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.
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- 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.
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 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.
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