The Dolomites (Italian: Dolomiti [doloˈmiːti]) are in the north-east of Italy, between the Austrian border in the north and the big Venetian plain on the south. They lie in the most northern regions of Italy, Veneto, Trentino Alto-Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia. The Dolomites are part of the provinces of Belluno, Bolzano, Trento, Udine e Pordenone.
These mountains cover an area of more than 90 km north to south and 100 km east to west.
The Dolomites are made up of 15 different massifs, each of which reaches around 3000 meters in altitude. These massifs are divided by rivers, valleys and passes. Marmolada is the highest mountain of the Dolomites (10,968 ft). It lies between the borders of Trentino and Veneto.
The most important rivers are Isarco and Adige in the west; Rienza in the north; Piave in the east; and Avisio and Cordevole which run from north to south through the Dolomiti.
The only massif west of the Adige River is the Brenta Group, a big oval shaped group that is a little separated from the rest of the Dolomites. The Dolomites form a part of the Southern Limestone Alps and extend from the River Adige in the west to the Piave Valley in the east. The northern and southern borders are defined by the Puster Valley and the Sugana Valley.
There are also mountain groups of similar geological structure that spread over the River Piave to the east – Dolomiti d’Oltrepiave; and far away over the Adige River to the west – Dolomiti di Brenta. There is also another smaller group called Piccole Dolomiti (Little Dolomites) located between the provinces of Trentino, Verona and Vicenza.
The region is commonly divided into the Western and Eastern Dolomites, separated by a line following the Val Badia – Campolongo Pass – Cordevole Valley (Agordino) axis. The Natural Park of the Ampezzo Dolomites and many other regional parks are located in the Dolomites. In August 2009, the Dolomites were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How to get there
The main international airports closer to the Dolomites are the one in Venice (160km) and the one in Monaco (Germany). There also are smaller airports in the region, in Treviso, Verona and Innsbruk (Austria). For more info read “How to get to the Dolomites“.
Geology of the Dolomites
The fantastic scenery of the Dolomites is due to their geology. These shapes are quite strange and unusual compared to the rest of the Alps and to the other mountains on our planet.
The main geological difference is the combination of two different kinds of rocks, volcanic and dolomitic.
The name Dolomite derives from their discoverer: Deodat de Gratet de Dolomieu (1750-1801) a French chemist and mineralogist.
While travelling to Rome in 1789 he collected a strange kind of rock in Valle Isarco.
Later examination proved that the rock was made of an unknown mineral: calcium magnesium carbonate, CaMg(C03)2.
The word Dolomite is now a scientific term applied for mineral formation. Not all the rocks of this region are made of dolomite.
The Latemar and the Marmolada (the highest peak of the Dolomites – 3343 m) for example are limestones, a slightly different rock with similar origins. When these rocks formed, they were all limestones. The dolomite process began later and it left out the Latemar and the Marmolada, possibly because they were covered by volcanic rocks.
The processes that formed the Dolomites were in the Permian-Triassic (200-265 million years ago). They remained undisturbed for more than 100 million years under a great layer of marine sediment. During the Tertiary (between 60 and 5 millions years ago), the collision between the African continent and the European continent deformed the crust and the sea deposits emerged.
The Alps, including the Dolomite region, were born in that period.
A lot of fossils was find in the area, and you can find others when you are hiking close to these amazing mountains.
Learn more about the fossils from the Dolomites
Climate of the Dolomites
The climate of the Dolomites is typically alpine, characterized by harsh winter temperatures, with a sharp decrease increasing altitude. The rainfall is concentrated in the summer period while in winter the sunny days are about 80% of the total.
The climate of the Dolomites is characterized on the one hand by the cold air coming from the continental plains of the Danubian region, on the other hand by the more mild and wet climate of the Mediterranean. The Dolomiti are generally warm and they get less precipitation than the alpine regions of Austria, Switzerland and France. The bad weather generally comes from south south-west. Wind from the north usually brings good weather. As in all other mountain regions, the weather can change suddenly, especially in July and August.
During the summer period, from the middle of June to the beginning of August, the climate is pleasantly warm during the day and fresh during the night. From mid-June to the end of August there are often thunderstorms in the afternoon. A warm sunny day can transform in a kind of hell in less than an hour. Considering the wind-chill factor, temperature can fall up to 15 degrees. For this reason, anyone planning to set off climbing or trekking is well advised to first check the local weather report or to visit the local Alpine Guide Office. It is also advisable to start any activity early in the morning.
From September to October (and sometimes also in November) the weather is stable and clear with chill nights and possibility of snowfall on the highest peaks when the weather is bad. During these months there are fantastic autumn colors to be seen in the woods and forests.
From December to March it is wintertime and a white blanket of snow covers the Dolomites. Winter snow usually begins to accumulate in December, lasting through March, and sometimes April. While temperatures fall below freezing, and snowfall is ample, the sun shines an unparalleled 8 days out of 10 in the Dolomite’s – more than any other range in the Alps! The sunny winter paradise of the Dolomite Mountains make skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing adventures here unbeatable!
Spring returns in with warmer weather and longer days, but also with rain. But this too is welcomed, as it clears the air for spectacular vistas and brings beautiful green valleys and pastures overflowing with wildflowers!
Below some weather data of Cortina d’Ampezzo, the “Queen of the Dolomites” (Elevation 1,224m (4,016′) – Latitude 46.540471 N – Longitudine 12.135652 E).
There is a lot to say about the flora and fauna of the Dolomites, and since there is not space here, I advise the reader to refer to a specialist publication on the subject.
Bibliography: James and Anne Goldsmith : “The Dolomites of Italy” – Hunter Publishing Inc,1989
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