In praise of Bellum Aquilarum - Onlus

Sexten lies in the Alto Adige today, but it was on the Austrian front in 1915 when war broke out between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy. Within weeks Italian shelling had destroyed its church and claimed many civilian casualties.

The war for those generations who have only known Sexten for skiing and hiking, enjoying the peace maintained by the European Union, is described in a vivid exhibition in Via della Chiesa – opposite the church. Here the Onlus, Bellum Aquilarum has mounted a mixed media show that captures the many sides of this bitter, almost unbelievable thirty-month war.

Fighting in front of Tre Cime, 1916

Photographs and a film make up the main exhibit. Added to this there are cases containing the small things of life and reconstructions of the temporary encampments, besides the armaments used by the diverse forces fighting.

Small things forgotten - portable stoves

I notice that the Onlus has managed to re-roof the 1870s fort above Sexten at Mitterberg since I was last here. They have also put signs up at the second fort in the 1915 line at Haideck, now a heap of rubble (it was demolished in 1919 and some of its stone was employed to rebuild Sexten church).

A reconstructed mountain camp

One docent was on duty, obviously a volunteer, and he kindly set up the Italian version of the film that recounts Sexten’s part in this campaign. He spoke only German and then I realized that the entire exhibit is told from the Austrian point-of-view. It is not at all nationalist, thankfully and the fact that this is Italy today does not appear to matter. If there is any theme it is that we should not forget. In this sublime valley, celebrated for the pursuit of leisure, it is important to recall it was not always this way and to honour a century-old memory and experiences we have been privileged not to know.

The exhibition is open at weekends and on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons until 20 April.

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