There are numerous mountain peaks more than two thousand meters high, picturesque villages and attractive valleys. One of the most interesting is the more than twenty kilometer long Pesarina valley. In its upper part, there is a small ski area, past it and over a nearby mountain pass, one of the roads with less traffic leads to the fashionable sports center of Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Kingdom of watches in the Alpine valley
“I think the bell tower of the church leans at least as much as the much more famous tower of Pisa!” approached a local, when he saw me looking with interest at the bell tower next to the only parking lot worth mentioning in Prato Carnico. The settlement is characterized by a few larger houses that have stood on the steep banks for centuries. Much younger is the clock in the park, the dial of which is shaped by carefully tended flowers. It reminds of a once important craft in the valley. Watchmaking was preserved only in the nearby town of Pesariis.
The Leaning Tower is far from being as famous as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Photo: Igor Fabjan
These once prestigious measuring devices were first started to be manufactured by locals who went to Germany in search of work. They learned the demanding trades in the region of the Black Forest (Schwarzwald), which is still famous today for the production of wall clocks with cuckoos. In 1725, they founded the Solari family company and began selling watches all over the world. They are still made in the factory today, but mainly for industrial purposes.
No wonder that almost every house in the settlement already had a wall clock in the 18th century. Even now they mark everyday life. In a small place, they have as many as fifteen public hours. Each of them is something special, because they are unique. In past decades, they were made by retired watch factory workers. In addition to a lot of time, they also used a lot of innovation and imagination.
Clocks can even be powered by water
The clock next to the church looks the most elaborate. In fact, it competes with the church bell tower, as it consists of several bells. At the same time, the electric clock mechanism drives a giant music box, which, with the help of a toothed roller and hammers, plays a melody with eleven bells on the full hours. In addition, the largest bell is also rung at the full hour, and a slightly smaller one every quarter of an hour.
One of the watches is powered by a special mechanism that uses the watch’s own weight to move the hands with the help of gears and special transmissions. With the help of an electric motor, the clock is raised to the starting point at certain intervals, and then it slowly descends and drives the gears with its own weight.
Pesariis are enlivened by many unique watches. Photo: Igor Fabjan
In addition to the time, the astronomical clock also indicates the day, month and astrological sign. They also show the time using the position of the North Star, which was used before the invention of clocks as we know them today. There are several sundials, among which we work on one shadow, which represents the hour hand, by placing it on a certain point.
One of the clocks is a large billboard on which the numbers are written in small squares – this was the forerunner of digital clocks. Some of them work on water. One with the help of some kind of aquariums. Twelve containers placed in a row and connected to each other represent twelve hours. Each container is filled in exactly one hour and then it is only necessary to count them, and the minutes can be estimated based on the water level in the next unfilled container.
There is a water-powered clock in front of the Sot la napa guesthouse. Photo: Igor Fabjan
On the accompanying billboards, descriptions of the operation of the individual clocks are surprisingly also in Slovenian. You can learn about the development of local crafts in the museum. Many wall paintings and murals also remind her. Of course, mostly on the topic of time and hours.
READ MORE -> 5 reasons why Cortina d’Ampezzo is worth visiting outside the ski season
The wheel, similar to a mill wheel, uses water power to drive a clock mechanism with a pendulum in front of one of the more imposing medieval buildings in the city. In addition to windows with stone frames and carefully tended flowers on the shelves, the facade is marked by the inscription Sot la napa. The owners gave the name to the open indoor fireplace, which sometimes served instead of a stove, to a carefully arranged boarding house with accommodation and a restaurant. It was conceived more than twenty years ago by a local woman, Eliana, together with her husband.
She took care of a thorough and careful renovation of the house and arranged it for its new purpose. In the basement, there is a small shop with seasonal products that come from the family farm. Homemade pasta, jams, compotes and syrups are also for sale. The dishes they offer are also characterized by high-quality domestic organically produced ingredients. They mostly use traditional recipes for jota and minestrone, in which local beans somehow take first place, and smoked rabbit is something special among the meat specialties.
The attractive central square of the city behind the stone walls – Venzone. Photo: Igor Fabjan
An attractive shepherd’s village
“The path leads past the watch factory to the Fuas waterfall, which is only half an hour away,” Eliana casually suggested a new destination when I mentioned that I had already learned about all the watches in the city. “Even more picturesque is a visit to the former shepherd’s village of Stavoli di Orias.” I was immediately tempted by this, and after an easy ascent I was greeted by the view of a cluster of stone buildings. I soon realized that it had been turned into a kind of holiday village. But at least on the outside it is looks like it used to, and traffic is not allowed, with the exception of the owners.
The narrow and winding road is not closed by a gate, but it is much less stressful and more pleasant to go on foot. It is less than half an hour’s walk from the nearest village of Tria, which can be reached by car. If you have more willpower, you can extend the journey by at least an hour if you start in the valley. The settlement of stone houses was marked by one of the more famous contemporary Italian poets, Pierluigi Capelo, with fragments of his works on some facades.
Former barns and temporary residences have been converted into holiday homes. Photo: Igor Fabjan
The city behind the walls
On the way to the Carnic Alps or on the way back, it is worth stopping in Pušja vas (Venzone). It is one of the few towns with preserved medieval walls in this part of Italy, despite the devastating earthquake that completely destroyed the town in 1976! The earthquake, which also severely affected Posočje, did the most damage here. But the locals did not give up and half a century later, the carefully restored city welcomes visitors with all its splendor.
This is all that remains of one of the churches after the devastating earthquake in Venzon. Photo: Igor Fabjan
It can be entered through one of the city gates, behind which hides a labyrinth of streets, most of which meet in the central square with the city palace in the Venetian-Gothic style. Several restaurants and shops invite you to visit here. Not far from the main square, the ruins of one of the churches, which were intentionally left in this state, remind of the catastrophic earthquake. A nearby museum is also dedicated to the tragic event. The town boasts another mysterious attraction: in the crypt next to the church of St. Andreja is home to some mummified corpses, which have been preserved over the centuries due to special microclimatic conditions.
• Pesariis is the most interesting place at the foot of the Carnian Alps due to its unique clocks and preserved city center. The easiest way to reach it is through the Rateča border crossing, from which it is only eighty kilometers away. Between Trbiž and Tolmezzo, you can use a shorter section of the highway, but then you have to turn onto a narrower and winding road. If you come from southwestern Slovenia, the easiest access is through one of the border crossings near the Soča River.
• There are surprisingly many accommodation providers in a small town, and one of the more attractive options is the Sot la napa guesthouse (sotlanapa.it), where you will pay from 50 euros for a room. This is also the right address for indulging in traditional dishes.