Monte Bianco vs. Mont Blanc

Monte Bianco vs. Mont Blanc

The highest mountain in western Europe and the Alps, Monte Bianco – not Mont Blanc – reaches toward the clear blue sky on the border between Italy and France, blissfully oblivious of any territorial drama. And oh, is there drama. The ongoing controversy dates back centuries, before Italy’s 20 regions had even unified.

At 15,777 feet above sea level, the majestic peak of Monte Bianco dominates the scenery for hundreds of miles. True to its name – “white mountain” – the snow-capped summit rises just above its neighboring principal peaks, Dôme du Goûter and Punta Helbronner. For hundreds of years, the area has been a magnet for mountaineers, skiers, artists, and more. Visitors often stay in the three townships that surround the mountain: Courmayeur in Italy and Saint-Gervais-les-Bains and Chamonix in France. But where does one country end and the other begin?

As Italians, we say the French border can be found on the other side of Monte Bianco peak. Objectively? We don't know.

Vintage Travel Ads Monte Bianco

The debate began during the French Revolution in the late 18th century. Until then, Monte Bianco had been clearly within the Duchy of Savoia (today, Savoia comprises much of northern Italy, with some parts of France and Switzerland). When the French rebelled in 1792, they seized Savoia. In a subsequent treaty, the Duke of Savoia agreed to cede parts of the northern territory, stating that the border between the two entities would be visible from Chamonix (France) and Courmayeur (now Italy). Clear, right?

The problem: there is not a point on Monte Bianco that is visible from both cities; the principal peaks are obscured by the lower mountains. The plot thickens.

In the centuries since, France and Italy have agreed on more acts, maps, treaties – all of which seem to contradict the other when it comes to the great mountain. Google Maps claims France owns the peak; World Atlas calls it Italian. As recently as last summer, Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi revived the debate. Less political cartographers – both French and Italian – have concluded that the border is directly down the middle of the summit, but still, nothing is official.

Italian, French, shared – we may never know the truth. But we do know that the countries connected through the Alps share the love for la stella alpina, a sweet mountain flower.

Stella Alpina

Click here to fall in love with la stella alpina!