Itineraries28 April 2015

#Marvègie: The Valley of Wonders (in French Vallée des Merveilles), at the turn of the present and the past [PHOTO-VIDEO GALLERY]

Besides being particularly impressive, the valley Wonderland, part of the Mercantour massif, brings to light precious fragments of our past.

Valley of Wonders

Valley of Wonders

The Valley of Wonders is located in the district of Tenda. Until 1861 was part of the County of Savoyard Nice, then from 1861 to 1947 it was part of Italy and was included in the province of Cuneo, the Treaty of Paris of 1947, passed it to France. 

There were discovered more than thirty-five thousand prehistoric rock carvings, including numerous figures of weapons (daggers and halberds) dating mainly to the Copper Age (III millennium BC) and to a lesser extent to the ancient Bronze Age (2200-1800 BC ). There are also older figures, in particular crosslinked and topographic compositions (in the Fontanalba), dating to the Neolithic period (fifth and fourth millennium BC). 

The rock carvings 

Always known in popular culture with the appellation of Marvègie (wonders) and scientifically discovered in the late nineteenth century (1869 is the first publication), the incisions were performed on rock outcrops or boulders of scattered pelite, a  sandstone fine grain silica matrix dating back to the Permian.

They are divided into two types:

. graffiti or threadlike, both prehistoric especially inscriptions or schematic drawings of historical times;

. engravings speckled, attributable to prehistory (from the Neolithic to the ancient Bronze Age), made with stone tools. The subjects in this group include figures with horns (bovids and plowing scenes), who are the majority, anthropomorphic representations of weapons (daggers, halberds, axes) and geometric compositions as topographic, crosslinked and very few spirals. The interpretation is not always easy; many scholars propose a reference to the religious sphere, though not to be excluded references to productive activities in mountain, in particular to the pastoral world.

As for the history of the research, should be cited three major scholars Clarence Bicknell for the discovery, Piero Barocelli for  archaeological framing and Henry de Lumley for complete cataloging. 

Val Merveilles - France - petrogliphs paint.jpg

Clarence Bicknell, botanist and Anglican pastor, reached the areas engraved initially attracted by the interest for the alpine flora. Became interested enough in the engravings, to spend twelve summers (1897-1912), during which he located the most important engraved rocks, in fact discovering the complex Fontanalba. He completed a valuable work of documentation through rubbing paper casts of over twelve thousand figures and drafted an initial taxonomic classification of engraved signs. His main work is still an indispensable reference.

Piero Barocelli, palaeontologist and since 1912 inspector of the Royal Superintendency of Antiquities of Piedmont, Liguria and Valle d'Aosta, was the first to apply the methods of archeology to the study of petroglyphs. Thanks to appropriate comparisons he realized that the oldest figures of weapons were reported to the Copper Age (III millennium BC). For all this he must be acknowledged as the pioneer of archeology and European alpine rock.

The work conducted since 1967 by the team led by Henry de Lumley has allowed the completion of a great work of cataloging, by detecting the integral of all the engraved figures. The entire corpus of figures engraved area is now preserved at the Laboratoire du Lazaret in Nice.

The site now houses students of the sector from all over the world under the supervision of specialized archaeologists. Recent research has begun to produce results for what concerns the understanding of cults and societies of the ancient Mediterranean populations.

Geographical distribution

Since 1967 has started a systematic investigation of the area by a group of university students, museum experts and scientists funded by the French Ministry of Culture and the Regional Council of the Alpes Maritimes. So far have been recorded more than thirty-five thousand prehistoric engravings (50 thousand including historical ones), most of which are located around Mount Bego, considered by many a mountain sacred to the ancient Ligurian like the Monte Beigua (in fact other area rich of rock carvings). The breakdown of the graffiti is about half in the Valley of Wonders, located west of Bego and half to the north, in the Valley of Fontanalba. There are also other areas further north with the presence of incisions, but of lesser importance. You can then identify the following sectors in descending order of importance:

La Strega (The Witch), the most famous graffito of the Valley of Wonders.

. Valley of Wonders

. Valley Fontanalba (French Fontanalbe)

. sector Valauretta (French Vallaurette)

. sector of the Hill Sabbione (French Col du Sabion) (between France and Italy)

. sector of Lake Santa Maria sector Valmasca (Valmasque)

. sector Lake Vej del Bouc (Italy) Everything is included in an area of ​​40 km².


The "Christ" The GR52 path through the valley and it is not allowed to get away from it unless accompanied by a licensed guide. The ideal is to start the tour at the Museum of Wonders of Tenda and then join a guided tour. You can hike in the valley in winter with adequate equipment: the rock carvings in this season are not visible, but the snowy landscape is worth to be seen.

What to see in the park


The first town you come across, just overstepped the border, still retains vestiges of the ancient Castle of the Counts Lascaris, narrow streets with vaulted arches and precious portals. Do not miss the Museum of Wonders, where are exposed photographs, graffiti and finds from the Valley of Wonders. Tourist Office: +33 4 9304 73 71

La Brigue

Besides the quaint old town, do not miss a visit to the Sistine Chapel of the Maritime Alps, the small church of Notre Dame de Fontaines, frescoed by Canavesio and Baleison to the end of the fifteenth century. Tourist Office: +33 4 9379 0934


Perched on a cliff, initially Ligure citadel  and then a Roman colony, was considered impregnable in the Middle Ages. Noteworthy the Church of Saint Saveur and the Franciscan monastery. Tourist Office: +33 4 9304 5123

Breil sur Roya

Charming village with typical Royasca architecture, nestled around a small lake, offers the opportunity to practice many extreme  and aquatic sports. Tourist Office: +33 4 9304 9976


Judit Neuberger

International editions:   English | Deutsch | Russian