This itinerary on foot exploring First World War sites in the Gemona area is an evocative voyage back in time, the highlight of which is the rare (or valuable) Fort of Monte Ercole.
Fort of Monte Ercole
A visit to the Fort of Monte Ercole is in itself a voyage back in time; in discovering the sites associated with the First World War, we immerse ourselves in History. It’s no chance that this area, and precisely Sella di Sant’Agnese, was one of the locations for the making of the unforgettable film “La Grande Guerra”, or “The Great War”, the masterpiece of Mario Monicelli featuring a couple of classic Italian actors, Vittorio Gassman and Alberto Sordi.
On foot along the streets and mule paths from Gemona to the Fort of Monte Ercole
The Fort of Monte Ercole, located in a place of great natural beauty, can easily be reached on foot from Via del Priorato, behind the church of Santo Spirito in the Ospedaletto neighbourhood, which crosses over the Gemona-Venzone cycle path.
From there, take Via del Lago, which continues along Lake Minisini. Before you come to the lake, turn left onto a quiet mule track to the Fort, accessed by passing through the old sentry boxes, with three big ruined constructions behind you which once housed the military stores and barracks.
The history of the fort, in the tactical and military context of the defences of the upper tagliamento
The Fort of Monte Ercole was part of a network of fortifications built starting in 1904 to defend against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. To the east, the Fort and the stations on Mount Cumieli and Sant’Agnese watched over Sella Foredôr, the pass between Mount Cjampon and Mount Cuarnan leading to the Upper Valley of the Torre, while to the north it provided a good base, in the event of an attack from the Carnia and the Canale Valley, for defence of soldiers stationed on Mount Festa and the Fort of Osoppo, with which it constitutes the defences of the Upper Tagliamento Valley.
Considered to be of primary importance at the time of its construction, and completed well before the war broke out, the fort was abandoned only a day after the Italian army was defeated by the Austro-Hungarians at Caporetto (24 October 1917). The troops retreated to the other side of the Tagliamento, and on 29 October 1917 they were ordered to render the Fort unusable by the Austro-Hungarians: the munitions stores were blown up and the conflagration was so big it damaged the nearby Priory of Santo Spirito.
The Fort of Monte Ercole: what can be seen today?
Military stations, trenches, cannons, and the photo exhibition.
On the left just beyond the columns and sentry stations are tunnels used for storage and a freight lift originally used to haul supplies for the Fort. Continuing beyond, we come to the inner courtyard and the fortified northern trench, with machine gun stations and firing ports. Beyond this, in a room after the kitchens, a photo exhibition of historic photos has been set up.
In the central yard we may see the positions of the permanent battery, which consisted of four cannons measuring 149 mm under a rotating dome, now bricked up.
After visiting the Fort, you may continue on foot to Sella Sant’Agnese, about two and a half kilometres away.