Almost all of us, especially those of a certain age, have learned in elementary school that the highest mountain in Europe is Mont Blanc, on the border between France and Italy. I know I give you a pain, but these claims are both false, or at least controversial. If we set the borders of our continent to the Caucasus, as many historians and geographers do, then the highest mountain in Europe is theElbrus, which is in Russia and measures 5,642 meters, a little more than the White which instead stops at 4,810. And also the White, then, is really half Italian? According to Paris, no, the summit lies entirely in French territory: the Treaty of Cherasco of 1796 says so. Rome replies that instead the border passes right on the line of the hip, as established by the original papers of the agreement between Napoleon III and Vittorio Emanuele II of 1860. But those papers are no longer found, the French argue, the Nazis took them away who knows where. In short, despite decades of peace and alliance, the two countries have not yet reached an agreement. Until a few years ago Google Maps showed the “Italian” border to those who connected from Italy, and the “French” one to the rest of the world: only recently, at the summit, two dotted lines have appeared that account for the controversy, and then if governments hurry.
The history of Mont Blanc is told in Borders, a reporter’s book Mauro Suttora which traces the history of all Italian borders. It is not just a question of geography, on the contrary: because Italy ends (or begins) in Chiasso, a Ventimiglia oh Gorizia, and not a few kilometers before or a few kilometers later? Of course, wars have something to do with it, but more often than you think there are also the whims of a noble or a prelate or the dispute between families of shepherds.
A breath of fresh air: the Friday travel special
03 June 2021
Mont Blanc also appears in Travel Special that you find attached to this issue of Friday. It offers a series of itineraries – in the mountains, at the sea, in Italy and abroad – to be traveled preferably by bicycle or on foot. Why to walk – as the writer says Paolo Cognetti in the opening service – “It’s an act of rebellion”. Even against borders.
Stationary travel: the column that explores the world through online maps
by Michele Gravino
May 28, 2021
From the newsletter Finally it’s Friday of 4 June 2021. Click here to subscribe, it’s free