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The Art of Mountain Climbing

The Art of Mountain Climbing

*This article was originally published by Collective Quarterly 

It is possible to have never competitively climbed a mountain, know you never will, and still be drawn to the architecturally spectacular Messner Mountain Museum. Located between the Puster and Gader Valleys, the museum stands 7400 ft in the sky on the Kronplatz mountain plateau in South Tyrol, Italy. It looks as if two giant retro-futuristic concrete TVs have sprouted from the earth.

The brown landscape, void of trees, welcomes the cement structure wedged into the edge of the mountain. There is the slightly ominous impression of being watched–evoking sci-fi imaginations. The museum’s architectural structure’s visual appeal is so gripping that I circled the museum several times before even going inside. The unlikely marriage of modern architecture embedded in nature somehow feel symbiotic.

Messner Mountain Museum / Photo by Debra Winter

Opened in July 2015, the 11,000 square-foot museum designed by Iraqi-British architect, Zaha Hadid, was the last in a series of six museums or monuments placed strategically across the mountainous region of South Tyrol by the mountaineer, Reinhold Messner.

Reinhold Messner, now 71, took his first climb at five-years-old with his father. Messner has spent a lifetime creating a legacy as a mountain climber. He was the first to ascend Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen. He is the author of many books on mountain climbing and the first climber to climb all fourteen of the “eight-thousanders”—that is, peaks that are over eight thousand meters or 26 thousand feet. The mountains have leathered his face, taken several toes (by way of frostbite), and sadly, the Himalayas took the life of his younger brother.

Messner set about to create six monuments on the very subject that have been such a central part of his life: mountain climbing. As Messner sees it, “As the storyteller of traditional mountaineering, it is not my intention to judge or dramatize but simply to condense the human experience of a world that is my world, of the 250-year-old contest between man and the mountain. The focus is not on sport and records but on people, on the key contributors to mountaineering, including philosophers and pioneers who had the courage to take the ‘golden step’ from the idea to the deed, disregarding the question—Why?”

Messner Mountain Museum / Photo by Debra Winter

Inside the museum, the giant picture windows function as viewing platforms that offer a panorama view of the region. Visitors can see from the Lienz Dolomites to the Ortle and from the Marmolada to the Zillertal Alps (which quite possibly steal the show). And for diehard climbers there is a section dedicated to modern mountaineering and the evolution of its specialized equipment. Messner states, “On Kronplatz, I present the development of modern mountaineering and 250 years of progress concerning the equipment. I speak of triumphs and tragedies on the world’s most famous peaks – the Matterhorn, Cerro Torre, K2 – and the depiction of our activity, however contradictory it may seem. As in my other museums, I shed light on alpinism with the help of relics, thoughts, works of art (pictures and sculptures) and by reflecting the outside mountain backcloth in the interior of MMM Corones.”

While each of the monuments contains art and relics, the Messner Mountain Museums are not traditional art or natural science museums. Instead, the mountain museums are an individual exploration of an aspect, topic, or theme of mountaineering and how this particular theme then relates to its specific geographical location. In other words, there aren’t rigid curating rules, subsequently each collection is unique and unpredictable—just like mountaineering.

See Also

Messner Mountain Museum / Photo by Debra Winter

MMM Ortles in Sulden is devoted to the glaciers and the world of eternal ice; at MMM Dolomites on Monte Rite south of Cortina, the focus is on rock and mountain climbing the Dolomites; MMM Juval in Juval Castle in Vinschgau explores the myths of the mountain. MMM Ripa in Bruneck Castle tells the story of the mountain peoples, and the last, MMM Corones, teaches the discipline of mountaineering.

The journey to the Messner Mountain Museum is quite a trek. From Munich, it involves three-hour drive south, through the mountains and valleys of Austria, Brunico, and South Tyrol—all a breathtaking and picturesque region garnished with chalet-type houses and a melting pot of the region’s Ladin, Italian and German people.

The MMM Corones structure manages to be contemporary without competing with the existing natural beauty. The monument succeeds in celebrating its surroundings. Being the first at many things, Messner has also been the first to create museums dedicated to mountaineering. Set high above, in the element that he loves, Messner inspires those who wish to see his museums to venture to great heights. Whether by foot or ski-lift—visitors can have a taste of the climbing glory to which Reinhold Messner has dedicated his entire life.


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