Cloud Museum

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Museum in the Clouds, Messner Mountain Museum, Cibiana di Cadore, Italy

“They took all the trees, put ’em in a tree museum and they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em.” A classic line from the Joni Mitchell song, Big Yellow Taxi.

In it she complains, “…they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

The Museum in the Clouds in Cibiana di Cadore, Italy is the opposite of this. The village cooperated with world-famous climber Reinhold Messner to rebuild a former army fort into a mountain museum, dedicated to honoring the spectacular Dolomite Mountains and the people who live and recreate there.

The army fort was built on the top of Monte Rite between 1912-1914 and gave a commanding view over any movements of troops below. It withstood World War I and II, despite attempts to blow it up. It is embedded into the mountain top and is built of stone.

Now it gives unrivaled 360° views of the major peaks of the Dolomite Mountains. And they are simply amazing. The museum building has been completely refurbished and houses a world-class collection of paintings, drawings, notebooks, gear, and memorabilia from the exploration and climbing of the Dolomites. It is prepared as an art exhibit and classic museum experience. All of the equipment and notebooks are archived and presented in display cases and wall displays. The paintings range from romantic period oil paintings to modern art. There is also a video presentation room.

The roof of the museum is flush with the summit of Monte Rite (2181 meters-7153 feet) and you can walk over the entire structure and see the view in all directions. Protruding through the roof are three polarized glass enclosures. They allow light into the museum but also provide views of the sky, mountains, and clouds from within.

I rode the first shuttle van up to the museum in the morning. It was a chilly, cloudy, and foggy day in October. I was the only tourist in the van with all of the museum and café staff. The road is closed to public traffic.

I spent the entire day around the summit trying to photograph the highest peaks as they emerged from the clouds. Except they didn’t emerge for several hours and even then not entirely. I waited by my tripod and tried to stay warm. I photographed a hikers’ bench and interesting rock outcrops. Every once in a while I could faintly see the imposing walls of the high peaks through thin spots in the clouds, so I would get ready and…then the clouds would close in again. Eventually most of the clouds dissipated, but the sky remained hazy all day.

During the day I also photographed the museum and the glass enclosures. I had a circular polarizing filter on the camera and the glass of the enclosures was also polarized. The cross-polarization made some interesting patterns in this photograph in the late afternoon. I had very little success with other photographs which was frustrating.

At the end of the day I walked down the four mile access road. The low evening sunlight highlighted nearby peaks and brightened the autumn colors. I was the only person walking down the hill and it was a very enjoyable quiet walk. Sometimes you have to keep the images in your own memory even if you can’t capture them to share with others. It was just about dark when I arrived back at the parking lot. It was a great day in the clouds and bright sun looking at the high Dolomites.

There is a network of these Messner Mountain Museums. They are dedicated to exploring, climbing, and living in mountain landscapes around the world. There is an emphasis on the historic relationship of humans to mountains.

You can see more photographs of the Dolomite Mountains in my Italy gallery by following the Photography link above.

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