Val Camonica

Prehistoric rock art in the valley north of Lake Iseo

Incisioni rupstre in Val Camonica

Along trails snaking through the slopes of the pre-Alpine valleys of eastern Lombardy, the prehistoric Camuni tribes etched half-exposed rock faces with images of humans, animals, houses, symbols, and inscrutable art.

More than 300,000 of these carvings line the valley walls of the ★★ Val Camonica, just north of Lake Iseo, which has granted the region UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

The best of them are contained within a series of archeological parks, and the two best of these are the Parco Nazionale delle Incisioni Rupestri di Naquane above Capo di Ponte (tel. +39-03-64-324-011; www.vallecamonicaunesco.it), and the nearby Riserva Regionale Incisioni Rupestri di Ceto Cimbergo Paspardo outside Nadro di Ceto (tel. +39-0364-433-465; www.arterupestre.it).

Medieval board games at Val Camonica
Medieval board games at Val Camonica.
The majority of the carvings are 3,000 to 5,000 years old, but there's an enormous range.

The oldest date back 11,000 years, while the most recent are from the Middle Ages: stylized medieval grids used to play an early board game called filetto, or merèr in local dialect. The problem with setting down all your moves in stone is that you could use each gameboard only once, so you had to carve it again and again for re-matches.

The carvings display a wide range of daily and ritualistic life for these prehistoric humans.

There is, of course, the abundant game—especially deer—carved over and over, either wandering alone or in veritable stampedes...

Un cervo in Val Camonica A herd of deer at Val Camonica

I love the image of men walking into a sideways forest:

A forest carved at Val Camonica

Then there are the warriors; some with sword and helmet, others with bow and arrow:

Warrior at Val Camonica Archer at Val Camonica

Sometimes they're even mounted calvary:

Warrior riding a horse at Val Camonica

On occasion, of course, these warriors meet and fight, either bareknuckle fisticuffs or with weapons:

Boxers at Val Camonica Warriors fighting at Val Camonica

Sometimes a whole war breaks out:

A battle at Val Camonica

... and inevitably, some people will be running away from it:

Running man at Val Camonica

Then there are the things that no one can adequately explain. Like this:

The Big House carving at Naquane, Val Camonica

A house? A mask? Your guess is as good as the academics' (For the record, the think it's probably a house—I guess either with a thatched roof or on fire; hopefully the former).

I, for one, am convinced the guy below is an alien. I mean, just look at his space helmet:

Val Camonica figure

There are even some surprisingly modern images, like this prehistoric horse-drawn cart:

A horse-drawn cart at Val Camonica

More carvings on nearby Lake Garda

If you don't make it to the Iseo area, when you're on Lake Garda, detour at Torri del Benaco to the hillside hamlet of Crero.

A trail above town leads in 15 minutes to some quite nice carvings on a bare rock face. They can be a bit tricky to find; ask for directions at the little bar at the end of the road.

(When you get to the small, sunny clearing—really just a break in the trees—and are crossing a sloping rock face, start looking around. That's where the carvings are.)

Planning your trip to the Val Camonica

Tips & links

Details

Val Camonica tourist information:
There is a small tourist office near the parks with the carvings at Via S. Briscoli 42, Capo di Ponte
tel. +39-0364-42-080
www.agenzialagoiseofranciacorta.it

Regional tourism
www.bresciatourism.it

For more information: www.invallecamonica.it
www.archeocamuni.it
www.agtvallecamonica.it.

Lake Iseo toursist information

Lake Iseo tourist information:
The tourist office is in the town of Iseo at Lungolago Marconi, 2
tel. +39-030-980-209
www.agenzialagoiseofranciacorta.it

Regional tourism:
www.bresciatourism.it
www.provincia.brescia.it

Useful private sites:
www.lagodiseo.org
www.bresciaholiday.com
www.cooptur.it/iseo

Val Camonica:
www.agtvallecamonica.it

www.invallecamonica.it
www.archeocamuni.it

How to get to the Val Camonia

Make your way to Lake Iseo. You really need a car

There's regular train service from Brescia (23–30 min.), which is where you can hook up with trains to or from Milan (80–120 min.) or Bergamo (100–140 min. total) to the west, or Desenzano del Garda (67–82 min.), Verona (86–110 min.), or Venice (2.5–3 hrs.) to the east.

How to get around Lake Iseo

If you don't have a rental car, the easiest way is by bus (www.trasportibrescia.it) or by boat (www.navigazionelagoiseo.it).

There is also a tourist train (classic 1950s diesel jobs) called Treno Blu (tel. +39-030-740-2851, www.ferrovieturistiche.it) that leaves from Paratico on the lake's south shore (with connections to Brescia) and heads up the eastern shore of the lake (more for sightseeing than transport, but hey: it's a real train and all).

Useful links & resources

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Details

Val Camonica tourist information:
There is a small tourist office near the parks with the carvings at Via S. Briscoli 42, Capo di Ponte
tel. +39-0364-42-080
www.agenzialagoiseofranciacorta.it

Regional tourism
www.bresciatourism.it

For more information:
www.invallecamonica.it
www.archeocamuni.it
www.agtvallecamonica.it.

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