• Mountains
    • Art & Culture

The Serpentine Open Air Museum

The green stones of Valmalenco have for centuries been an integral part of the social, cultural and economic life of the valley.

During the Middle Ages, somebody noticed that the layers of the rock on the surface were in very thin sheets. The locals then began to experiment with techniques for the digging and processing of Serpentine shale. Over the centuries, generations of miners and stone breakers got up at dawn to walk to the mines, in order to make the Valmalenco Pioda stone, a product with infinite possibilities.

The oldest serpentine quarry is the Cava del Giovello, which gets its name from the shape of the mountain, similar to a yoke. As a consequence, individual quarries are known locally as giovelli, and the workers as giovellai. 

Initially, the giovellai did not have difficulty in extracting and turning the stone into sheets, as it was well marked by the freeze and thaw of the ages. However, continuing to dig towards the interior, they had to turn to fire: an indispensable element, which however filled the air with smoke that stung the eyes and left a layer of black ash everywhere. Fire was also used for lighting in the mouth and interior of the caves, reaching depths of 250-300m, through which blocks of stone were transported out by dragging or carrying. 

The stone was then worked in laboratories near the entrance to the tunnels, where, with sharp scalpels and precision strikes of the mallet, the chunks were separated into sheets known as piode. The giovellai, farmers or shepherds who dedicated their free time to the Giovello, were associated into companies, which in turn formed an important “confraternity” with both a social and religious scope.

At the end of the day the piode were divided amongst the members, stacked, sold individually and transported using horse-drawn caravans along the roads of the valley: those for Italy to the south, and those for the Grigioni to the north. The piode stones were already commonly used in Sondrio in 1300, and then reached other towns of Valtellina as well as the Grigioni territories. 

Processing piode remained unchanged for centuries, until the introduction of “polvere nera "black powder" at the end of 1600, a moderately powerful explosive that was perfect for shale rock. Near the end of the Nineteenth century, fire and oil used for lighting inside the mines gave way to more modern equipment such as gas and acetylene lamps. 

Near the end of the Nineteenth century, following the construction of the Valmalenco road leading to the Chiesa River, and which, thanks to the work of the miners, extended to Giovello, a new group of artisans came to light in the town known as carrettieri. The carrettieri quickly became merchants and in the 1900s, lorry drivers, thanks to the invention of motor vehicles, helping expand knowledge of piode stone far beyond Valtellina. 

After the Second World War, merchants and manufacturers were able to share the quality of piode stone with builders from other countries, generating a rise in demand.
Near the end of the Nineteen-Eighties, the Giovello quarry became increasingly dangerous and less used until work in that area was completely abandoned. Manufacturing of piode stone continues however in quarries on the opposite side. 


Source: Ecomuseo della Valmalenco

On the same topic

Val di Togno

Spriana - Montagna in Valtellina
  • Mountains
Val di Togno


Exciting excursions, for adults and children, where you can try driving a sleigh pulled by a pack of dogs.
  • Mountains
Dog Sledding

Valtellina Photo Gallery

Be amazed by the Valtellina looking at the most beautiful images of this beautiful area.
  • Mountains
Valtellina from A to Z

Vittorio Sella glacier trail

A trail dedicated to Vittorio Sella, the unsurpassed pioneer of mountain photography, who portrayed those mountains starting from the end of the 19th century
  • Mountains
Vittorio Sella glacier trail

Winter excursions with sled or bob

Valmalenco has plenty of paths where you can have fun with a sled or bob.
  • Mountains
Escursione in bob con tanto divertimento, ideale anche per i più piccini

Winter in Lombardy

  • Mountains
Sled dog, Bormio, Sondrio

Snowshoe trekking

A winter trek with snowshoes on one's feet is a very pleasant experience for everyone, adults and children
  • Mountains
Ciaspolate in Lombardia

Cross country skiing in Lombardy

If you love the mountains and want to experience something alternative to downhill disciplines, why not try cross-country skiing?
  • Mountains
Cross-country skiing

Skiing in Ponte di Legno - Passo Del Tonale

  • Mountains
Sciare a Ponte di Legno - Passo del Tonale

Snowshoeing in Ponte di Legno - Passo Del Tonale

  • Mountains
Ciaspolare a Ponte di Legno - Passo del Tonale

Experiencing the Mountains on Winter

Valtellina's skiing areas are the ideal destination for winter sports
  • Mountains
Vacation ideas in Valtellina during winter

Val Trompia

La Val Trompia is a new and pleasant tourist destination, to be discovered!
  • Mountains
Trompia Valley

Summer is more beautiful in the Bergamasque Valleys

Val Brembana, Valseriana, Val di Scalve and Valle Imagna: a family-friendly holiday in the valleys of the Bergamasque Alps 
  • Mountains
Cascate del Serio (BG)

Valle Brembana, a complete mountain experience

Nature, culture and gourmet delicacies. Valle Brembana is a valley that knows how to entice tourists wanting a holiday that is both sporting and relaxing
  • Mountains
Valle Brembana, montagne tutte da vivere

Glaciers in Lombardy

Nine glaciers in Lombardy to discover through spectacular glaciological itineraries
  • Mountains
Glaciers in Lombardy

Ice skating in Lombardy

Here's where you can twirl amusement and some fall.
  • Mountains
Ice Skating


Aprica, happy holidays in the mountains in winter and summer.
  • Mountains
Sciare all'Aprica

Skiing in Piani di Bobbio

The Piani di Bobbio, in Valsassina, are marvellous during the summer season, and become enchanting during the winter
  • Mountains
A tutto sci ai Piani di Bobbio

What to Do in Lombardy Mountains

Lombardy is a perfect destination for those who love mountain holidays in front of the beautiful scenery of the Alps.
  • Mountains
Cosa fare sulle montagne lombarde

The Plain of Chiavenna

Thanks to its shape, it allows the cyclists to take an interesting ring itinerary.
  • Mountains
Tour: The Plain of Chiavenna