12. Passo Pordoi

12 Passo PordoiDolomites039

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Passo Pordoi tops out at 2,239 metres, and is a major gateway between the western and eastern Dolomites. It is the highest point reached by the Great Dolomite Road.

Zardini’s photograph looks south east, over the summit of the Pass itself, across the intervening ridge that runs from from Col di Rosc to Padon, and over towards the glaciated northern slopes of
the Marmolada, which is some ten kilometres away as the crow flies. The Marmolada is the highest peak in the Dolomites, at 3,343 metres, and contains by far the region’s largest glacier.

Relatively little that is actually visible in this view has changed since the Zardini photograph was taken. It took me a surprisingly great deal of scrambling across trackless steep slopes of rock and grass to locate the approximate point from which the photo had been taken. This intrigues me still, because there are equally good viewpoints, lower down and far more easily attained.

The Zardini photograph shows the
Albergo Savoia, to the left of centre. This venerable hotel still offers comfortable accommodation today and has a wealth of old photographs on the walls of its restaurant area, many or most being contemporary with Zardini’s work on the Great Dolomite Road. Right of centre is the Albergo Col di Lana. The Savoia is from the late 19th century, the Col di Lana dating from the time that the Pordoi stretch of the Great Dolomite Road was completed, in 1909 or thereabouts. The Savoia began life as the “Christomannos Haus” - see postcard photos elsewhere on this web page. Neither it, nor a road through the pass are mentioned, for example, in the very thorough 1905 Baedecker guide to the area.

In both the Zardini photo and my modern equivalent, the horizontal line of the previous stony track to the Pass can be seen, just above the modern-day carparks. The major change in the view is the intrusion of the Pordoi cable-car station and the car parks that have grown steadily to accommodate tourism here. Thankfully many of the weekend flea-markets that used to clog the Pordoi and other passes seem far less frequent.

This has always been a popular area for postcard photographers. This one is dated and postmarked for July 1932:

Pordoi Summit 1932001

Infuriatingly, the card below has had its stamp removed, and the postmark date with it. It shows basically the same building, with some modernisations. I estimate it to be from the late 1940s:

Pordoi 1950s001

That view is nevertheless fairly similar to this Ghedina card, which the sender dated in August 1956:

Pordoi Summit 1956001

and this, also by Ghedina, and hand dated and postmarked in July 1957:

Pordoi Summit 1957001

In 2013, this was a slightly wider version of that same view:


This card is undated, but also probably from the same era. The absence of traffic is unusual in all of the cards from this time. The area was certainly seldom without cars and coach parties, particularly at summer weekends. Passo Pordoi was, and remains, a major spot for visitors to congregate.


The volume of traffic at times is fully demonstrated in this 1968 postcard, produced not long after the Pordoi cable car station (pictured) opened:

Pordoi 1968001

All the general views across the Pordoi Pass summit show a significantly different, slightly smaller, building on the site of the Albergo Col di Lana compared to Zardini’s photograph. My assumption is that the original building was destroyed in the First World War fighting, and replaced by one that has, in turn, been replaced by what, today, stands behind the cable car station in my own photograph. Several of these early cards clearly show the memorial from Photo 15. The keen eye will also spot the crucifix to the graveyard of Photo 16 in some, too.

This postcard shows, I think, fewer buildings, and is therefore very likely to be earlier than the one above and below. Infuriatingly, here too, the stamp, and with it most of the postmark, had been removed before I bought it in a Florence flea-market:


This is a slightly wider postcard view from about the same time, or a few years later:

Pordoi Summit 3001

By the late 1960s that general view looked like this, taken from a Ghedina postcard I bought in another flea-market. It is postmarked 1971:

Pordoi view east004

The viewpoint is very nearly identical. Car parking seems rather unregulated, with vehicles parked right up against the obelisk of
Photo 15.

One of my treasured postcard purchases is this painted representation of the area. It somewhat exaggerates the Marmolada peaks in the background, but names the main building at the summit of the pass as the “Christomannos Haus”.

Pordoi 1915001

The reverse of the card is written in pencil in what I think is Serbo-Croat, and is dated “21/5” from Canazei. Careful study of the postmark shows it is of 1915 and the military censorship over-stamping is obvious. This is a card sent by one of the Austro-Hungarian soldiers stationed in this area in 1915:

Pordoi 1915 back001

This gaudily hand-coloured card shows an almost deserted view of part of the summit of the Pass, but much the same buildings. The one centre shot is the same building that was the “Christomannos-Haus” in the card above, but seen from another angle. The shot is also interesting because it shows the high path left of shot that now leads to the squat round tower of the ossuary and war memorial also mentioned under
Photo 15.The photo is clearly quite an old view of the pass. The ossuary and war memorial only date from 1959, so the track leading out to them is clearly somewhat earlier. A forerunner of the Great Dolomite Road, perhaps?:

Pordoi Pass Summit001

Here is the same overall view in a postcard from the 1950s or early 1960s:

Pordoi view east002

This postcard, by the Franzl company (mine is again undated, I have seen another copy, postmarked 1954) looks in the same general direction as Zardini’s photo which began this page of the web site, but provides a much wider view:


There is no shortage of postcard views like this. Here is another similar, and early one, undated and never posted:


The photograph at the top of this web page was not used in Zardini’s guide for those travelling towards Bolzano. Instead, we see this lofty view:


The viewpoint is clearly much higher, and I estimated that it may have been shot from the edge of the Sas de Pordoi plateau at over 2,900 metres high, close to where the Rifugio Maria, half an hour beyond the upper station of the Pordoi cable car, now stands. Before the cable car, and with the camera gear of Zardini’s time, such an ascent would have been hard work! On a morning after a wet and occasionally snowy night in September 2013, I made my way to this spot:


I am satisfied that this, a few minutes walk from the Rifugio Maria, between Sass Pordoi and Piz Boe, is the site of Zardini’s photograph.

Initially, the view seemed to be not be far from the spot that this undated postcard from my collection was photographed:

Pordoi to Marmolada002

However, my 2013 visit confirmed that the photo actually seems to have been taken from higher up, on the peak of Piz Boe, at around 3,000 metres. Snow conditions were too difficult for me to reach there in 2013.

Here is a postcard, dated 9 July 1937, which shows the view in the exact
opposite direction to Zardini’s shot, looking up to the flat top of the Sas Pordoi, on which the cable car station now stands. The conical peak to the right of shot is the Piz Boe.

Pordoi and Sella001

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