Military heritage at Val Cenis

The strategic position of the Mont Cenis pass has left Val Cenis with an exceptional military heritage. Val Cenis The Col du Mont Cenis, a major passageway between France and Italy's Piedmont region, is home to numerous fortifications built to watch over the border.

Military heritage at Val Cenis, a little history...

A little history

Val Cenis Haute Maurienne Vanoise and the whole of Savoie only became French in 1860. Prior to this, the entire territory was part of the Kingdom of Piedmont Sardinia. The Col du Mont Cenis was therefore a very important passageway between France and the Italian peninsula, but did not mark a border. It wasn't until Savoy became part of France and Italy was "created" that the Col du Mont Cenis marked the boundary between the two states. Between 1860 and 1947, the entire Mont Cenis plateau (where the lake now lies) was Italian. This border zone was marked by the tensions that existed between the two countries, including the construction of forts and bunkers to prevent the passage of armies.

Nineteenth-century forts

At the end of the 19th century, Italy and France built large forts on the Mont Cenis plateau. Fort de Varisselle, Pattacreuse, Ronce and Malamot on the Italian side (plus the fort de la Cassa, which no longer exists), and forts de la Turra and Mont Froid on the French side. Eventually, France and Italy drew closer, and the forts were not used in the First World War. Barely built, the Italian forts had already been overtaken by technical and military advances in artillery. Only the Turra fort, integrated into the mountain with tunnels and powerful defences, was the scene of fighting in 1940. The fort successfully withstood all Italian assaults. After the armistice, the French garrison withdrew with arms and flags to join the French lines, having been honoured by their adversaries.

From this warlike past, a superb heritage remains to be visited today. The Fort de Ronce, with its round architecture, is particularly striking. Easily accessible, it houses explanatory panels on the Mont Cenis plateau and offers a breathtaking view of the lake. Fort Malamot, at an altitude of over 2,900 m, can be reached by hiking or even by gravel bike. A fort above the clouds where it's not uncommon to come across ibex.

Military heritage at Val Cenis, 19th-century forts
Military heritage at Val Cenis, 20th century bunkers

Bunkers of the 20th century

The Mont Cenis plateau is literally littered with bunkers. During the Italian Fascist period, dozens of bunkers were built by the Italians as part of the Vallo alpino program, the equivalent of the "Maginot Line" in France.

Looking out over the plateau and alpine pastures, you can see loopholes, concrete entrances that open onto dark corridors, observation points sheltered by bells that are now rusty...

Each bunker had its own rooms, battle stations, etc. Some of these structures are veritable labyrinths spanning several levels. Access to the bunkers is formally inadvisable due to the dangerous nature of the structures (risk of falls, landslides, flooded rooms, inoperative telephone network...). However, you can find out more about these bunkers by visiting the Pyramide Museum, which presents the history of Mont Cenis, or Fort Saint Gobain, between Le Bourget and Modane, a very large French fort on the Maginot Line of the Alps which has been restored and is open to all during the summer season.

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