The Dolomite region is a collection of landscapes, unique not only in the Alps, but also unseen in other mountain ranges throughout the world. The exceptional natural beauty of the region derives from two main factors: the landscape structure and the scenic values. The frequency of separate mountain groups set side by side in a particularly restricted environment and the unusual variety of vertical shapes (rock faces, peaks, spurs, aiguilles, needles, spires, pinnacles, towers, jags, …) as well as horizontal (ledges, roofs, plates, crags, plateaus, summit tablelands,…) have all contributed to make it a universal standard for the visual perception of a mountain. The possibility of classifying the karst structures into recognisable geometric shapes (points, lines, surfaces) and precise volumetric figures (prisms, planes, cubes) have led to an interpretation of the Dolomites as artificial structures rather than simple natural expressions. The earliest explorers compared them figuratively and metaphorically to the ruins of a city inhabited by Titans, thus projecting the region into a mythical dimension. More recently the gigantic order which seems to dominate their architecture and the fantastic relationships in scale led Le Corbusier, considered the most important architect of the XXth century, to call them “les plus belles constructions du monde”.
The visual impact is crowned by the richness of colours and the harmony of contrasts which characterise each mountain group of the Dolomites. Vertically the bare, hard dolomitic towers rising from sterile scree cones, stand out against the green, undulating pastures and the luxuriant forests which cover the extensive slopes. Horizontally the transformation of facies from the light cliff formations to the dark formations of volcanoclastic origin emphasise the light and shade effects created by the varying mutability of the surfaces. During the day the rock faces react spectacularly and uniquely to the changes in daylight due to their specific mineralogical structure: flushes of hot colours (orange – red - purple) at dawn and dusk, pale and diaphanous in the midday light, while twilight and moonlight give a cold, unearthly aspect to these mountains.
The variety and richness of landscape values make the Dolomites one of the most attractive mountainous areas in the world and this aesthetic experience can be enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year due to easy accessibility from the valleys. In fact the impressive and dramatic landscape of the Dolomite region is a universal reference of exalted aesthetics, so much so that it is considered to be an ideal natural monument to the Sublime. From the beginning of the nineteenth century intellectuals and travellers in Europe witness to having found the superlative “embodiment” of those dramatic landscapes in the Dolomites which the most important painters of the period could only have invented. Through their travel logs, permeated with romantic culture, these landscapes became internationally famous, promoting the mountain aesthetic with the Dolomites as its ideal representation.
The aesthetic theory of the Sublime, essential to the definition of the standards of natural beauty in western culture, found its perfect exponent in the stony landscapes of the Dolomites.
Finally, when considering the superlative natural phenomena, it is important to realise that even without presenting the highest peaks, the widest glaciers or the most extensive areas of wilderness, the Dolomitic area is the only region in the world where pale dolomitic and dark volcanoclastic rocks are found together. The region is also outstanding for its unusual concentration of summits over 3000 metres above sea level and a remarkable presence of small glaciers and perennial snowfields at relatively low altitudes. The series of unbelievably vertical rock faces (from 800 to 1600 metres) and the exceptionally deep canyons (from 500 to 1500 metres) offer an extraordinary morphological variety which adds to the value of the natural beauties of the Dolomites.