The CAI2024-05-22T12:01:22+02:00


Formed on Oct. 23, 1863, in Turin-although it can be said that its ideal foundation took place on Aug. 12 of the same year, during the celebrated ascent to Monviso by Quintino Sella, Giovanni Barracco, and Paolo and Giacinto di Saint Robert-the Italian Alpine Club is a free national association which, as stated in Article 1 of its charter, “has for its purpose mountaineering in all its manifestations, the knowledge and study of mountains, especially Italian mountains, and the defense of their natural environment.”

Its founder is Quintino Sella, whose effigy is displayed at the entrance to the Italian Alpine Club’s headquarters at 19 Via Petrella in Milan.

The association is made up of members freely united in sections, coordinated in regional groupings: as of December 31, 2020, it had 306,255 members and members participating in the activities of 512 sections and 316 subsections belonging to 21 regional groups, including 2 provincial groupings (Trentino and South Tyrol).

Within the Italian legal system, the central structure of the Italian Alpine Club is configured as a noneconomic public body, while all its territorial structures (sections, regional and provincial groupings) are subjects of private law.

Specifically, pursuant to Law Dec. 24, 1985, no. 776 concerning new provisions on the Italian Alpine Club, the association shall provide for the benefit of both its members and others and within the scope of the powers provided by the bylaws:

to the dissemination of mountain frequentation and the organization of mountaineering, hiking and caving initiatives, widespread throughout the country;
to the organization and management of training courses for mountaineering, ski-mountaineering, hiking, caving, and naturalistic activities aimed at promoting safe mountain use;
to the training of 21 different titled figures (instructors, chaperones and operators), necessary to carry out the mentioned activities;
to the marking, construction and maintenance of trails, alpine works and mountaineering equipment;
to the construction, maintenance and management of mountain refuges and high-altitude bivouacs owned by the Italian Alpine Club and individual sections – quantified to date at 716 facilities with a total of 18,928 beds – setting the criteria and means;
to the organization, through the National Mountain Rescue and Speleological Corps (Cnsas), an operational structure of the CAI, of suitable technical initiatives for the supervision and prevention of accidents in the exercise of mountaineering, hiking and speleological activities, for the rescue of the injured or the dangerously injured and for the recovery of the fallen;
to the promotion of scientific and educational activities for the knowledge of every aspect of the mountain environment as well as any suitable initiative for the protection and enhancement of the national mountain environment, including through the work of national and territorial technical bodies;
to the promotion of ethical-cultural training initiatives, studies dedicated to the dissemination of knowledge of the mountain environment and its people in its many aspects, mountain photography and cinematography, and the preservation of Alpine culture;
The enthusiasm and voluntaristic commitment that have always characterized the CAI and made it an excellence in the Italian associationist scene, have allowed it to carry out over time a wide range of works in favor of the mountains and its frequenters, such as shelters, bivouacs, trails, and reforestation.

1863 – 2013. The idea of founding a national mountaineering society was born in August 1863 on Monviso, on the occasion of the ascent to the peak made by the Biella statesman Quintino Sella with Paolo and Giacinto di Saint-Robert and Giovanni Barracco.

On Oct. 23 of the same year, the Italian Alpine Club, fourth in order of birth among European Alpine societies, was formed in Turin. The association, which saw the light of day two years after the proclamation of the Unification of Italy, was meant to be national, and it is so from the beginning and up to the present day. This characteristic has allowed it to expand luxuriantly over the decades, growing from 200 members in 1863, to 4,500 members, distributed in 34 sections, in 1888, to 306,255 today, enrolled in 828 sections and subsections scattered throughout Italy.

The national character of the Cai, one of the qualities that enabled the association to overcome the historical events that changed the world in the second half of the 19th century and the so-called “short century,” is already present in the founding idea, and it is not by chance that Quintino Sella wants Giovanni Barracco next to him on Monviso “so that he might come to represent extreme Calabria, of which he is an oriundo and a deputy.” Thus, it was in that rapidly changing historical and political period, in which Risorgimento tensions and aspirations were concreted in the unity of the nation, that the Cai was formed and spread according to the typical forms of bourgeois associationism.

Formed, by statute, for the purpose of “making mountains, more especially Italian mountains, known and facilitating scientific ascents and explorations,” the CAI immediately carried on that catalyzing function of unified spirit around an ideal that still constitutes one of the essential values of associational motivation.

The national character was not long in manifesting itself: the establishment, after that of the Turin social headquarters and the Varallo and Agordo sections, of the Florence section in 1868 and the Naples section in 1871 are emblematic examples.

Until World War I, the CAI maintained a unified role, which it carried out with tenacity and continuity, increasingly expanding membership among civil society, spreading the practice of mountaineering and alpine tourism among the ever-expanding middle class, supporting scientific research, organizing national congresses and social outings, editing an annual bulletin and a monthly magazine, and building those alpine refuges, which grew from 57 built before 1900 to 750 today with a total of 21.00 beds, undoubtedly the most substantial national tourist facility at high altitudes.

It was in 1909 that the Italian Academic Alpine Club, a spearhead of the national mountaineering elite, was established within the CAI.

A further element that highlights, also on a cultural level, the national character of the association is the publishing initiative of the Guide to the Mountains of Italy, which, begun in 1908 with the volume on the Maritime Alps, now has 63 volumes and constitutes the most complete geographical, geological, and mountaineering description of the mountain territory of Italy.

The Cai chooses not to remain on the sidelines during Italy’s tragic entry into the war against Austria. In 1915, in fact, the president of the CAI, Senator Lorenzo Camerano, issued the following proclamation to Italian mountaineers: “The Fatherland calls all her children to the fierce test. Let us flock with hearts aflame with sacred love for the great common Mother and with unwavering faith in her high destinies and in her victory, to give to it all our work and our blood.”

More than 2,000 members answered the call, and many more were the Italians who sacrificed themselves in the “white war” on those Alps that never before took on significance as a bulwark of sacred borders. During those years, the CAI’s commitment was mainly in the form of propaganda and assistance works, but there was also a strong commitment to civil defense, as when, following the terrible earthquake that devastated the land of Abruzzo in January 1915, the Rome section organized the first relief efforts.

In the early postwar period, precisely as a result of the different perception of the reality of the mountains that had forcefully entered the national consciousness, the profile of the frequenters also changed, which from a bourgeois and upper middle class connotation fell into a broader social reality consisting of the working and student class, entering workers’ circles, schools, the university with the establishment of the Sucai, University Section, cultural institutions and irredentist associations.

With the advent of Fascism in the government of the country, similar to many associations born after the Unification of Italy, the Cai, underwent a slow and gradual unification with political power.

With institutional initiatives: enrollment in CAI by Mussolini as Prime Minister, a message of applause and satisfaction from then-president Antonio Porro, and Mussolini’s response of approval, since 1922 began the compromise with fascism and the loss of CAI’s liberal tradition.

In February 1927, it was reported to President Porro that CAI, by a rule of law, had been included in the Italian National Olympic Committee, a sports body directly subordinate to the National Fascist Party. The Delegate Assembly held in Genoa two months later took note of the new situation, and Members who showed their displeasure were gradually expelled, or voluntary resignations were recorded.

In April 1929, Augusto Turati, secretary of the PNF, succeeded Porro as CAI president, and soon afterwards the office was moved to Rome, making control even tighter. In 1930 the fascio was added to the historical elements of the Club’s badge, Turati appointed Angelo Manaresi as his successor, and in the new statutes approved in 1931 it was stipulated that “the presidents of the sections and the regents of the subsections must be members of the PNF …,” effectively zeroing any margin of autonomy from the fascist regime.

In May 1938 by Royal Decree, later converted into law, the externally oriented “Club” became “Centro” and CAI “Centro Alpinistico Italiano.” It was not until ’45 that “Center” became “Club” again and the name of CAI returned to its historic one: Italian Alpine Club.

Also in ’38, following the promulgation of the infamous racial laws, a “highly confidential” circular imposed that CAI’s central and peripheral leaders “must be exclusively of the pure Aryan race,” led to the special amendment of the statutes in May 1939 and the forced “resignation” (even with restitution of any dues already paid!) of even the most prominent leaders and mountaineers.

At the level of individual mountaineering, there was no shortage of athletic valor medals awarded to mountaineers for plotting new 6th grade routes, a rhetorical exaltation of nationalistic competition.

From June 10, 1940, with Italy’s entry into the war alongside the Axis, the activities of the Cai continued, albeit in a reduced form, both because of the call-up of young men to arms and because of the difficulties of travel, and because of government regulations that had revolutionized its structure.

In 1943, with the fall of fascism, Manaresi was discharged from all duties and the Milanese Guido Bertarelli was appointed to lead CAI, who moved the headquarters back to Milan. With Italy divided in two following the establishment of the Republic of Salò, a complicated phase followed with a central directorate in Milan and a regency of the central-southern sections in Rome, entrusted to Capitoline section president Guido Brizio.

However, the Cai proclaimed that it was intact in its patrimonial, spiritual and organizational structure, and that it had regained its complete independence. From 1944 he was engaged in working on two fronts: that of the Resistance and that of reconstruction.

The wartime destruction did not spare the heritage of the shelters, partly because in reality the 380 shelters in the Alps and Apennines were used as headquarters in the struggle for resistance and liberation: 64 were completely destroyed and most of the others damaged by German-Fascist units. Participation in the liberation movement was widespread in all areas by academics, members and hut keepers, who also distinguished themselves in the work of supporting and assisting Jewish refugees who were seeking safety in Switzerland through the Alpine passes.

The work done by the Cai for national reconciliation and reconstruction of both morals and infrastructure is emphasized in a declaration of community of purpose dated August 6, 1945, which states: “national unity, apoliticality, concord in cooperation” are indispensable and “any attack on this principle must be rejected,” thus experiencing a decisive phase of de-politicization, although a serious critical review of what happened in the association during the fascist period was lacking.

With the resumption of civilian life, social activities also resumed: membership rose from 30,000 in the early war years to 91.000 in 1948, and, although amidst enormous difficulties due to lack of funds, means and materials, the reconstructive fervor of the sections, which had also suffered extensive war damage, led, in collaboration with the civil and military authorities, to the rebuilding of shelters and in general to the resumption of cultural, scientific and artistic initiatives, hiking and mountaineering initiatives both in the Italian and extralpine mountains, to the strengthening of training through mountaineering schools and summer camps for young people.

The commitment to reconstruction found its highest expression in an event destined to recompose the national identity, which had been severely undermined internally by political divisions and abroad by the fall in credibility resulting from the events of the war: in 1954 a mountaineering expedition organized by the CAI carried the colors of the homeland to the world’s second highest peak, K2, in Pakistan. It is an event of global significance, boosting national morale by restoring confidence to a militarily defeated and morally wounded people.

Although it had been working for some time, through spontaneous initiatives of the sections, in the field of prevention and safety of those who frequent and live in the mountains, in 1954 the Mountain Rescue Service was officially established, which later took the name Corpo Nazionale soccorso alpino e speleologico (National Mountain Rescue and Speleological Corps), with the purpose of providing “for the supervision and prevention of accidents in the exercise of mountaineering, hiking and speleological activities, the rescue of the injured or those who are falling into danger, and the recovery of the fallen.”

Today, Mountain Rescue is structured into 47 local delegations and 269 rescue stations, employs 7280 volunteers including 335 doctors, and is recognized as a public utility service by Law No. 21 of March 2001. 74.

In this field, too, the CAI has never failed in its mission through a strong and constant presence of its sections and mountain rescue both in major disasters, from Vajont to the earthquakes in Friuli, Irpinia, and Abruzzo, and in individual rescue operations in mountains, caves, and where the environment is impervious, which in 2019 numbered more than 9,000.

In recent decades, as consumer society has evolved, including in the area of alpine tourism, others have been added to the original statutory purposes with the goal of increasing awareness in the national community of the natural and cultural heritage represented by the mountainous territory and the economic importance to resident populations arising from environmental integrity in the face of aggressive and often devastating tourism.

Strong impetus is given to training through youth mountaineering facilities and operators: raising awareness of the values of a true, genuine “counterculture” far removed from the artificial one imposed by certain TV media, and at the same time raising the population’s awareness of the need for virtuous practices on the sustainable use of mountain territory and safety-related cognitions, becomes a real mission.

The training activity continues even as the age grows thanks to the 170 schools scattered throughout the country in which more than 2,600 titled instructors of summer and winter mountaineering and hiking operate, about 1,400 professional guides who are members of the National Mountain Guides Section, as well as, for prevention in the winter environment of the work of the Avalanche Service, more than 200 experts and qualified technicians.

There is also a strong commitment to culture and communication through the publication of periodicals, extensive manuals aimed at training, prevention and safety, as well as through national institutions such as the National Mountain Museum and the National Library of Turin, and, in the scientific field, the Regina Margherita Observatory Hut, Europe’s highest refuge – at 4554 meters on Monte Rosa’s Punta Gnifetti – a reference point for technical materials and the environment.

By virtue of these functions performed in the interest of the national community, the CAI is recognized as a legal entity as early as the decree of September 17, 1931, then by Law No. 91 of January 26, 1963, “Riordinamento del Club Alpino Italiano,” which also provides for the granting of a contribution by the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment, and finally it is recognized as a national public body by Law No. 20 of March 20, 1975. 70, and thus eligible for ordinary contribution from the state budget.

The Italian Alpine Club, the first national association capable of keeping intact its original statutory and structural structure while adapting it to the evolution of the society in which it has its roots, has recently celebrated its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of foundation, a history that has touched, directly or indirectly, the lives of millions of Italians, a history with protagonist, always and in any case, those mountains that so characterize the soil of the Homeland, from Monviso “father of the greatest river in Italy” to Etna.

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