Old church, Beans feast, Roman bridge. Meet the town of Lamon in the Dolomites

Lamon is a town in northern Italy in the Dolomites. Almost no one knows about it. Even Italians from the north of the country, not to mention the rest of the world.

I discovered it myself by chance — when I was looking for a volunteer project in ecotourism in Europe in 2013. On the same day of my arrival Lamon became my second — now the first — home.

So this is not even an article telling about its three main attractions, but an invitation to visit — a fragment of my book “The Trail”, which I wrote about my experience in the Dolomites.

Ivan Kuznetsov
Outdoor editor from Dolomites and Karelia

— A little bit about Lamon…

The main local attraction is the church of St. Peter (chiesa di San Pietro). It is located on the hill of the same name (in Italian: colle), so you can see it from everywhere. Next to the church there is a cemetery and a small park with benches and tables for picnic, and the great 360 degree view on the surrounding mountains.

From the hill you can see villages on almost every mountain or under the mountain. It is believed that these are all different villages, not one. As I said, we live in Rugna and it is no longer Lamon, but a separate village. To go down a mountain or to climb a mountain — different village. There are no streets as such. Instead of them, there are villages. But together they’re called “commune”. All villages are part of Lamon and are separately called in Italian “frazione”.

The only exception is Arina, on the mountain opposite Lamon. Arina does not want to associate with Lamon. The locals are generally independent and reluctant to become part of anything. As such, the country of Italy did not exist until 1861. There was Rome, there were Venice, Naples, Genoa… And many still call themselves Venetians, Neapolitans, not Italians, although, understandably, they were born in a united Italy.

Ines tells us about today’s Lamon, but we learned the history of the city from Flavio, the mentor of the school in Rugna, who came to meet us on purpose, and at the same time to give a small lecture. It was he who, a few years ago, set up the educational center of Legambiente in a former school. He and Ines, in fact, represent its branch in the Dolomites. I liked Flavio immediately. He reminds me of my father in manner of communication. They were even born the same year. I mean, I’m like a son to him by age. And they look alike. It’s a pity Flavio doesn’t know my father. They’d be surprised to see each other. Ines is a typical Italian woman. I fell in love with her as soon as I saw her. Back during a Skype interview. Big eyes, black curly hair. Talkative and cheerful. She seems to be able to talk endlessly. Flavio speaks slowly and judiciously:

— Lamon is the third largest city in the province of Belluno. The capital of the province has the same name. We are in the Veneto region, its capital is Venice. Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Treviso — are all in Veneto too.

— At what altitude we are? Ines asks, because the others are still shy.

— 594 meters above sea level. Often rounded to 600. You have probably already noticed that when you enter almost every village there is a sign with an altitude symbol. These are mountains. People proud of it here. If a place is one meter above another, people don’t hesitate to report it. This is the beginning of the Dolomites. Right beneath us is the plain and the nearest major town, Feltre — second largest in the province — is an old town with an interesting history. Lamont is located on a plateau between the Cismon River and the Senaiga torrent, which flows into the lake of the same name near Rugna and then into the river itself.

— How many people live in Lamon?

— Almost 3000 people. At the beginning of 20 century the population was more than seven thousand, but since the 60s it began to fall. People are slowly leaving Lamon.

— Why?

— Living in the mountains is not easy: there is no work, winters are cold, entertainment is not enough… The villages are becoming empty. San Donato, one of the main villages within Lamon, eight kilometers away, is considered uninhabited. There are no shops, no bars… Only those who live there live there. They go to Lamon for groceries. Almost everyone has cars now. No car — no life.

Church of St. Peter (chiesa di San Pietro) in Lamon, Belluno, Dolomites
You can see church of St. Peter (chiesa di San Pietro) in Lamon, Belluno, Dolomites from almost every corner of the village
"Festa del fagiolo" take place at the main square of Lamon
The main feast the the year “Festa del fagiolo” take place at the main square of Lamon, 3rd November (Piazza 3 Novembre)
Ponte Romano Lamon francobollo
In 2014 the postal service of Italy made a postmark with this ancient Roman bridge (Ponte Romano Lamon francobollo)

— Tell about the church…

— The patron of Lamon is St. Peter. That’s why the main city church named after him. The church was built in 8th century. The building was periodically renewed, but its foundation was built more than a thousand years ago, and the hill, on which it stands, was noticed earlier, long before anything appeared on it. It’s a sacred place since pagan times.

— So someone was worshipped on him…

— Yes, to the god of Jupiter Ammon. Well, at least that counts. From here, on one version, the name of the village comes from. The other is from the Latin word “lima”, which means “pond” or “soft ground”, which is more likely. The plateau has been visited by people since ancient times, as evidenced by numerous archaeological finds.

— And not just people, Ines adds. One such find is the skeleton of a prehistoric bear (in Italian: orso) that looks more like a dinosaur installed in the lobby of the city hall. We’ll still have time to look in there.

— The mountains are the land of shepherds, so sheep breeding and wool production has always been the basis of local farms and later the local economy and the main occupation of the population. Not so long ago, within a century, people kept thousands and thousands of sheep. But today, Lamont is considered more an agricultural region. Because now sheep in much smaller quantities here. Today’s Lamon is known all over Italy for its beans (fagioli). This place has ideal conditions (altitude, soil, humidity) for growing different kinds of legumes. Grapes grow here too, but only for beauty reasons. The beans in Lamon are like olives or grapes in southern Italy. The main festival is the Festa del fagiolo (Feast of the Beans). It is celebrated on the day of harvest, at the end of September, the day of the Autumn Equinox.

— By the way, the seasons in Italy are considered astronomical, natural, not civil calendar. Summer starts on June 21 and lasts until September 21, Ines adds. It turns out that you and I are still two weeks away from spring…

— In addition to beans, Lamon grows corn, from which corn flour is made for polenta (local type of cereal). One of the features of the local architecture is the long balconies in the houses, which makes the houses look like hotels. But there aren’t so many hotels in Lamon, these are private houses. The balconies are just convenient for corn drying. Leaves are taken off the cob, but they don’t come off, hung from the railing and tied in a knot.

— Don’t forget about Via Claudia Augusta…

— Of course. Lamon is located on the famous Via Claudia Augusta, an ancient Roman military road that once connected the territory of present-day southern Germany with Venice and other cities on the Adriatic coast. And the road goes directly through the Rugna. The road was named after the Roman Emperor Claudius Augustus and was only part of an extensive system of footpaths used in the Roman Empire, including the mountains. From here, the Church of San Pietro is also an important defensive point. And just five minutes from Rugna, one of the main attractions of Via Claudia Augusta is the Ponte Romano (Roman Bridge) — an old stone small bridge over a brook. It is a short way between Rugna and Lamon. It’s also where Via Claudia Augusta flows. Even though it’s called a road, it’s actually just a path in the mountains.

March 11, 2013

From the notebook: “The trail to Lamon through the Ponte Romano is covered by snow now, but as soon as the snow melts, we would walk on it to Lamon, like the ancient Romans. In the meantime, we have to make a hook of 1.5 kilometers on the asphalt road: first you go down, then… it’s hard… you climb. The chimney’s working at full speed. There are no straight roads in the mountains: all the time it’s either up or down”.

Cover photo: Fest of the Beans in Lamon in Sep. 2013 © Ivan Kuznetsov.

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