On the Austrian border of Italy, high in the mountains, sit six distinct museums. Together, the museums comprise the Messner Mountain Museum (MMM) experience—an homage to mountains and mountain culture situated at six remarkable sites located throughout South Tyrol and Belluno. For those daring enough to make the trek, each museum can be accessed by (appropriately) climbing the mountain on which it resides. We think you’ll agree that seeing these museums in person is worth the effort it takes to get to them.
The Messner Mountain Museum Experience
The MMM is the brainchild of world renowned mountain climber Reinhold Messner. Now in his 70s, the climber has spent more than a decade developing the six museums, each of which embraces a different theme pertaining to mountains and/or mountain climbing.
The first museum opened in 1995, while the most recent museum opened to tourists in July 2015. Each of the museums features interdisciplinary exhibits that blend art and natural science while celebrating the surrounding scenery. Oh, and in case you were worried? They’re all accessible by car as well as by foot.
Here’s what you can expect from each locale:
- Corones. Located on the summit plateau of Kronplatz mountain between the Puster and Gader Valleys, MMM Corones is all about the discipline of mountaineering. Through presentations of relics, written musings, and visual art, the museum explores 250 years of mountaineering history, highlights the perspectives of philosophers and pioneers of the sport, and explores alpinism’s modern equipment and traditions. The building itself offers striking views of the Dolomites and the Alps. The most recently constructed of all six of the museums, Messner swears it will be the last.
- . Dubbed “The Museum in the Clouds,” the MMM Dolomites is all about celebrating rock and the vertical worlds it creates. Located on a mountaintop plateau on Monte Rite, the museum boasts 360-degree panorama views of some of the Dolomites’ most stunning mountains, including Monte Schiara, Monte Civetta, and Monte Pelmo. The museum’s displays illustrate humans’ first attempts to ascend the Dolomites and feature historical and contemporary paintings of the mountains.
- Firmian. The centerpiece of the MMM experience, MMM Firmian explores humanity’s relationship with the mountains through art, installations, and relics. Set between the peaks of the Schlern and Texel mountain ranges, the museum is located in the historic (and refurbished) Sigmundskron Castle, which overlooks the Etsch and Eisack rivers.
- Juval. The first of the MMM museums, MMM Juval is devoted to the “magic of the mountain.” To that end, the museum features fine art collections devoted to showcasing mountains in all their splendor, including a gallery of paintings of the world’s holiest mountains and a collection of masks from five continents. The museum—which is located in the historic Juval Castle in Vinschgau—also includes a mountain zoo, home-grown produce, and a selection of fine wines.
- Ortles. At MMM Ortles, it’s all about the ice. Located in an underground structure in Sulden am Ortler, the museum’s exhibits are devoted to exploring “the end of the world” through themes of skiing, ice climbing, and expedition to the poles. The museum explores the evolution of ice climbing gear over the last two centuries, educates visitors about the power of avalanches, and features artwork depicting ice in all its terror and beauty.
- Ripa. The heritage of people who live in the mountains is on display at MMM Ripa, which is located in historic Bruneck Castle on a hillside in South Tyrol’s Puster Valley. The museum celebrates the cultures, religions, dwellings, and daily lives of mountain cultures from Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe. Ripa is surrounded by mountain farms and boasts views of the Ahrn Valley and the Zillertal Alps.
A visit to any or all of these museums will entertain mountain lovers and curious tourists alike. Visitors can purchase tickets to each museum individually or buy a tour ticket that includes entry to all six museums. If traveling by car, you’ll be able to visit all six of the museums over the course of three or four days with a hotel stay in between. If you want to hike to each of the museums, you’ll need to plan a longer trip. None of the hikes are shorter than two hours, while climbing to MMM Corones will take upwards of 6.5 hours and hiking up to MMM Ortles will take around 12.5 hours over the course of two days. The energy and time you devote to the climbs will be rewarded in the form of some of the most beautiful scenery around.
If you’re already in Italy, it’s also worth driving the three hours to the cities of Milano or Bologna, both which offer a whole different kind of cultural experience (think fashion, food, and gorgeous architecture everywhere you look). As its combination of striking natural beauty and urban culture proves, Italy should be on every traveler’s bucket list.