Abstract: Since the end of World War One, public authorities have promoted tourism to battlefields and other war sites in Europe. The aims of such tourism, which initially served both economic and political purposes, has undergone profound changes through the decades and has recently become subject to “heritagisation”. This article therefore analyses the shifting meanings of tourism at WWI sites by studying the example of the province of Trento in the Italian Alps.
Through the decades, former battlefields and sites associated with memories of the Great War have become tourist attractions. At the same time, the often overlapping reasons for visiting war memorial sites have changed, affected both by the political, cultural and social context, as well as by transforming travel habits and the evolving public remembrance of WWI.
The Touristification of WWI Heritage
In the early aftermath of World War One (in some cases even before the end of the war), public authorities began promoting tourism to battlefields and other sites bearing traces of the recent conflict mainly for economic reasons: foreign tourism was said to support the post-war recovery and traditional tourist attractions were largely damaged or inaccessible. In some cases “war tourism” also served as a political tool, with a view to strengthening internal consensus and re-establishing a country’s image abroad, among others, by referencing its heroic soldiers and its population’s sacrifices. Some scholars have described the commodification of war heritage as one of the many instances of “trivialising” the public remembrance of war.
Italy’s fascist regime in particular was aware of the economic importance of war tourism. At the same time, it exploited the memory of the Great War to increase internal consensus and to promote Italy’s image abroad. Consequently, nationalism and militarism shaped not only the public remembrance of warfare but also the tourism campaigns aimed at promoting visits to former battlefields.
After WWII, the meaning of tourism at WWI memorial sites progressively shifted: on the one hand, war tourism remains economically important; on the other, it also serves educational and cultural purposes, to the extent that former battlefields and memorial sites are designated as cultural landscapes and cultural heritage.
Given the changing and somehow controversial aims of tourism at WWI sites, this contribution analyses the evolution of war tourism in the autonomous province of Trento (the former region of “Trentino”). Situated in the Italian Alps, this region bears many traces of war and of the long-standing museumification of war heritage.
Spreading Seeds of Peace: War Tourism in Trentino
War tourism in the Italian Alps, the site of the “white war,” fully reflects the patterns described above: in a first phase, corresponding to the early aftermath of the war, the Italian authorities sought to restore tourist offerings already known to travellers before the conflict and, at the same time, to promote visits to battlefields (war tourism targeted foreign visitors, above all former American soldiers willing to revisit the places where they had fought).
In the region of Trentino, in the Eastern Italian Alps, a well-known tourism destination already before WWI, the quick recovery of tourism meant that visits to memorial sites and battlefields in the interwar years played a minor role compared to other travel motivations. Meanwhile, the local population, which had suffered under the Austrian occupation, heavy bombing and the deportation of civilians, early on began collecting familiar and military items to preserve the collective memory of the war and its impact.
After the Second World War, the widespread horror of warfare and the longing for peace also led regions like Trentino to reject the previous nationalistic exaltation of the Great War and to conceive former battlefields and war sites as cultural heritage. These efforts served as a warning against future conflicts and to spread peace and solidarity as core values. Examples include the “Sentiero della pace” (Peace Path), a pedestrian and cycle path built between 1986 and 1991 by non-profit cooperatives which connects the most relevant war sites from Passo del Tonale to the Val di Fassa.
Over the last few decades, visits to memorial sites, battlefields, museums and exhibitions related to the Great War and its legacy have been conceived by Trentino public authorities and tourism providers as a particular form of tourism, one situated at the crossroads between cultural tourism, outdoor tourism and edutainment. On the occasion of the centenary of the outbreak of WWI, the large number of initiatives by the “Rete Trentino Grande Guerra” (a broad-based public-private partnership) largely met the ambitious goal to sustainably and consciously valorise war heritage, despite some managerial weaknesses and oversimplifications. Moreover, the label created to mark the celebrations (“Trentino ‘14-’18: From War to Peace; Trentino ‘14-’18: Dalla Guerra alla Pace”) emphasised the values of peace, tolerance and solidarity.
War tourism in Trentino was affected by the evolving public remembrance of the WWI. This transformation was conditioned by political factors, by the changing values affecting European society over the decades and by the evolution of tourism. The search for new, more sustainable leisure practices, the affirmation of peace and the rejection of violence, as well as the heritagisation of memorial sites have all converged in re-establishing war tourism as a tool for education, mutual dialogue and economic growth.
Trentino therefore serves as a case study for interpreting the new meanings assumed by the memory of the Great War and the potentialities of war tourism in cultural, economic and environmental terms.
- Matteo Tomasoni, “Turismo e Grande Guerra in Vallagarina: un viaggio tra eredità storica e nuovi percorsi tematici”, Museo Storico Italiano della Guerra 30, (2022): 21–42.
- Anna Irimiás, “The Great War heritage site management in Trentino, northern Italy,” Journal of Heritage Tourism 9, no. 4 (2014): 317–331.
- Elisa Tizzoni, “The Touristification of Great War Heritage in the Province of Trento between European History and Local Identity,” AlmaTourism, no. 5 (2016), https://almatourism.unibo.it/article/view/6170/6212 (last accessed 8 May 2023).
- Rete Trentino Grande Guerra: https://www.trentinograndeguerra.it/ (last accessed 8 May 2023).
- The 100th anniversary of WWI in Trentino: http://www.centenario1914-1918.it/canale/regione-trentino-alto-adige (last accessed 8 May 2023).
 Susanne Brandt, “Le voyage aux champs de bataille,” Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, no. 41 (1994): 18–22; Yves-Marie Evanno and Johan Vincent, eds., Tourisme et Grande Guerre. Voyage(s) sur un front historique méconnu (1914–2019) (Plœmeur: Éditions Codex, 2019).
 George L. Mosse, Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 126.
 Elisa Tizzoni, “Turismo di guerra, turismo di pace: sguardi incrociati su Italia e Francia,” Diacronie, no. 15 (2013), doc. 3, https://doi.org/10.4000/diacronie.430; Ester Capuzzo, “War Tourism in Italy (1919–1939),” in Inter and Post-war Tourism in Western Europe, 1916–1960, eds. Carmelo Pellejero Martínez and Marta Luque Aranda (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020): 35–63.
 Jennifer Iles, “Encounters in the Fields. Tourism to the Battlefields of the Western Front,” Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change 6, no. 2 (2008): 138–154; Chris Ryan, ed., Battlefield Tourism: History, Place and Interpretation (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2007); Myriam Jansen-Verbeke and Wanda George, “Memoryscapes of the Great War (1914–1918): A paradigm shift in tourism research on war heritage,” Via, no. 8 (2015), https://doi.org/10.4000/viatourism.494; Anne Hertzog, “Musées de la Grande Guerre. Reconfigurations, territorialisation, circulations. Une approche géographique des dynamiques mémorielles et patrimoniales, entre ancrage et mobilités,” in Entre histoire et mémoire, la guerre au musée. Essais de muséohistoire, eds. Frédéric Rousseau and Julien Mary (Paris: Michel Houdiard Editeur, 2013): 139–157.
 Anna Lisa Treves, “Anni di guerra, anni di svolta: il turismo italiano durante la prima guerra mondiale,” in Studi geografici sul paesaggio, ed. Giorgio Botta (Milano: Cisalpino-Goliardica, 1989): 250–299.
 Trentino tourism has two seasons (winter and summer), with offerings including well-known thermal spas.
 On the impact of the Great War in Trentino, see: Diego Leoni and Camillo Zadra, La città di legno. Profughi trentini in Austria 1915–1918 (Trento: Fondazione Museo storico del Trentino, 1995); Maria Garbari and Andrea Leonardi, eds., Storia del Trentino. Vol. V. L’età contemporanea 1803–1918 (Bologna: Il mulino, 2006); Quinto Antonelli, I dimenticati della Grande Guerra. La memoria dei combattenti trentini (1914–1920) (Trento: Il Margine, 2008).
 Camillo Zadra and Marica Piva, eds., La Memoria della Grande Guerra in Trentino. Progetti ed iniziative di recupero e valorizzazione nel quadro della legislazione nazionale e provinciale (Trento: Litografa Effe e Erre, 2005).
 “The question on what WWI means today is no longer merely an academic issue; it is about understanding the impact of visiting the past and opening a window on the global meaning of WWI, about creating more affinity with cultural divergences, and more interest in history and in peace”; see Myriam Jansen-Verbeke and Wanda George, “Memoryscapes,” https://doi.org/10.4000/viatourism.494.
Illustrative poster at the Museum of the White War 1914–1918, Peio (Province of Trento). © Elisa Tizzoni, 2013.
Tizzoni, Elisa: Holidays on Battlefields: Tourism and WWI Heritage in Trentino. In: Public History Weekly 11 (2023) 4, DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2023-21571.
Copyright © 2023 by De Gruyter Oldenbourg and the author, all rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial, educational purposes, if permission is granted by the author and usage right holders. For permission please contact the editor-in-chief (see here). All articles are reliably referenced via a DOI, which includes all comments that are considered an integral part of the publication.
The assessments in this article reflect only the perspective of the author. PHW considers itself as a pluralistic debate journal, contributions to discussions are very welcome. Please note our commentary guidelines (https://public-history-weekly.degruyter.com/contribute/).
Categories: 11 (2023) 4
Tags: Italy (Italien), Speakerscorner, Tourism (Tourismus), World War I (Erster Weltkrieg)
To all readers we recommend the automatic DeepL-Translator for 22 languages. Just copy and paste.
OPEN PEER REVIEW
Secularizing the Via Crucis
In Retroland, Valentin Groebner asserts that historical tourism is “the dreamed of zone of time slowed down, of immediate sensations, of picturesque authenticity.” While his reflections might apply to much historical tourism, the battlefield holidays in contemporary Trentino described by Elisa Tizzoni work differently. The progressively minded person who travels the peace trail on foot or by bike is supposed to look back at barbaric warfare to distance themselves from the past. The atrocities of war should memorialize “peace, tolerance and solidarity” as core values so that war will never be waged again. This involves reinterpreting the culture of WWI tourism, the focus of Elisa Tizzoni’s contribution. Fascist tourism, with its militaristic glorification of war, offered visitors authentic sensations that transported back them back to a heroic era and enabled them to feel redeemed by the soldiers’ nationalist sacrifice. The progressive tourism of the “sentiero della pace” that emerged in the late 1980s delineated a path to the past aimed at making travelers shudder at the horrors of war. The point is precisely not to authentically witness and enjoy the war but to distance oneself from that past by means of pacifist morals.
How to describe and explain the evolution of war tourism? How did its forms and contents change? Which phases can be distinguished? Which discourses had a formative effect? What makes Tizzoni’s case study so appealing in light of these questions is that its local-historical focus enables identifying some surprising actors: in addition to state actors, her genealogy uncovers the efforts of the local population, foreign veterans, non-profit cooperatives, and tourism organizations, whose work reflects not only economic interests but also cultural changes in attitudes toward war.
Tizzoni’s account, however, leaves open which forms and content enabled the various actors to change memory and to create a new distance to a war-ridden past: How could fascist histories become pacifist histories? Tizzoni’s two clues both concern a history of things, made conceivable by the work of Bruno Latour. First, Tizzoni refers to the “local population,” which began “collecting familiar and military items to preserve the collective memory of the war and its impact.” Which meanings did the local population charge these items with? Given the multiple transnational ties characterizing the valleys between Austria-Hungary and Italy, it seems likely that memorabilia hardly served as relics of nationalist veneration. Second, Tizzoni describes the “sentiero della pace” as a connection between the most relevant war sites. In exhibiting suffering along a path, tourism secularizes the Via Crucis, the Christian tradition of the Stations of the Cross. As Valentin Groebner has shown, the history of tourism in many ways goes back to Christian practices. Thus, tourism has a purifying effect: it turns progressively minded persons into better ones through remembering.
 Valentin Groebner: Retroland: Geschichtstourismus und die Sehnsucht nach dem Authentischen, Frankfurt a. M. 2018, p. 36 (my translation).
 Bruno Latour: We have never been modern, Cambridge MA, 1993 (1991).