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Rock Art in the Italian Alps - Prehistoric engravings in the Val Camonica

The highest concentration of prehistoric petroglyphs in Europe, in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

A range of exceptional rock drawings, including dynamic scenes of human activity, spiritual and physical, horses, deer, and one of the earliest known maps in the ancient world.

Free time in Bolzano, one of South Tyrol’s prettiest cities.

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When we think about ancient rock art in Europe, we probably first bring to mind the Upper Palaeolithic paintings of the Dordogne in south-west France, the Pyrenees and Northern Spain, or maybe the open-air carvings of the Côa Valley in northern Portugal. The dominant subjects from these areas are the large animals that once roamed the glacial and post-glacial landscapes. Yet beyond these areas of concentrated early artistic activity, there are a number of less familiar regions where remarkably rich concentrations of rock art survive, depicting spiritual and daily life of prehistoric peoples. One of the most important of these is the Val Camonica, a glacially-formed U-shaped valley in the central Italian Alps, which over the past 12,000 years has provided an important and strategic trade route for hunter-fisher-gatherers and later agriculturalists.

A unesco world heritage site, the Val Camonica, boasts the highest concentration of prehistoric rock art in Europe with over 300,000 individual images, dating from the late Upper Palaeolithic to the end of the first millennium, carved and pecked onto boulders and glacially-smooth rock outcrops around the valley. The Italian geographer Walter Laeng was the first scientific scholar to recognise engravings on two boulders at Pian delle Greppe and Capo di Ponte in 1909, although herdsmen roaming the intermediate slopes must have been aware of the presence of the carvings for centuries. These boulders, along with others that soon came to light, became the focal point for international scholarly research, and by the 1930s the Val Camonica had established itself as a significant area for European prehistoric rock art. In the 1950s a new generation of academics was attracted to the region and further discoveries were made and scientifically recorded.   

This tour spends three nights in the foothills of the Italian Alps, with spectacular views across the valley, and two nights in the delightful town of Bolzano, gateway to the Dolomites mountain range and home to Ötzi, the neolithic mummy, whose discovery in the nearby Ötzal Alps aided further research on rock art in the region.

Day 1

Boario Terme. Fly at c. 10.30am (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Milan, then transfer by coach to Boario Terme for an introductory lecture. First of three nights in Boario Terme.

Day 2

Naquane, Foppe di Nadro. Naquane extends over a wide area (14ha) and is located on the eastern side of the valley, with outstanding views to the south and west. Contained within this World Heritage Site are over 104 engraved rocks, including the vast Rock No. 1, celebrated for its numerous animals, warriors, vertical looms and labyrinth. At Foppe di Nadro, 23 surfaces of varying size and complexity are visible from a proscribed footpath. The images are unlike those found at Naquane, suggesting different artists and different times.

Day 3

Massi di Cemmo, Seradina-Bedolina. Massi di Cemmo are two massive boulders that naturally broke away from the cliffs above in the early Holocene. The smooth surfaces on each boulder became the focus for Neolithic and Copper Age artists. Seradina is a large rock area on the western side of the valley, above Capo di Ponte, containing Bronze and Iron Age engravings of hunters, deer, horses and warriors, ‘ploughing’ and sex scenes. Bedolina stands high above the valley with impressive views to the south and east. In a small group of engraved rocks see the famous Bedolina map, one of the earliest topographic maps in the ancient world.

Day 4

Luine, Bolzano. Luine is the furthest group of rock art areas south of the Val Camonica with over 100 engraved panels, including a probable Late Upper Palaeolithic elk, as well as figures from later periods. The National Museum of Archaeology of the Val Camonica (MUPRE) houses a collection of artefacts that date from the Copper Age. Not surprisingly, there are many references to rock art, including examples of menhirs and stele from the Neolithic and Copper Age periods. Continue to Bolzano where we spend two nights.

Day 5

Bolzano. The South Tyrol Archaeological Museum is home to Ötzi, the ‘iceman’ – the world’s oldest natural human mummy discovered in 1991. In the afternoon explore the historic city centre of Bolzano with its delightful medieval alleys and passages. Its churches are filled with a plethora of art, from medieval murals to late Gothic sculpture.

Day 6

Bolzano. Fly from Verona, arriving at London Gatwick c. 1.00pm.

Please note that this tour departs from London Heathrow and returns to London Gatwick.

Price, per person

Two sharing: £1,980 or £1,820 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,190 or £2,030 without flights.


Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 321); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 4 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.


Rizzi Aquacharme Hotel & Spa, Boario Terme: simple but comfortable 4-star hotel in the town centre. Parkhotel Laurin, Bolzano: 4-star Jugendstil hotel, set in a park near the city centre. Single rooms throughout are doubles for sole use.

How strenuous?

As most of the sites are unpaved and situated in the mountains, this tour should only be considered by those who are used to regular country walking, with a lot of uphill content. Strong knees and ankles are essential, as are a pair of well-worn hiking boots with good ankle support. Walking poles may prove useful. There are many steep inclines and descents, often without a handrail. Some days involve a lot of driving. Average distance by coach per day: 71 miles.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?

Group size

Between 10 and 22 participants.

Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.