South Tyrol wasn’t on my list of naturalist “must visit” places, but it is now thanks to some otherworldly imagery from Kilian Schönberger.
Kilian is already well-known for his outstanding European landscape photography and his recent trip to this autonomous region of northern Italy is a fine addition to his accomplished body of work documenting places and phenomena that buck banality.
In a series he calls Otherworld, Kilian presents seemingly impossible images: heavy boulders suspended on what, at first glance, look like nothing more than thin bands of soil in a misty morning in the Alps.
Though Kilian doesn’t provide an exact location, they appear to be the “earth pyramids” near Ritten-Renon. According to the local government, these formations (locally referred to as Erdpyramiden or Piramidi di terra) developed as the result of alternating patterns of heavy rains and drought.
During periods of rain, the clay-rich and fine-grain substrate gradually eroded into furrows as the water flowed down the mountainside. Subsequent periods of drought then caused the remaining loamy material to solidify.
Boulders altered the flow of water during rainy periods and protected the material below from eroding at the same rate as its surroundings. Over time, these differences in erosion caused pillars to form and voilà, you have the Erdpyramiden!
Eventually, each of these boulders will destabilize and tumble down the mountain and the material left underneath gradually erodes into a cone that diminishes over time.
Fortunately, these processes can take hundreds to thousands of years to occur so you still have time to visit them before they erode away. You can find plenty of information on how to get there and where to stay (including driving directions) here and while you’re planning your trip, you have Kilian’s excellent photography to provide plenty of inspiration.