The Dolomites: shape and name
The unmistakable shape of the world’s most beautiful mountains is the result of changes that have occurred over millions of years. Imposing Dolomite massifs such as the Sassolungo, Sciliar and Sella are none other than coral reefs that formed in the subtropical ocean during the Paleozoic Era and were shaped by volcanic effects, marine deposits, glacial erosion and continental collisions. Over millennia, the sea bottom lowered and the reefs raised up to bring to the surface this “precious gem set in the majestic Alps”, which famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier called, “…the most impressive buildings in the world”. Folds, wrinkles, rough edges, overlaps and fissures: the conformation of the rocks shows the transformation of the Dolomites, which are still sculpted by water freezing and thawing in autumn and in the spring.
In the summer of 1789, while Parisians were sacking the Bastille, a French scholar departed for a scientific “rediscovery” of the Alps, and ventured into the Tyrol area, where he found rock with unusual properties and peculiarities that set it apart from all the others. Three years later, after careful studies of samples, as well as observations and finds of this rock on the mountain chains, fellow scientist and friend Theodore de Saussure named the mineral “Dolomia” in honour of his fellow countryman who discovered it. However, only in 1864 did the name “Dolomites” come into common use to refer to regions that up until then had been known as “Tyrol”, “The Venetian Alps” or “Monti Pallidi”, as mentioned in the guide, “The Dolomite Mountains” by Josiah Gilbert and George Churchill.