Rock engravings of Camonica Valley – Unesco site
The rock engravings of Valcamonica, which date back over 8,000 years, constitute an extraordinary figurative documentation of prehistoric customs and mentality. The systematic interpretation, topological classification, and chronological study of these configurations in stone have made a considerable contribution to the fields of prehistory, sociology and ethnology.
Valcamonica is home to the greatest complex of rock drawings in subalpine Italy and there are approximately 250,000 petroglyphs drawn on hundreds of exposed rocks depicting scenes of agriculture, navigation, war and magic. The area where the rock carvings were most plentiful was in the lowest section of the valley between the Concarena and Pizzo Badile Camuno peaks.
Several periods of carving can be identified that correspond to the evolution of Cammunic society:
Upper Palaeolithic (c. 8000 BC) showing scenes depicting hunting and early civilisation; Neolithic (4000-3000 BC) towards the end of the glaciation period, the first depictions of a religious nature appear. The human figure became fundamental to the carvings along with depictions of daily life. This period was the high point in Cammunic art. Eneolithic (3000-2000 BC): the quality of the drawings improved and they almost became a narrative with highly detailed hunting and rural life scenes. A very important element is the appearance of scenes depicting female initiation rituals; after 1000 BC the isolation of the Cammuni ended and they began to meet new people, often while defending their territory. Battle scenes are carved into the rocks as well as drawings showing huts, wagons, harvests and weapons. This was when Cammunic art was at its highest point and from then on it began to wane.
The first rock drawings by man date back to the pre-Boreal climatic interval in the 8th millennium that was characterized by dense pine and birch forest. The first hunters from the Cammuni tribe lived in groups on the hillsides and not the valley floor, especially during thaws, as landslides were commonplace.
Between the 16th century BC and AD 476, Valcamonica was occupied by the Romans. There were iron mines in this area and Celtic craftsmen were able to produce high-quality steel from it. Full governmental autonomy and Roman citizenship was granted to the residents of the area. Even during Roman times, Valcamonica sustained raiding parties by barbarians. The Herulians arrived after the fall of the Roman Empire and were followed by the Ostrogoths, who brought much death and destruction in 542.
The Langobards ruled the valley between 568 and 774 when it was taken over by the Franks. Benedictines, sent to the valley to bring Christianity to the community, built churches and alms-houses to help the needy. Around 1000, the farming community began to feel some sense of self-identity and to request self-rule. This was how Le Vicinie were formed – an association of vicini. Communes started to appear after 1164 with approval of the emperor. From 1428, Valcamonica came under the Republic of Venice despite many disputes between Milan and Venice over the acquisition of the valley over the next quarter-century.
The thriving economy of Valcamonica was based on wool production by the monks, but pastoral work, especially in the high valleys, was also important. The villages that had iron mines began to gain importance. Brescia was overcome by the French in 1769 and Valcamonica took the name of ‘Cantone della Montagna’ and was split up into seven townships. The borough of Serio was formed in 1797 and included the communes on the right bank of the River Oglio, whereas communes on the left bank came under Brescia. In 1801 all of Valcamonica broke away from Brescian jurisdiction and its annexation by Serio. Agriculture and stock farming suffered drastically during Napoleonic rule. Austria reannexed the valleys to Serio. Between 1815 and 1818, Valcamonica was stricken by famine and plague. At the start of the period of the Kingdom of Italy, the 52 communes were split up in the three districts of Breno, Edolo and Pisogne with Breno as the main district.