The rock art of Valcamonica

Valcamonica, in Lombardy, is a valley that extends for about 90 km in the Alps between the provinces of Brescia and Bergamo. Rich in natural beauties typical of the mountains, today it is known above all thanks to its heritage of petroglyphs, the rock art of Valcamonica, so much so that in 1979 it was the first of the Italian sites to be included in the Unesco World Heritage List.

First described in 1909 by Walter Laeng, a geographer from Brescia, the rock engravings are spread over various sites and eight theme parks, including the Natural Reserve of the Rock Engravings of Ceto, Cimbergo and Paspardo, which covers an area of about 290 hectares spread over three different municipalities. In the following years, beginning in the 1930s, but especially in 1960, many rock engravings were discovered and cataloged. These are genuine artistic representations placed on rocks and stones by the Camuni, an ancient pre-Roman population that inhabited this valley.

The approximately 250,000 rock carvings that make the valley one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in the world were created over the course of eight thousand years, from the Mesolithic (VIII-VI millennium BC) through the Neolithic, Copper, Bronze and Iron Ages. Representations were also found in later periods, such as the Roman and medieval times. After the conquest by Rome, the Camunian culture disappeared to make way for Latin inscriptions. Later, the crosses of Christianity were placed over the prehistoric symbols.


Prehistoric rock drawing of a clan of hunter gatherers in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Valcamonica, Lombardy, Italy.
Rock art of Valcamonica: Prehistoric rock drawing of a clan of hunter gatherers in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Valcamonica, Lombardy, Italy. (photo ©

The 2000 rocks of the rock art of Valcamonica

At present there are about 2000 rocks on which rock artifacts have been found, scattered in 24 municipalities of the Valcamonica valley in Lombardy: they are mostly representations of everyday life: hunting scenes or
Fight, moments of agricultural work or representations related to the deities. Among the most famous signs we find the famous Camunian rose, which later became the symbol of the Lombardy region.

The largest presence of petroglyphs in absolute occupies the central part of Valcamonica, in an altitudinal range that goes from 300 meters above sea level and extends up to 1400 meters above sea level. The municipalities of Capo di Ponte, Nadro, Cimbergo and Paspardo host the largest concentration of petroglyphs anywhere.

The oldest petroglyphs, like the one in the municipality of Dafo Boario Terme, contain representations of large animals, symbols of an archaic society that was still devoted to hunting and nomadism. On the other hand, the engravings of human figures and geometric elements of the Neolithic, such as those of the Regional Reserve of Ceto, Cimbergo and Paspardo, testify to the spread of the first agricultural practices.

According to scholars, two technical methods were used in the rock art of Valcamonica: percussion, produced by hitting the surface directly or indirectly with stone or metal tools, and graffiti, obtained by scratching the surfaces with pointed tools.

The engraved figures give us clues about the peoples of the past, their activities, dwellings, tools, beliefs. Their function can be traced back to festive, commemorative, initiation or propitiation rites in the religious sphere, which were held on specific occasions.

The rich fauna of Valcamonica, evidenced by the presence of numerous bone deposits, favored the development of an important rock art, surrounded by a magical and symbolic aura that perhaps helped man to cope with the risky activity of hunting.

Over the years, 8 archaeological parks have been created in the territory of Valcamonica to protect the precious historical capital that the engravings represent. Among these we can mention the National Park of the Rock Engravings of Naquane, the Archaeological National Park of the Rocks of Cemmo, the Natural Reserve of the Rock Engravings of Ceto, Cimbergo and Paspardo or the Multithematic Path of Coren delle Fate in Sonico.