Fort Montecchio: ghosts of the Great War in Colico
Colico is a city on the southern part of Lake Lecco. The surrounding area is distinguished by what is known as the four “montecchi”, or foothills that rise around the lake.
It is from these foothills that Fort Montecchio North gets its name, an imposing military stronghold dug into the rock face.
Fearing the tensions that would later transform into the First World War, the Kingdom of Italy decided to construct the fortress between 1913 and 1914. It was strategically located, at the entrance to the valleys that lead into Lombardy – Valchiavenna and Valtellina. Its purpose was to block an attacking enemy coming from Switzerland or Austria. From that single point, Italy could keep its two powerful neighbors to the north in check.
The fort consists of two sections: the upper part is dominated by the four cannons and shelter for the troops, accommodating approximately 40 men. They are connected by a covered walkway of nearly 140 meters (460 feet) from which several crenels open.
The fort has preserved almost all of the original elements, from the many rooms and underground passages, to the powder magazines, dug to a depth of more than 60 meters (200 feet) for safety, the electrical system, the internal communication system and the armor-plating.
A tour through the long corridors and cavernous rooms gives the visitor the thrill of sharing a piece of true military history. The underground positions reserved for loading the cannons is particularly impressive – compartments with levers, handles, and the metal rings that the operator had to calibrate the cannonball’s targeted path.
The cannons are found in the upper part of the fort, and seeing them there, still lined up and ready for action, certainly makes an impression.
They are 149-millimeter Schneider cannons. The dome served to protect the post and they could be turned from beneath to point them at their target. The cannons could fire to a distance of 14 kilometers (9 miles).
Luckily, and ironically, the fort was never involved in military action during the Great War. Switzerland remained neutral and while Austria did attack in the Stelvio region, it was not a particularly important front. The only battle in which the fort was involved was during the Second World War, though it was a minor episode.
Walking along the terrace where the four pieces of artillery are on display offers majestic views of the entrances to Valsassina and Valtellina to the front, and, to the sides, the mountains that run parallel to the lake.
The fort was opened to the public on 17 October 2009, and can be visited according to the following timetable. from 30 March to 4 November – Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10:00am to 6:00pm; from 1 to 31 August – every days from 10:00am to 6:00pm.
The tour begins on the hour and lasts for 50 minutes.