Exposure

Where Man Meets Mountain (In a Museum)

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Photo: Alexa Rainer/MMM
In 1978, explorer, mountaineer, and author Reinhold Messner made the first ascent of Everest without supplemental oxygen. By 1986, he had become the first man to climb all 14 of the world’s “Eight-Thousanders” (mountains over 8,000 meters, or 26,000 feet). Messner’s mountaineering roots run deep. Born and raised in Villnöß, Italy, among the alps and the Dolomites range, Messner summited his first peak by age five, and bagged the unclimbed Rupal face of Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas at age 26 with his brother, Günther.

In 2003, Messner began work on the Messner Mountain Museum (MMM) project, a series of six interdisciplinary spaces devoted to exploring the nature, history, and culture of the mountains they are embedded in and to those who love to climb them. The locations pay homage to Messner’s roots in northern Italy, with museums located in Firmian, Juval, Dolomites, Ortles, Rip, and most recently, Corones. The museums are meant to not only serve as physical legacies and educational centers, but also as aesthetic tributes to the landscape with their stunning architecture. Here is a closer look at the six installments of the $3.3 million project.
Photo: Wisthaler Harald/MMM
Opened in July 2015, the final installment of the MMM project, Corones, is built on the top of the Kronplatz mountain (Plan de Corones) at an altitude of 7,463 feet in the Mount Kronplatz ski resort. Renowned British architect Zaha Hadid designed the 3,280-square-foot exhibition dedicated to traditional climbing history and the discipline of mountaineering.
Photo: Wisthaler Harald/MMM
Architect Hadid said in a press release that the concept behind the design is “the idea that visitors can descend within the mountain to explore its caverns and grottos, before emerging through the mountain wall on the other side, out onto the terrace overhanging the valley far below with spectacular, panoramic views.”
Photo: Wisthaler Harald/MMM
140,000 cubic feet of Mount Kronplatz was excavated and replaced during construction. The land surrounding the completed structure now aids in maintaining the internal temperature of the building, as it is divided into several levels above and below ground to reduce its carbon footprint.
Photo: Wisthaler Harald/MMM
The interior and exterior panels of Corones are made from a light shade of glass-reinforced fiber concrete to reflect the hue of the Dolomites’ craggy limestone peaks, creating a subtle and cohesive presence within the mountainside. Exhibits include a series of tools, photographs, and objects from Messner’s mountaineering career.
Photo: Georg Tappeiner/MMM
MMM Dolomites, sits at an altitude of 7,155 feet and is housed in Fort Monte Rite, a World War I station between Cortina d’Ampezzo and Pieve di Cadore. Opened in 2002, it is known as “the museum in the clouds.” The fort has been completely restored and modern structures have been added throughout. Old rotating gun turrets were replaced with lanterns and irregular panes of glass that mimic crystals—a characteristic of the dolomite rock.
Photo: Courtesy of MMM
MMM Dolomites exhibition theme is “The Vertical World of the Dolomites,” and covers the history of the exploration of the mountain range. The current exhibition series, which runs through September 30 is titled “Mountains in War.”
Photo: Georg Tappeiner/MMM
MMM Firmian was the centerpiece museum of the project, opening its doors in 2006. Based in Sigmundsk Castle—where construction dates back to the Late Middle Ages—in Bolzano, Italy. Firmian serves as the headquarters, administration hub, and event facility for MMM. It took three years of restoration to bring the castle back from its ruined state, but architect Werner Tscholl took care to preserve the integrity of the historical building’s original design. A rock theatre within the castle walls seats 200 people for documentary screenings.
Photo: Courtesy of MMM
Firmian’s exhibition and design theme is the subject of man’s encounters with the mountains, with Messner describing the content as showing “what effect the mountain has on people.” Pictures, memorabilia, and sculptures line the castle hallways while a separate exhibit documents the history of the castle and the Firmian region.
Photo: Courtesy of MMM
Messner privately owns the Juval museum and uses it during the summer months as his home. Opened in 1995, the exhibits are located within the medieval Juval castle walls, with Messner using the nearby Naturns Castle as his residence.
Photo: Courtesy of MMM
MMM Juval explores the spiritual nature of mountains around the world and their holy significance in many religions. Kailish, Mount Fuji, Ayers Rock, and other sacred landmarks are featured alongside exhibits dedicated to Tibetan culture, the Buddhist religion, animism, and key figures in Tibetan history, such as Gesar Ling. There is also a small mountain zoo on site and a tantra room.
Photo: Georg Tappeiner/MMM
MMM Ortles’s theme is “World of Ice,” and as the namesake suggests, is dedicated to ice climbing, glaciers, and arctic expedition. It is located in an underground structure in Suldem am Ortler, at an elevation of 6,200 feet, and was designed by architect Arnold Gapp. The man-made cavern takes visitors down into the depths of the earth, but a crevasse-like opening within a continuous ribbon of glass at the center of the museum offers views of the snowy Ortler peak and it’s mountaintop glacier.

Celebrating the three poles (North, Everest, and South), MMM Ortler and its exhibitions symbolize the end of the world and the elements that mark it, such as snow, wind, and ice. It houses the largest collection of Ortler paintings, two centuries worth of ice-climbing gear, and exhibits featuring snow-based communities, avalanches, and snow predators.
Photo: Georg Tappeiner/MMM
MMM Ripa opened in 2011 at the Bruneck Castle amongst the scenery of the Ahrn Valley and the Zillertal Alps. Architects Kurt Egger, Gerhard Mahlknect, and Heinrich Mutschlerchner teamed up to transform the castle with an underground extension to house Ripa’s permanent exhibit titled, “The Mountain Peoples,” which honors the culture of the people of the Zillertal Alps, as well as mountain peoples in Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe.
Photo: Georg Tappeiner/MMM
Acting as an interactive museum, Messner holds open forums every summer for mountain communities such as the Sherpas, South American Indians, Tibetans, Hunzas, and Mongols to come together and exchange experiences and ideas.

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