Italy is famous for its art and nature. A few days ago I was lucky enough to find myself at a place where both meet in a spectacular way.
The Painted Caves (also known as the Painted Quarries or the Cave Dipinte in Italian) are four abandoned limestone quarries. They have been turned into an open-air art installation by the artist Tony Zarpellon. The project took him almost three decades.
The result is quite staggering! For the rocky craggy amphitheatres have become the kingdom of fantasies.
Where Are the Painted Caves?
The Painted Caves are just outside Rubbio – a small town in the Asiago Plateau in the Northern Italian region of Veneto. Perched high above the wide Venetian Plain Rubbio lies half-way between the towns of Bassano del Grappa and Asiago. By car, you can easily get there from Vicenza and any other neighbouring Venetian town or city, too. Just punch ‘Cave di Rubbio’ in Google Maps for clear instructions.
We came across the Painted Caves by pure chance. I had glimpsed a photo or two in a book and thought that they looked wonderful. After spending the day hiking in the forests around the nearby town of Lusiana, coincidentally we realised that we were only around 13 km away from the caves. So we decided to finish the afternoon with a quick visit to them.
The Road to the Painted Caves
The curving mountainous road took us higher up the steep hills and past small dairy farms selling locally made cheese, yogurt, and milk. All proudly designated as Produzione Propria – the own production of each farm.
Herds of cows grazed quietly in the sprawling meadows which were lush and green. It was quite idyllic, really.
Soon we were driving through the streets of Rubbio – a gaggle of colourful houses – and then we continued on for two more kilometres following the instructions of Google Maps.
Down below us and bathed in the strong afternoon sun of June we could see a deep valley and a couple of round-top hills. One of them was cut in two by a limestone quarry. The freshly carved huge stone blocks were stacked one on top of another like a set of cubes for the children of a giants’ family.
The Stunning View over Bassano del Grappa and the Venetian Plain
And then, just as we reached the last portion of our journey, the most wonderful view opened up in front of us.
Down below, the flat as a pancake Venetian Plain stretched for miles all the way to the horizon. We were up in the sky, at a height of over a thousand metres above sea level. Had it not been a bit misty, it felt like, we would have been able to see all the way to Venice from our vantage point.
Still, we could see the sprawling mass of Bassano del Grappa. The town looked much bigger and more powerful than when you look at it from the ground. Its long streets fused with the streets of the nearby smaller towns and villages so that the urban network continued uninterrupted all the way to the hazy horizon.
How to Get to the Painted Caves from the Road
We had reached the end of the navigable by car portion of the journey. It was time to take a little walk.
We parked the car just off the road, neatly behind the two or three other cars which were already left there.
A wide tarmacked path led the way down the hill. We couldn’t see the Painted Caves yet, just a field of wildflowers and tall grass followed by a dense gaggle of shrubs and trees.
The tarmacked path curved towards a large house and then curved again further down the hill becoming unpaved and much narrower in the process. I got a bit worried wondering if we were at the right place but the happy voices of people we could hear beyond the dense shrubs reassured me that there was something worth seeing there.
A few more steps and finally, we reached the Painted Caves.
What Are the Painted Caves?
The Painted Caves are abandoned limestone quarries that have been turned into open-air art installations.
There are four of them:
1. Cava Dipinta (The Painted Cave) – a glorious riot of colour, for me this was a fantastical and inspiring place. Amphitheatrically shaped, every stone in it – large and small, craggy and smooth – has been painted in bright hues Huge faces, figures, and even fish look at you with amazement and surprise. It’s like the artist felt the soul of each large boulder and every small stone and painted on it its inner essence. I loved seeing and spending time in the Cava Dipinta.
2. Cava Abitata (The Inhabited Cave) – a somber place making you go a bit quiet inside as you try to read the emotions on the faces which decorate it. In fact, the Cava Abitata is the first quarry you see when you reach the Painted Caves. You glimpse it from above as you walk towards the Cava Dipinta. After the riot of colour that the Cava Dipinta is, you walk a short distance away, turn a corner and you find yourself at the bottom of the Cava Abitata. Which is decorated with about 150 faces chiseled in car tanks and mufflers. The tanks and mufflers are attached to the boulders in the quarry with thin wires. It is quite the sight. It is uncanny how human these crude faces look. Some manage to express more emotion than some of the people I have met in real life.
3. Cava Laboratorio (The Workshop Cave) – a sign points to it and you need to walk quite further down the hill to reach this third quarry.
4. Cava Teatro (The Theatre Cave) – a place where in summer shows, events, and spectacles for children and adults take place.
Who Created the Painted Caves?
An artist called Toni Zarpellon.
Born in Bassano del Grappa in a family of ceramic artists from the nearby town of Nove, Mr Zarpellon is an Italian painter and sculptor. He studied at the Art School in Nove followed by the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice.
His works are part of the collections of prestigious museums in the Veneto, Italy, and several other countries.
Mr Zarpellon started work on the first cave – Cava Dipinta – in 1989. The Cava Abitata was finished in 1991. The Cava Laboratorio was finalised at the end of the 90’s of the 20th century. The Cava Teatro was ready in 2009.
Why Should I Visit the Painted Caves?
If you love art and nature, you will love seeing the Painted Caves for yourself.
Set in former quarries – natural spaces used and abused by the needs of our modern civilization – the Painted Caves are a clear example of how art can help us reclaim the beauty of a place.
This is an open-air art installation. It is free to visit. And, above all, it doesn’t set any expectations towards the visitor (apart from not littering and destroying the place). You can know a lot or very little about art and yet feel fully the impact of the Painted Caves.
Bright colours in a green frame and muted rocky surfaces adorned with deeply emotional metal faces. Honestly, this is one of the very best open-air works of art I have had the chance to see and enjoy.
Are There Any Other Things to Do and See Nearby?
Very close to the Painted Caves you can see the trenches of Mount Campolongo (in Italian – Trinceroni di Monte Campolongo) from the First World War.
About three km away from the Painted Caves is the statue of the Madonna of Fatima on Mount Caina.
You can also visit the dairy farms (called malga in Italian) and stock on local dairy products.
Or you can drive to nearby Lusiana for a hike to the Prehistoric Village there. Asiago, Bassano del Grappa, Nove, and Marostica are also only a short drive away.
Click to see a video of the Cava Dipinta on my blog’s Facebook page!
If you are looking for more ideas for day trips from Vicenza, Italy, click to see this mammoth list with over 90 ideas for great days out in the Northern Italian region of Veneto.
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