Two hundred and fifty million years ago, these mountains were a mass of shells, corals and algae, submerged in tropical seas. Emerging 70 million years ago, and eroded by time and weather, today they represent a magnificent geological treasure and give the landscape an incomparable beauty.
The Dolomites are named after French naturalist Déodat de Dolomieu who, in the second half of the eighteenth century, was the first to study the particular type of rock predominant in this region. The unique mix of minerals present in the rock gives the mountains a special light shade, which is why they are also called the pale mountains.
However, at sunset and sunrise the Dolomites are set ablaze by the rays of the sun in a spectacle of colours ranging from pink to fiery red. This is the effect of the famous Enrosadira, or Alpenglow phenomenon.
In 2009, the Dolomites became a UNESCO World Natural Heritage area due their exceptional beauty and unique formation.
The history of Cortina d’Ampezzo is touched by legend and drama. There are testimonies of ancient Roman settlements as well as traces of the Barbarians.
The territory was originally a land of farmers, thanks to its protected and safe location in the Dolomite mountains. However, it was forestry and timber trade that drove the economic development of Cortina d'Ampezzo.
Thanks to Cortina’s strategic geographical location on the national border, it played a key role in the communication between Venice and Innsbruck, first for the Republic of Venice, and then lasting 400 years, for the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Towards the mid-1800s the railway arrived at Cortina's borders, bringing the first wealthy Anglo-Saxon, German and Russian travellers to discover these beautiful mountains.
Thanks to newspaper articles and guidebooks written by these pioneering mountaineers Cortina d'Ampezzo was soon known all over the world. Thus the first hotels and tourist facilities opened, and Cortina soon became an important Dolomite tourist destination.
One may wonder how it has been possible for Cortina d’Ampezzo to become Queen of the Dolomites in such a short time, and sport has undoubtedly played a major role in her rise to international fame.
An important part of First World War history was written on the mountains of Cortina d’Ampezzo in the areas of Lagazuoi, 5 Torri and Sass di Stria.
These locations, the scene of tragic battles between Italians and Austrians, have been restored and transformed into testimonies of the Great War. The result of this major restoration project is a vast outdoor museum of the First World War, open for visitors all year round.
Along the hiking paths and the ski slopes, just moments away from the mountain refuges and climbing walls in the heart of the Dolomites, it is today possible to visit the tunnels from the war in Lagazuoi, experience first-hand the trenches and the positions in the 5 Torri, and enter the restored fort of Valparola, all transformed into the Museum of the Great War in the Dolomites.
The 1950s marked the beginning of the golden era of the Ampezzo valley.
Hosting the 1956 Winter Olympics, the first games broadcast live on television, firmly established Cortina d’Ampezzo as a prestigious location for winter sports and a privileged stage for La Dolce Vita.
Today Cortina d'Ampezzo is a much loved international tourist destination and venue for many international sport events, having hosted 25 editions of the Women’s Alpine World Cup, numerous Nordic skiing events, the Snowboard FIS World Cup, the Freeride World Cup, as well as many other major events.
The town has approximately 6,000 inhabitants, swelling to nearly 50,000 in high season. Its reputation as a world class tourist destination is the result of a tenacious and conscious development with emphasis on preserving its natural landscapes and pure air.
A journey back in time, following the path of the Olympic torch.
The Olympic tour takes in the structures and facilities that symbolize the historic winter Olympics of 1956. We start at the Olympic Ice Stadium, undoubtedly the most important and a must-see venue, which still houses the brazier in which the Olympic Flame burned throughout the games. The building has an all-year ice rink open to the public with on-site skate rental and qualified instructors.
Next stop is the legendary Eugenio Monti bobsleigh run, just a short walk from the Ice Stadium, followed by the Olympic ski-jump in Zuel. These two facilities are both currently out of use.
The legendary Olympic downhill run in Tofana still hosts the Women's Ski World Cup races.