The alpine tunnel for the afterlife.

It wasn’t supposed to be dug this high.
The idea, originally, was for the tunnel to be at least 400 meters lower, at an easier 1000 meters of altitude, where it could’ve been used almost all year round, but that wasn’t to be: the tunnel was a long and tortuous route above the Sanctuary of Oropa, and it ended the a wind-swept west face of the Valle Cervo, where only a few huts resisted, shelters for herdsmen during the summer seasons. As a result, the road was usable only six months a year and its main purpose – connecting the Oropa and Cervo valleys –only partially met.
Still, despite this major drawback, the road was a success. Immediately after its completion, in 1897, communities on both valleys rushed to use it, starting a flourishing trade that saw oxen-driven chariots carry milk, snow and wool from Oropa, whilst the quarries of Valle Cervo exported their precious syenite, used extensively to build the Sanctuary dedicated to the black Virgin and the stately mansions of well-to-do aristocrats in Biella, at the foothills of the mountains.
Digging a 367-meters-long tunnel at 1488 meters of altitude, in a time where machinery were non-existent and explosives not that readily available, required time, manpower and money. Federico Rosazza Pistolet had both.
A wealthy man, heir of a large entrepreneurial fortune, he could call the upper Valle Cervo his own, having one of its largest centres named after his family. From this handsome village, which he filled with swanky neo-Gothic buildings, he managed his affairs with the enlightenment of a benign despot that would’ve made Voltaire proud.
Rosazza understood the importance of a new road linking the two major valleys departing the plain where Biella, in Piedmont, Northwest Italy, lied; with such a road trade would have circulated freely, without having to crawl downhill for kilometres, to the plains, only to climb up again. In an age where ‘transportation’ was still spelt “animal-drawn carriages”, this could have saved days.
The government needn’t worry: Rosazza had the money, the will and the capability to mobilise manpower. He called in squads upon squads of skilled miners, used to work in the rock quarries in his possessions, and sent them to work all around the clock while other workers prepared a most scenic route zigzagging over both flanks of the mountain. In four years, labouring from April until November, the men completed the task using only the strength of their arms and the occasional stick of dynamite. On July 17th 1897 the first chariot crossed the tunnel, and many more followed. Rosazza’s munificence was duly remembered with a plaque, placed over the Valle Cervo side, praying God to grant “long years to the man’s glorious existence”.
But why did Rosazza decide to dig the tunnel there, at such a height? Every expert, every calculation, suggested a more sensible approach, with a tunnel dug at a lower altitude. However, regardless of how convincing their arguments sounded, Rosazza’s ears weren’t open for them. He, in facts, was listening to a very different voice, a voice from the other world.
Federico Rosazza had, for years, sought refuge in the world of occultism, filling his namesake village with symbols and sculptures referring to the Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism and even a Buddhist Swastika, symbol of the rising sun. With the help of his friend Giuseppe Maffei he practiced spiritism, trying to reach his daughter Ida who died at a young age; whether he reached her it’s anybody’s guess, but in his attempts he apparently got in touch with another spirit from afterlife, a ghost hailing from the Tuscan town of Volterra, who gave him and Maffei the location for the tunnel, the precise point on the flank of the mountain where to dig. Engineers, experts and villagers could complain as much as they wanted: Rosazza had made his mind up.
With this in mind the road and the tunnel changed aspect before our eyes: what looked like a heroic effort of early engineering now revealed all its symbolism. A small chapel, a few meter off the Sanctuary, built in a outlandish Ottoman style; another one, further up the road, this time in a rather austere neoclassic fashion; the Rose, carved over the Oropa entrance of the tunnel; a Freemason symbol placed over the restaurant lying abandoned on the Valle Cervo side: all this conjured the hidden agenda of a man who used his undeniably philanthropic endeavours to communicate once again with a person, his daughter, whom he had lost. A man who, despite all his riches was, in front of death, as insignificant and as powerless as the last of his labourers, having to resort to blind faith and occult rites.
Later, in the cocooned corridors of the Oropa Sanctuary, we stumbled upon something that one would have expected to see out there, in the reliquaries built by Rosazza in his quest to talk with his daughter, and not within the hallowed grounds of the Catholic orthodoxy.
In the small Cappella dei Lumini, twinkling in the lights of dozens of chubby candles, stood a small statue of the Virgin holding the baby Jesus, their skin black. The walls, blackened by the smoke of dozens of little flames, were covered by handprints, left by the faithful. As we stood there, taking in a scene that must’ve been familiar to those who painted the Lascaux caves, a lady entered the chapel, lighted a candle and then thrust her hand upon the wall. She stood there for quite a while, eyes closed. Praying, perhaps, or maybe trying to reach to someone she once knew.
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4 Responses to The alpine tunnel for the afterlife.

  1. thegreyeye says:

    nice snaps 🙂 Liked the place

    Liked by 1 person

  2. varasc says:

    One of your best, surely creepiest stories. Great reading, really appreciated.

    Like

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