stands on the top of Mount Crepa, 1,535 meters above sea level.
The monument to the memory of the fallen of the First World War is one of the least considered attractions in Cortina, although it certainly deserves a visit. It has a particular charm and evokes deep and melancholic thoughts.
... it is not a place for recreation, but a cemetery for memory...
Obviously this is not a place for family recreation, but a memorial cemetery, so the environment is austere and invites reflection on the extreme sacrifice that the soldiers made for their country, fighting in inhumane conditions on the trenches in the Dolomites.
The history of the sanctuary
The Pocol military shrine was inaugurated in 1939, the works began in 1932 and were completed in 1935. The building is based on a project by the engineer Giovanni Raimondi.
The ossuary looks like a massive tower, 48 meters high, with a base which encloses the actual Shrine. The style is that of the time, a rationalist architecture typical of the fascist period. This is the most impressive memorial on the Dolomite front.
... it was erected over the Eagle Cemetery....
The tower was erected near the Belvedere of Pocol, where the Cemetery of the Eagles previously existed. It was a place, built in 1915, to give a proper burial to those who died during the advance in the Dolomites.
Once the construction was completed, the bodies of the soldiers were transferred from the Cemetery of the Eagles to the new ossuary, in addition to the remains of known and unknown Italian fallen soldiers, from the various war cemeteries in Cadore and Ampezzo. Teams of militarized workers were in charge of the operation with the assistance of a military chaplain.
According to some sources, not all the population was happy to move the fallen from their resting place. Great thinkers, such as Paolo Monelli and Dino Buzzati tried to defend the peace of the former comrades, without achieving much.
... the conditions in which the military cemeteries were not optimal...
For the sake of the record, reading the municipal reports of the time, it is clear that the condition of the military cemeteries was not optimal and it was often pointed out how much repairs and maintenance were needed. Probably this was considered the best solution, which could give a worthy burial to the fallen for long years.
The cemetery was served by a small chapel, built in 1916 by the Alpine soldiers of the 5th Group, whose bell still rings once a year on the anniversary of the end of the Great War for Italy, November 4.
Inside the small church, above the front door, there is a fresco by Pio Solero that depicts a dramatic scene of an Alpine soldier in the snow, as he watches over a fallen comrade in arms.
Below you can see three photos, taken from the Wikipedia page of the shrine, that belongs to the Italian Touring Club, where you can see how the area was structured before the construction of the military memorial.
... They shone like stars and faded into infinity...
The photographs have been slightly restored. The phrase clearly visible at the entrance is touching, They shone like stars and faded into infinity.
At the inauguration, presided over by a military chaplain, were present the Undersecretary De Marsanich, His Royal Highness the Duke of Pistoia, the son of General Cantore and the mother of Lieutenant Barbieri.
... the total number of bodies is 10,554...
Originally, the remains of 9,707 fallen Italians were kept inside the shrine, of which 4,455 remained unknown. Here lies also 37 fallen known Austro-Hungarians, from the nearby war cemeteries of Brunico and San Candido.
In the years following the inauguration the remains of many other soldiers resurfaced in the mountains and was taken to the Pocol ossuary. At the end of 2010, the total number of bodies had risen to 10,554.
Before moving on to the description of the shrine, we want to leave you with a curiosity. Every year, on the Sunday of the Dead, a mass is celebrated in Pocol in memory of all the fallen. This is the week that Americans call Halloween.
To commemorate this event, during the week preceding the commemoration of all the faithful dead, a large cross is lit on the facade from the military shrine, clearly visible from anywhere in the village.
How to reach it
The Military memorial of Pocol is open on working days, excluding Mondays, from 9AM to 12PM and 2PM to 5PM
It can easily be reached by car, following the signs toward the Giau Pass - Falzarego Pass or by bus, getting off at the stop of Pocol and continuing on foot for about a hundred meters. Alternatively, it can also be reached walking from Cortina, but it's a hike of, at least, a couple of hours. Access is free of charge.
Visit to the ossuary
Once you park your car in the large parking lot, enter through the walls. There you will find a slope surrounded with stone works dedicated to the fallen. There is also a sign that asks to respect the site. The sculptures representing the Alpini soldiers, the Italian mountain infantry, are a copy of those that can be seen in the center of Cortina, on the memorial to General Cantore near the bus station.
Once you reach the top of the slope, you will be greeted by a statue of the Leon of St. Mark. The work was originally part of a fountain placed in Piazza Venezia and was built by the chief magistrate of Cortina, in 1936, to commemorate the days when Ampezzo was part of the Republic of Venice, at a time in history when nationalism was very strong. In the 1960s the fountain was demolished and the lion statue moved to Pocol.
Now cross the two cannons to reach the access steps, carved into the rock. Descend down the ramp, you will be surrounded by bronze tablets of the "Via Crucis" made by Giannino Castiglioni. Once you reach the main forecourt, you'll see other war relics and the entrance to the shrine. If you turn left, going a bit into the woods, you will find the small church of the Cemetery of the Eagles, which we mentioned earlier.
Once you have visited the forecourt, head to the entrance to the sanctuary, bordered by two pieces of artillery. Crossing the main door, you will see a very austere environment, in line with the spirit of the place. In the crypt in the center of the tower there is a large gravestone, depicting the Dead Infantryman. Inside the gravestone rests in peace the remains of General Antonio Cantore and Lieutenant Francesco Barbieri, while the remains of the other fallen are collected in niches arranged along the internal walls of the corridors.
Going up to the next floor it is possible to see the graves of Riccardo Bajardi and Mario Fusetti, as well as to have a different perspective on the statue of the dead infantryman. Unfortunately, it is not possible to climb to the top of the tower, from which one would see a beautiful view of Cortina, but after all, it is understandable: it is not a place of recreation.
Once back in the main hall you have seen everything, so you may leave, and perhaps walk around the building some more. The visit to the charnel house ends here; all you have to do is to take the steps again and return to your car.
Walking through this place, and looking at the countless headstones, the thought of how many young lives left us in these mountains is heartbreaking. It is a place that can make you contemplate the horrors of war more than all the photographs in the history books.
Reading the impressive number of names written on the walls, considering that most of the bodies do not even have names, is overwhelming.
Personally, we consider the Pocol Ossuary to be the place where the mourning and suffering that the war brought to the Dolomites is most deeply felt.
We hope you liked the page on the Military Memorial of Pocol. Before saying goodbye, we would suggest you read all the articles we wrote about Cortina d'Ampezzo by clicking here.
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