From a distance, that is from below because that’s where you get there, the Fort Grand Seren looks like a long stone wall, lying parallel to the horizon almost wanting to hold up the top of the mountain.
A perfect long wall with sloping sides edges formed by huge squared and intertwined stones. As you approach, and the journey is long and it seems that the fort turn away from you at the same speed, the great wall becomes less showy and other details make their appearance.
Heaps of hewn stone, arranged geometrically perfect, for no apparent reason randomly distributed on the ridge between Val Chisone and Val Susa, just over the Colle dell’Assietta; force you to keep your head arched backwards to observe them.
You continue to walk along the dirt road that leads from the barracks over the Big Lake of the Grand Seren, slowly, finally you’re in it.
Two massive large stones, the base of the pillars which formed the accesses of the fort, tell that you are entering the fortress. A long row of cells, to the side, all of stone, suggest the stables for the mules; they were, together with the Alpini, who led up there the building material: brick and mortar, iron and timber. Upstream the door is still defended by arrow slits behind which stood the soldiers with weapons. Arrow slits perfectly carved stone.
How much were good with a chisel, and perhaps they loved that job more than a gun or stand behind a mortar.
But the real wonder of the fort is not this.
The real wonder is underground, hidden well enough to prevent the mind to imagine how beautiful it is.
A portal with an arch with huge stones it is the access. Scary to cross that threshold, but curiosity is winning. You proceed slowly feeling the way with your feet and little by little your eyes adjust to the dark.
Long tunnels of brick, branching like tree branches, come into view, revealing shapes and unexpected paths. Thousands and thousands of bricks brought there by mule, put on at once with a little lime and a lot of art; arranged so well that withstand time, and also to vandals, who always go wild over these relics of history, forgotten and abandoned, repudiated.
Because sometimes my folks do not miss only head, but also heart.
In a niche has set up house a chough, which unlike humans, appreciates those ruins, so much it has given birth to its puppies.
From time to time there is a side room; we understand that there was a wooden partition to the floor, to insulate from the cold and give some comfort to those who had to stay in those deep cellars. There are only several bases of the floor left, no wood, who knows when they have purloined.
Step by step we arrive with surprise in a large room that looks like another world, because the sun, entering, not understand how, traces shapes and halos of light that captivate the eye and bind the mind to observe without understanding. It had to be one of the beating hearts of the fort that room, opening onto a row of small windows and high and tight arrow slits looking at a wall full of stones erected there in front of just a few meters.
When you return to the sun and climb the ridge, you understand that that wall was the wall of a sort of moat. The enemy did not have to reach this far, because the cannons would have stopped him before, but if there was ever come, then it would have been carnage. Shudder the mind to observe, after we were in, that terrible pit designed to reap lives and make the triumph of death.
The cannons were high, with around a landscape of magic, high over the mountains and the clouds, to be their frame; round pitches that today you just read to the ground. Near a row of shelter, perhaps bunkers, all without doors, floors uprooted, to preserve the unique furniture that is impossible to remove, and that mostly have no market value.
In one someone erected a chapel to the Virgin Mary, with all the honors of the authors and altar near the back wall. To counter with a sign of love a beautiful place but thought to bring joy to the death? Or because integralism urge to believe in the right to do anything in the name of their beliefs regardless of what others? Why push to believe in the right to ignore that the signs of history should be respected forever?
The visit to the ancient stones and bricks twisted labyrinth beneath the earth continues for a while, so as to give time to the sun to run much in the sky, and with him the memory, imagination and reflection.
What good Alpini, authors of such architectural marvel is the dominant thought.
But moving away from that place steeped in history and suffering, and even luck, because those guns have never fired a shot, another thought makes its way, bitter and heavy, almost despairing.
In how many other Countries in the world you would leave such a wonder to hell? In a valley that has recently been Olympic and where there’s the habit to fill ones mouth with fatuous words praising the tourism?
On the Forte of Grand Seren the sun always shines for a long time, even in the harshest winters. A good omen. I wonder if his tenacity, such as the Alpine that those walls have built, cannot finally win?
Who knows it will come a day when even to normal people, without risk of falling into some pothole, and without fear of darkness that grips heart when you venture below ground without light, be allowed to visit galleries and walls, halls and rooms with uprooted floors, niches and also abusive and adventitious Marian chapels, to know a bit of his past?
It’d be a wonderful day.