Territory and Engravings
Going through the extensive collection of cultural sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, n. 94 reads “Rock drawings in Valcamonica”: it has been almost 30 years now, precisely since 1979, that our pitoti, stick figures in the local dialect, viz. the rock engravings of Camonica Valley, have been inscribed as part of the outstanding evidence of Man’s culture here, to be preserved for future generations.
Rock art has been detected all across the territory of Camonica Valley, the longest valley of the Brescia district, scoured by the Oglio River: over 180 rock art sites have been documented to date, totalling some 2000 engraved rocks (sandstones and conglomerates), distributed among 24 out of 41 Valley municipalities.
The engravings were made over a time span of more than 13,000 years, dating from the late Upper Palaeolithic to the end of the first millennium BCE, when the great cycle of Camunian art comes to a stop. The pratice of engraving rocks, however, carries on even after the Roman conquest of the Valley, extending into medieval and modern times.
The representations, sometimes made with great accuracy, deal with spiritual aspects and moments of daily life of the ancient Valley dwellers: they are often veritable palimpsests, where cult scenes and dances are positioned next to or superimposed on agricultural or hunting scenes, creating at times intermingling images charged with meanings that archaeologists, so distant from the original executions, can’t always fully grasp.
But beside rock art, Camonica Valley contains other landmarks of historical, archaeological and artistic importance, reminders of its past.
Roman times are documented by the ruins of the theatre an the amphitheatre in Cividate Camuno, also the site of the National Museum of Camonica Valley, an by the remains of Minerva’s shrine near Breno.
From the Middle Ages stand out numerous castles (such as the ones of Gorzone in Darfo Boario Terme, of Breno, Lozio, Cimbergo) and the historical centres of many towns of the Valley, which follow precisely the medieval town-planning patterns.
Numerous are also the religious buildings standing out both for their architectural worth and for the works of art that they display (for example, the San Salvatore monastery and the San Siro parish church in Capo di Ponte, dating to the 11th century).
Tightly linked to the use of Camonica Valley’s territorial resources are the productive activities, whose roots, in some cases, can be traced back to traditions from thousands of years ago. The mining industry for the exploitation of siderite and chalcopyrite mines, well known and operative since prehistory and protohistory (for example, the Bienno-Campolongo mine), is documented today in the town of Bienno, where some museum-smithies have been put back to work right where they were productive until the near past.
Stonework, from the marble quarries of Vezza d’Oglio already exploited in Roman time, and woodwork, which gave birth to highly valued handiworks between the 15th and the 18th centuries, even today produce quality artistic crafts.
Agriculture and cattle breeding, which was for thousands of years the basis of the Camunian economy, are practiced today in observance of territorial features, to enhance the Valley’s resources and traditional values.