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Images of Lake Garda, Venice, and Verona...and the Iceman!

The next stage of our journey was an exploration of the northern reaches of Italy, at the north end of the Apennine Mountains, the Po River Valley, and the southern foothills of the Alps. For the anthropologists in our group, day six was one of anticipation...through the hard work of our tour guide and ACIS, we had found a way to get 20 members of our group to the town of Bolzano, deep within the Alps, to the current resting place of Ítzi, the Iceman, a man who died 5,000 years ago on a pass between Italy and Austria. Unbeknownst to our travelers, their expected adventure was only the beginning, as they experienced the trauma of the Italian public transportation bureaucracy. As your webmaster was not there, the story will be filled in soon by one of those who was....

For the remainder of our party, our journey lay north, following the autostrada that links Florence with the town of Bologna in the Po River on the thumbnails below for a full-sized picture!

The Northern Apennines and Verona
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The Iceman Crew departs First item of the new day was to say farewell to the intrepid Iceman crew as they journeyed forth onto the Italian public transportation system for their five-hour train-ride to Bolzano. I joked at the time that the picture was for posterity, should they not return. If I only knew what I was saying...
The journey north We followed the autostrada north through the northernmost part of the Apennine Mountains. The Apennines are a very youthful mountain range that originated with the subduction of the Adriatic plate beneath the Italian mainland. The mountains are a sequence of thrust plates that have been forced over one another as the compressive forces continue to push the crustal plates together. The rugged mountains, though not overly high, have long been a barrier to travel, and the northern and southern parts have long been separate politically and culturally.


Bridge in the Apennines The engineers who designed the highway were forced to build at least 17 tunnels and countless bridges.
Outcrop of limestone Every so often, some of the limestone bedrock would peek out...these layers formed the bottom of a shallow sea just a few million years ago in Miocene time. They have become the top of a mountain range in a blink of geologic time.
Apennine Scene The mountains are quite beautiful, and contain several national parks. The mountains are still being pushed to the north by tectonic forces.
Po River Plain We descended onto the Po River Plain, the largest agricultural region in Italy, and exceedingly was very reminiscent of living in California's Central Valley. The valley has a similar climate, the same problems with conflicts over river water, groundwater, and domestic/agricultural competition for scarce resources. The big difference is geological...


The Po River The valley is caught between two major compressional mountain belts, the Apennines, and the Alps. The two ranges are being pushed towards each other, and in the fullness of geological time, the valley will disappear as the mountains collide, forming an even greater mountain range. We only had the briefest view of the Po River. Draining both the Alps and the northernmost Apennines, it is both the largest and most over-used river in Italy.


Entering Verona Our next stop was Verona, the beautiful medieval city nestled against the foothills of the Alps. Our visit emphasized the historical aspects of the city, but there were a few noticeable geological aspects to point out...
The Adige River The Adige River, for instance, flows out of the Alps, and the cloudy water is not pollution, but is instead the very fine suspended silt and clay of glaciers, which are present many miles up the valley. Other rivers in the southern Alps are impeded by lakes, which work as settling ponds, so that the water runs clearer downstream.
Ammonite in Sidewalk The local geology determines the most economical building materials in Verona (and Venice and other northern Italian cities). The tufa and the volcanic tuffs are hundreds of miles away, and the most easily utilizable stone is a unique pinkish marble (stained by iron oxides) that often reveals fossils. Here, in a sidewalk, is a coiled ammonite fossil. It is an extinct tentacled creature that can be likened to an octopus with a coiled shell.
Approaching the Piazza dei Signori and Torre Lamberti The presence of clay deposits on the Po Valley Plain provides for the other building material used extensively in Verona: bricks! As we walked through the Piazza dei Signori, the Torre Lamberti (tower) came into view. I found the fact that tower is open to visits irresistible, and I headed to the entrance, except....that...there was food in the Piazza!
Food! O.K., nothing geological here; other than the fact that this is what gave me the energy to climb the numerous stairs of the Torre Lamberti...and the Caprese was delicious!
Climbing the Torre Lamberti There was an elevator to the top of the tower, but I got all self-righteous, and decided to climb the hundreds of stairs. The Torre Lamberti was begun in 1172, but in May 1403, a thunderstorm destroyed the upper part. An octagonal belfry was added in 1464. The clock was added only in 1779. At 276 feet (84 meters), it is the tallest building in Verona. The view was marvelous!
View from the Torre Lamberti Looking over the south end of the Piazza della Erbe and towards the Po River plains.
View east from the Torre Lamberti Some of the low foothills of the Alps, and the channel of the River Adige in the foreground.
View to the north from the tower A beautiful town!
The Piazza della Erbe from the tower I ate lunch under one of those umbrellas. If the plaza seems uncrowded, it is only because it was very hot in the sun, and everyone was hiding in the shade!
The view to the southwest The Roman Era arena is visible nearby.
The Arena di Verona Built in the 1st Century AD, the arena is the third largest still in existence. The wall on the left is a remnant of the highest rim. The inner portion is still used for performances today, seating as many as 25,000 people. Microphones are not necessary for the opera performances; the acoustics are perfect.
WWII Holocaust Memorial In a park in the Piazza Bra, we came across a memorial to Holocaust victims...

Our day's journey ended at Lake Garda, Italy's largest natural lake. It sits in a glacially carved basin at the southernmost margin of the Alps. The lake is dammed by a glacial moraine, the pile of debris pushed up and left behind at the terminus of the river of ice. The resort town of Desenzano del Garda is built on the crest of the moraine.

The following day was spent exploring the town of Venice, one of Italy's most famous and unusual cities....

Lake Garda and Venice
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Lake Garda Lago di Garda is a huge lake, and an important resort town for northern Italy. It was one of several very large lakes formed by glaciers which flowed out of the southern Alps on at least four different occasions during the last 2 million years.
Lake Garda The lake is 32 miles long, and as much as 11 miles wide, covering 143 square miles. It has been the site of a number of limnological research studies, including problems with pollution and the effects of climate change.
The Castle of Desenzano The castle at the top of the hill in Desenzano was begun around 1,000 AD, and mostly completed in the present form about 1470. I had to take a look, and hoofed it up the hill through the narrow city alleyways.
The north wall of the Castle The outer walls look like something out of a fairy tale, although the interior is not overly complex. It was actually used as a military barracks through 1943, and was damaged during WWII. It was given to the city in 1969, and has undergone a very recent renovation.
The main Castle tower A self-guided tour leads through the complex, and to the top of the main tower...
View from the Institute and Castle ...leading to a marvelous view of the town and lake.
 Institute of Geophysics and Bioclimate Experiments Much to my surprise, I found that this tower houses the Institute of Geophysics and Bioclimate Experiments. Imagine having a thousand-year-old office with a view!
Tower on Garda shoreline I you see a face here? This tower is not part of the castle, but instead lies east of the village along the lakeshore. We walked past it to our restaurant. Our dinner was quieter than usual. Where were our Bolzano travelers? See below for the answer. In the meantime, we slept, and got ready for our journey to Venice the following morning....
On shore in Venice! We took a water taxi from the end of the highway, and arrived on the island city of Venice. Venice originated as a city when people sought to protect themselves from medieval invaders by building a city within the estuaries and mudflats of the Laguna Veneta (Venice Lagoon) on the Adriatic Coast. The city is protected from wave action by a barrier island called the Litorale di Lido.
The Palazza Ducale No part of the island rises more than a foot or two above sea level, so canals criss-cross the city, and so there are no cars. Venice is sinking part due to compaction of the sediments by the buildings in the city, in part from the withdrawal of groundwater, and strangely enough, by the effect of plate tectonics! The slow convergence of the Apennine Range and the Alps is pushing the Po River plain downward.
Piazza San Marcos Saint Mark's Square is one of the most famous landmarks in Venice. It was a little bit crowded, I suppose....I am still struck by the famous use of the "catacombs" of Venice in an important scene from the Indiana Jones movies: catacombs in a city lying at sea level! Indiana climbed out of a sewer hole into this square.
 Basilica di San Marco St. Mark's basilica was begun in the 9th century, with numerous additions and modifications through the centuries. Few paintings grace the interior or exterior; instead there are beautiful tile mosaics completed during the 11th to 15th centuries.
Narrow alleyways No cars, no need for wide streets! Land is at a premium anyway. It's hard to imagine the cost of construction and renovation in a city like this, as the use of heavy equipment is nearly impossible.
Our crew enjoys a gondola ride A most relaxing way to see the sights! They aren't allowed to sing, though, some kind of problem with the local musician's trade union....I guess you have to go to the Venetian in Vegas for music on a gondola ride....
Narrow canals OK, I know this looks distended and warped, but it is only a result of cropping. The canals and alleys are exceedingly narrow! Many of the buildings have entrances facing the canals. Many have their bottom floors underwater, due to subsidence.
On our Gondola ride A great variety of small footbridges grace the network of narrow canals.
The Grand Canal The Grand Canal, on the other hand, is a main highway, so to speak, and is crossed by only three bridges. Our gondola ride got a bit bumpy in the open water as bigger boats passed by. The Rialto Bridge, seen here, was the only connection to the island up until the 19th Century. It was originally a wood bridge, built in the 12th century, with the current structure dating from the late 16th century.
Canals in Venice  
Canals in Venice  
UPS delivers anywhere! No further comment needed....
Egads! The Birds! Eh, yes, there were pigeons in St. Mark's Square....
Ammonites in the sidewalk We saw this sort of thing in Verona, but the same marble is used in Venice as well. I heightened the color a bit to bring out the contrast. There are half a dozen ammonites in the small tile....
In the water taxi At the end of a long day, we took the water taxi back to the mainland, where we caught the bus home to Lake Garda.
Water Taxi  
The Bolzano "Iceman" Adventure (pictures courtesy of Andrew Hayes)

So, what had happened to our "Iceman" Adventurers? The plan was to take a 5-hour train ride to the alpine town of Bolzano, where a museum holds the remains of the 5,000 year-old murder victim (see recent issues of National Geographic for more information such as ). The ride apparently was uneventful, but scenic. This day however, was chosen by Italian train workers as a good day to go on strike. Such events are somewhat selective, and it was thought that our group's train to Verona would not be effected. It was. Just like that, the Iceman Crew was stuck in Bolzano, along with hundreds of others, trying to get someplace else. The officials in charge were not very helpful, until our ACIS guide Kate, and team Kerr-Brandt swung into action. Somehow, Kate knew the right words to say over the cell-phone, and the non-English-speaking official directed our crew to a English (don't ask them if they had time for the use of a restroom...). Following a quick rush through the crowds, the group had a reasonable bus ride down a beautiful alpine valley, and then a transfer to another train from Verona to Desenzano. Somewhere around 9 o'clock, our exhausted crew arrived at the restaurant for dinner, and around 10 or 11, they started wandering into the hotel.

Oh, and they did get to see the Iceman, and they all remarked what a fine day it was....

For those of you who don't know the story, the Iceman is a frozen mummified body found on a pass between Austria and Italy in 1991. He turned out to be more than 5,000 years old, and he may be the oldest murder mystery in existence: an arrow was embedded in his shoulder, and his skull had been crushed. Obviously, how or why he died remains a mystery, but his death provides us today with valuable information about how he lived: clothing, diet, and general health. It was a great opportunity for our students to see the exhibit.


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  Unfortunately, although our crew was able to visit the museum exhibits of the Iceman and the artifacts found with him, photography was not allowed, so this is the closest thing, a holographic image outside.
On the other hand, Bolzano is a scenic village, and Andrew Hayes was kind enough to share some of his pictures....
Bolzano lies within a deep alpine canyon, offering nice views along the way.
  As an avenue across the Alps in medieval times, strategically placed castles reveal the ancient problems of security in those days....



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