'On the Mountain there is Freedom' - Friedrich Schiller (The bride of Messina). MMM - Messner Mountain Museum - is one of its kind, never seen such an illustrative attempt to depict the mountain with such vivacity. There are five of them - Firmian, Ortles, Dolomites, Juval and Ripa. Reinhold Messner himself describes this project as "15th ascent over 8000 meters". His objective is to offer a study of human nature and the secrets it reveals when we find ourselves at the limits of our resources at the limits of the world. His philosophy - no artificial oxygen, no bolts, no communication - has made him a defender of those values that give mountaineering a dimension that has more to do with art than with sport. Although Reinhold Messner seeks primarily to define his basics for himself, his MMM has already become a global focus for the international mountaineering community.
Firmian - addresses man's encounter with the mountains. This was built in the Historical Sigmundskron Castle near Bozen or Bolzano, amidst the spectacular peaks of Schler and Texel ranges of South Alps. This museum houses pieces of art, sculpture, paintings collected across the globe. The paths, stairs and towers of this museum take you to travel through the depth of mountain, from the history of mountaineering to religious-spiritual beliefs around mountains, and also unfolds man's love for mountain, their failures followed by glorious successes attained generations after generations.
Ortles - The museum in Sulden-am-Ortler, an underground structure at 1900 mt above sea level, is devoted to the world of ice. Peter Anich drew a map in 1771, showing the glacier on the Ortler and it was called as 'At the end of the world', beneath which the ice museum is located. In this museum Messner has showcased the terrors of ice, darkness, snow people, Snow Lions, the whiteout and the Third Pole. This museum houses the largest collection of Ortler paintings and ice climbing gears since last two centuries. Skiing, ice-climbing and expedition to the Poles are the main themes of this museum. Entering this museum one feels like inside the mountain, where we get a clear picture of ice-mountains, the devastating power of fierce avalanches, the Artic and the Antarctic. 'Yak & Yeti' corner adds the fun scoop to it.
Dolomites - The museum in the clouds, is located on Monte Rite (2181 mt) between Pieve di Cadore and Cortina D'Ampezzo. This museum, in the heart of the Dolomites, is sensational for its breathtaking view itself. The summit offers a 360 degree panorama of the most beautiful mountains of Dolomites: Monte Schiara, Monte Agnèr, Monte Civetta, Marmolata, Monte Pelmo, Tofana di Rozes, Sorapis, Antelao, Marmarole. The main theme of this museum is 'Rock'. It sings the saga of conquest of Dolomites - the natural scientists and mountaineers, how they wrote alpine history with their discoveries, new route, new style and new ascents.
Juval - the Myths of Mountains - is located in the Juval Castle of Vinschgau, dedicated to the Magic of Mountains. This museum houses several fine art collections: A Tibetan collection, a gallery of paintings of the world's holy mountains, a collection of masks from five continents, a unique Gesar of Ling, a Tantra room and finally the Expedition cell. The other attractions of this museum are a mountain zoo and excellent wine in Unterotl home grown at Schlosswirt tavern. At the foothill, there is a farmhouse shop too. The presence of the castle is dreamlike and makes a big impression.
Ripe - Last but not the least, Ripa depicts the mountain heritages. Built in Bruneck Castle, it presents the mountain people from Asia, Europe, Africa and South America and reflects on their religion, culture, heritage and tourism activities. It shows their daily life, how they survive for millennia living at the high up, through their dwellings, videos and encounters.
One must be wondering why the museums are inside some or other castle. Why the necessity to use the historical structures as museum? This was absolutely a way to conserve those castles, their historical walls and present them to visitors along with these mountain museums.
The day I got an opportunity to travel to Italy for a good few months, the first thing came to my mind was to meet Mr Messner. Being a die-hard fan of Alpinista Mr Messner, a man of astonishing feast, who has set his foot atop all the 14 Eight Thousanders and challenged himself to climb deadly mountains solo and without supplementary oxygen, I could not wait but to see him in person. Wrote an email to his secretory and got to know that unfortunately he woukd be in a tour to USA during the same time. However, received a special invite to visit his museums thereby getting a chance to touch his thoughts.
I was staying in a small town - Modena in Italy, which is well connected by train to surrounding cities like fashion capital Milano, Education center Bologna, Verona, Art capital Florence etc. There was no direct train between Modena to Bolzano. I needed to go via Verona or via Bologna. Chose the route via Verona, since that route offers early morning trains and takes shorter time. Started at 5:30AM from my studio apartment and boarded a train for Verona via Mantova at 6:05AM. Reached Verona Porta Nouva by 8:20 AM. Had a good 40 minutes in hand for a yummy breakfast with a warm bread basket and bacon omelet along with caffé macchiato. Again boarded a train at 9AM. As soon as the train moved off leaving behind Verona city, the journey started with spectacular scenic splendor amidst picturesque olive and vine fields walled between high rock faces on both the sides. A combination of slate gray and golden green dazzled my eyes. Small villages, happy faces were running behind, and I was in a train, as small as of 5 coaches only, travelling like Alice in wonderland. Finally reached Bolzano Sud. I was almost on the verge of getting down, when I realized that I was not supposed to get down there. Bolzano was another station ahead. Jumped into train again and finally reached Bolzano-Bozen by 10:30 AM.
The first glimpse of the station board made me realize that I am not in a typical Italian town. The board was written in German, Italian and English - which was absolutely at variance with the rest of Italy. This was not just because, Bolzano was very close to the boarder of Bavarian Germany and Austria, but there was a long history of bloodshed of Bolzano for it to behave differently.
If we step back from MMM and try to understand the history of Bolzano, we will have to date back to 15BC, when Roman emperor Nero Cladius Drusus conquered this area, before which it was inhabited by Raetian Isarci people. With the end of Roman Empire Bavarian immigration began. This place was a small village named Bouzanum or Bauzana. This area had been inhabited by German population since then. Due to its strategic location on Transalpine Brenner route, this village became an important trading point between the major cities like Venice and Augsburg. Before World War I, Bolzano was part of Astro-Hungerian county of Tyrol. It was annexed to Italy by the end of World War I, and became provincial capital on 1st January 1927. During this time, Bolzano had 20 times more German speaking population than Italian speaking one. Benito Mussolini started a major Italianization of this place, by multiplying the Italian population of this area through rapid migration and transferring the German speaking population to Third Reich. During World War II, Bolzano was the site of Nazi Bolzano transit camp - a concentration camp for the Jews. After liberation from Fascism and Nazism, and due to the Paris Treaty of 1946, Bolzano became the capital of the autonomous South Tyrol province. And Sigmundskron astle played a crucial role in Bolzano's political reform - which houses the Firmian Museum now.
While going, I had no idea that the Firmian Museum was not in the Bolzano town, but in the outskirts. It is called Ponte D'Adige - the Valley of Adige River. This place was also famous for the Battle of Bridge of Arcol - a bridge on this Adige River which connected this place with Austria. Reaching Bolzano, I took a separate ticket to travel in a small glass train to reach Stazione de Ponte D'Adige or Bahnhof Bozen Sigmundskron. These tickets looked very different compared to other train tickets, these tickets were more like Indian local train tickets - small rectangular paper tickets, while other tickets were like flight boarding pass. Reached the station, a small cute toy train station like, decorated with various flower plants and surrounded by beautiful villas. And the Sigmundskron Castle was prominent on the hillock in front.
It was a small trek from the station to the castle, or one could cycle up there. The directional boards were placed for Firmian Museum just from outside the station. So even without any help of others it was easy for me to reach the castle. This was a fun walk, crossing the Adige River up the hill, smelling the Alps' cold breeze and greeted by the colorful unknown flowers. After a couple of spiral bends, a board showed a road diversion for the castle, which was more of a walking alley. Those who were biking or driving, should take the main route. Wooden fencing on the other side and wild flowers around took me to a different mood altogether. Beside the path, there were wooden tables & chairs for one to take rest and have a feast on your own. A good 30 minutes jungle trek opened me in front of a huge rock sculpture of Gautama Buddha sitting in Yogdhyan mudra. I was surely not expecting this. Awestruck, I stood there gazing at the Buddha sculpture, as if in a trance I was transported in the reverie of the land of the Himalayas. Was I still in Europe or somewhere in India? On my left hand side stood the main entrance of Firmian Museum, with a welcome by Buddha. I then took an entry pass of the musuem which also had a map of the whole museum.
Sigmundskron Castle was almost a ruin which had been renovated to convert it into an open museum. With the architect Werner Tscholl, Messner found a kindred spirit for the refurbishment of the castle and the exhibition blueprint. Tscholl is a specialist in castle conservation; his primary objective is to preserve the original. The challenge at Sigmundskron was to preserve the historical walls of the castle and implement the necessary measures in such a way that they can be reversed whenever required. The new architecture remains in the background and serves merely as a stage for the exhibition. The glass roofs on the towers, for example, are not visible from the outside, nor are the various pipes and cable ducts. The architect restricted his choice of materials to steel, glass and iron as being both modern and timeless. The Castle has a triangular structure, stone tracks are laid around it and different areas are designed to depict different themes. The first of them is a double storey wooden house, exhibiting rocks collected from different expeditions by Messner, quotations of mountaineers across the globe, information of the genesis of mountains. Below are a few quotations worth mentioning here for our budding mountaineers:
Mountains, "conquest of the useless."
There is nothing to conquer, only to gaze in awe.
Mountains, "victory over the mountain."
There is no victory, only reverence for the mountain and it's secret.
Mountains, the last wilderness of our world,
A place of longing for our culture.
Mountains, they are surveyed, placed in irons, mapped and used.
Mountains, they will keep their secrets.
- Franz Leander Neubauer
And finally, a large screen played videos of various rock climbing sessions by great climber Alexander Huber. Watching him was like watching a human lizard who can climb any rock so rhythmically and so effortlessly that I forgot to move. When realized- dragged myself out- I entered the Zen Garden. Just before the entry point there stood a huge Ihapso - a humanlike stone structure that the Tibetans build and pray considering it a prototype of God. Especially, when they go for climbing mountains, they make these Ihapsos with the stones available around and offer prayers for the wellbeing of everyone in the team. Again on my left, was another small stone sculpture of Buddha beneath a huge tree, a 'chorten' with scripts in Tibetan.
Beside the Chorten, there was a group of 30 other visitors with a multilingual guide. I tried to make out what story the guide was telling. It was a rock slate, with 5 long-life sister peaks around Mt Everest drawn after an image of a lady goddess in the middle. Unfortunate enough, the guide just knew that this was from Nepal, where they consider Mt Everest as their Goddess, and that's what was depicted there. One of the visitors asked him "what's the name of this goddess?"... Answer was: "Well, mmmmm it's Goddess Everest" . By the way - She is 'Miyolansangma' - the Goddess who resides on Mt Everest along with her other sisters who together form a group of guardian goddesses to oversee the welfare and longevity of mankind around the Mt Everest region. The Nepalese call her Chomolungma also. The name means the Goddess who gives them grain, gold, water and life. She is young and beautiful, rides on a white lion.
On my left hand side, came another huge (10 ft high) stone statue of Buddha. Not sure what impression visitors carried about Buddha - but kids were happily playing and climbing on the statue, clicking snaps sitting on his lap or shoulders, which was surely not a common view in the East. At a first glimpse I felt bad, but then realized that any Godly figure is nothing but our best friends and kids playing with them is not bad. A wooden floored room beside that contained a huge Tibetan rotating prayer wheel with 'Om Mani Peme Hum' prayer in the sound-box that sublimed my heart to a great degree. The windows overlooked to Bolzano, offered a fine view of the Texel Mountains, the Ötztal Alps and the majestic Schlern. Even the town in the foreground and the motorway that passes through the hill on which the castle stood were incorporated in the overall design - as examples of how man interacts with the mountains today.
The outside garden had a metal lion from Srilanka. On my left hand side was an amphitheater. The path winds down a cave which gave me the feeling of being inside a mountain. There was a big collection of mountain crystals. The outer glass and iron staircase led to the top of the castle. Each staircase had quotations inscribed from various famous mountaineers. On the top floor were a Shiva Linga and other deities from India, Nepal and Bhutan. As I entered the castle, there was a room with a camera box, showing an animated story of the creation of the mountains through the earthquake.
The walls contained a good many photos of the great mountaineers and rock climbers - Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgey, Hermann Buhl, George Malory, Andrew Irvine, Alison Hargreaves, Alexander Hubert and many more. Messner has great appreciation for the young mountaineers of our age - Chhurim of Nepal who summited Mt Everest twice within a week; Leila Esfandyari - the first Iranian lady mountaineer to climb Nanga Parbat & K2, and died while climbing Ghasherbrum II; Steve House - the first ascent of Nanga Parbat Rupal face; Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner - the first woman to climb all 14 eight thousanders without supplementary oxygen; Pemba Doma Sherpa - the first Nepali lady mountaineer to climb Everest North face, died on Lothse and many more. Several rooms were dedicated to the history of the castle, political movements and the people suffering. Also there are rooms which contain used clothing and mountaineering gears from various historic climbers, e.g. the sleeping bag, sack, jacket, ice glass, utensils used by Messner during his solo climb to Everest. There are areas showing various instruments of rock climbing - like rope, knots, piton, chalk bag etc. Some rooms contain huge Tibetan 'Thankas' or painting on silk canvas which depicts the Tantra Buddhism that was born in Tibet. There was one huge 'Thanka' - with painting of Yamantaka - the God of Death, who purifies the world when she sinks into sins, having devastating power of thousand hands, thousand heads, thousand eyes, thousand legs - its presence in a dimly lit room was not only awe-inspiring but good enough to arouse fear and an eerie feeling, making one realize how miniscule we are in front of Him. Somewhere, this was not just a piece of art, but a good depiction of mountains devastating power too. The mountains, their sky touching ranges, their snow clad robes, their cloud piercing peaks standing motionless and glowing in Sun's glory. Their presence seems to us, as if, of centuries old meditating hermit aloof from external existence. But countless footprints, ruthless spread of pollution and lack of restoration breaks his 'dhyan' and wake him up to burst into violent fits of wrath in the form of life tolling avalanches and snow storms to get rid of those pollutants. That's how man encounters with power stored in motionless mountains, to teach him to be humble again and again.
Crossing all these, the staircase opened me to a decorative garden inside the castle. And I was awestruck once again by a metal sculpture from Tibet. This was a 4 dimensional sculpture, a standing mating pose between a four headed couple, one of them having twenty and one having ten hands. Each hand has its own use, each hand carries different mudra and different weapons showing multifaceted human life. Hands of each couple are used for different purposes, because couples exist to complement each other. If I looked at the sculpture from different angles, it gave different meanings to it. The front face of the lady showed humble submission, the back face of the lady, facing the front face of the man were engrossed into each other, two hands of each holding them together in close embrace, while remaining faces and hands protected each other from external forces. A single sculpture told thousands stories of human lives, the oneness that completed each other, and the protection that made them eternal. This one sculpture was stupefying enough to make me speechless, motionless, and I forgot to wink even. I gazed and gazed still felt - I was not getting enough of it even after observing it steadfastly for at least fifteen minutes. I just decided to sit in front of it and simply gaze in awe, what exactly we do when we stand in front of high erect heads of mountains. So mountains symbolize life, mountains symbolize culture, mountains symbolize religion, and finally the eternal spin of life through birth and death.
Now was the time to return. It was already 4PM and I was yet to have my lunch. Time flew in the thin air of Sigmundskron castle. I came back to the entry point again. A small coffee shop was there with some special food of Domoletes. I asked the guy to offer me something which had local flavor of the place and which would be filling too. He got me a glass of red wine, specially grown in parts of North Italy, with a plate of food - which looked like 3 big balls each made from different grains and cooked with different vegetables and spices. Chilled air, bright sun, good wine with lovely food and a recollection of the day's journey - what a relaxation! Peeped into a book store, but most of the books were in German or Italian. The English copies being all exhausted by then, I picked up a small book of ascent route maps of various peaks in Bavarian Alps. One can get the signed copies of books written by Messner, various items relating to Sigmundskron castle, range of cosmetics which are produced from organically grown plants by Kräuterschlössl in Vinschgau.
Return journey started bidding a good bye to the Ihapso and the guardian of Buddha idol.
I didn't get a chance to visit his other museums, however, would encourage every mountain lovers to take a trip to them too.
Basic information of Firmian Museum:
Address: MMM Firmian, Sigmundskron Castle, Sigmundskronerstr, 53; I-39100 Bozen, Tel : +39 0471 631264
Visiting time : MMM Firmian is open from the 1st Sunday of March to 3rd Sunday of November, 10AM - 6PM, Entry closes by 5PM, Thursday closed
Entry fee: €9.00 for adults, €7.00 for big groups (15 or more), students, elderly (over 65), €3.00 for children (6-14 years) and €20.00 for families.