Clarence's Alps - the Cima Marta and the military buildings

Written by Marcus Bicknell on .

martaNew member Max Leonard writes...

My writing about glaciers and the Merveilles will be a chapter in a book I’m writing for Bloomsbury, but maybe we can extract it or something for your site! There are plenty of interesting journal articles being written about the natural landscape and the engravings.

By the way, I was reading Margaret Berry’s diary you transcribed and posted as a PDF, and I can shed some light on a query you have/had (p7). The ‘Marta’ (and ‘Maiter’) she refers to is the Cima Marta (2,138m), in the Marguareis. This is south of Monte Saccarello and north of Monte Torragio, and the summit (AKA le Cime de Marta) is actually in France now.

However, the Balcone di Marta, near but not at the summit, is a ridge upon which are built several 19th-century military buildings – the Barracamenti di Marta. There’s a little on it here on the CAI Bordighera site.

I have done quite a bit of research on the military history of the border region. Briefly, Napoleon III supported Vittorio Emmanuele II (of the Duchy of Savoy and last King of Sardinia) in his bid to unify Italy. For this support, VEII ceded Savoia and the County of Nice to the French (ratified in a popular vote in 1860). Though the neighbours started off amicably enough, as Italy grew in power and confidence, the French realised they had a long undefended border to the east. And that border was a fudge: Tenda was a strategic jewel, which VEII had insisted on keeping, and Napoleon III had granted him continued possession of some of his favourite hunting ground around La Brigue (I think). As far as I understand it, this is in part why in Clarence’s day the border bisected the Roya valley twice (and still does once), when it would make far more sense that it follow the watershed ridge on one side or other. So in the 1870s, both sides began fortifying marta militarythis relatively new frontier – you can see the French works on the Massif de l'Authion, Col de Brouis, Monte Grosso and Mont Barbonnet (Sospel), Mont Agel (behind Monaco) and Fort de la Revère (Èze). In Italy, there are all the barracks at the Colle di Tenda, and then further south at Sacarello, Marta and the Colle di Nava. I think the French were more concerned that the Italians would try to take the county of Nice back than the Italians were that the French would invade. Indeed, Mussolini did make irredentist noises in the 1920s, prompting the construction of the Alpine extension to the Maginot Line. I wrote about that in Bunker Research.

Since that time, I’ve explored a lot more on the Italian side, including a lot of the old salt roads, but know relatively little about the Vallo Alpino. However, on my trip to the Merveilles last September I did scramble to three of the Italian positions, on the Baisse de Valaurette and in the Minière valley itself.

FaLang translation system by Faboba