Strada del Sole ('Road of the Sun') - Atlas Obscura

Strada del Sole ('Road of the Sun')

Pontey, Italy

A former millstone quarry in the Italian Alps is strewn with rocks bearing distinct round shapes. 

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A gem, hidden on the slopes of Monte Barbeston. The area is characterized by ancient type rock with special properties known since ancient times. On the path between Alpe Valmeriana (Pontey) and Bellecombe (Châtillon), a separate track has been built to go over this peculiar place. In the past, it was also called the Strada del Sole (“Road of the Sun”). It was scattered with splendid remains of ancient circular stones. Some thought they were resembling solar disks. The “disks” are nowadays all around the variation on the path.

This site has been of historical interest for centuries, from antiquity to the Middle Ages. It is a short but steep hike to the first bits of the first wheels or “disks”, pacing is important. The path leads up to a high cave, Grotta Alta, where scratches cover the roofing of the cave. The path then goes down and closes in a ring with more wheels all around. These places were known only to a few locals.

The site was found and mapped by a professor who explains the “disks” were connected with pre-Christian faith and beliefs. He calls and portrays it as an Astronomical Sanctuary of the Cosmic Wheels. The rocks around here are very soft and disseminated with harder minerals. The soft part can be easily damaged with a coin, unlike the hard one. In the past, this type of stone has been used to make pots, stoves, arm rings, and even millstones. From here, and all around the area, the millstones were extracted and brought to town, where they were traded.

There are sources and documents of the commerce and tax collection involving several domains. The trade and the dominance upon it became so important that even Frederic Barbarossa was asked to intervene and settle the matter. “It is only to be hoped that the great Sanctuary may one day repopulate with visitors, then with the tracks to be made and routes to be organized for tourists, in order to allow visits for groups […] in the new light of a past that could no longer continue to remain hidden under the vegetation silent… as a grave.” Mario Catalano, Santuario astronomico delle ruote cosmiche in Val Mariana.

Know Before You Go

Most of the site is on steep a path made of steps and not suitable for people with knee issues or cardiac conditions. The road marked on Google Maps is closed to traffic most of the year. The Municipality may allow to drive up to Valmeriana's alp with a special permit. It is possible to walk up a path that mainly follows the road: that takes about 2 hours. From the alp, in about 20 minutes, you can start the path to the site (follow signal 2, path Bellecombe - Valmeriana). Bring a flashlight if you want in enter the caves.

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