Forest of the Fallen: The Soldiers’ Cemetery of Brunico (Bruneck)


Kate + Vin

Kriegerfriedhof Brunico War Cemetery
dolomites forest icon

The Soldiers’ Cemetery (also known as “Kriegerfriedhof” and “Cimitero di Guerra”) in Brunico (Bruneck) is an unexpectedly stunning and heart-rending sight all at once. Set in a forest on a hill above the town, it is a solemn reminder of the price soldiers paid during World War I & II.

“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.” 

Words, once only ghosts in our minds, were now suddenly flesh and blood. Each step we took summoned another line from Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Each turn, another face haunting in the forest.

But we were in much more than a forest.

All around us stood grave markers.

Not of stone, but of timber.

Wooden crosses fashioned in pacifying poses silently spoke to us. Bronze plates with forgings of “1915”, “1916”, “1917” and “1918” conjured images of war. German names along with tattered photographs whispered stories into our minds. Wishes and dreams of young men longing to be told, but never to be heard.

Soldiers' Cemetery

What is this place of grim beauty we wondered? Minutes earlier we were gazing up in awe at the medieval markings of a 13th-century castle. And then on a whim decided to cross a nearby footbridge to a hill shrouded in pine and firs. Here, we trekked up a steep set of stairs. At the top, a forested slope unfolded before us revealing a cemetery unlike any we have ever seen.

A grey monument resting on the hill’s crest held the answer. Inscribed on sable panes were the names of those buried. Next to this list of the fallen, we found the story of the ‘Soldiers’ Cemetery’.

War on the Rooftop of the World

Soldiers climbing the Dolomites during World War I
Soldiers scaling a cliff in the Dolomites during WWI. (Photo Credit: Smithsonian Institution)

Fighting a war anywhere is hell. Fighting one in the unforgiving heights of the Dolomites is utterly unthinkable. Yet, during the First World War, its crags and crevices saw thousands of soldiers lost to the madness of mankind and more still to the fury only born on mountains. The warring conditions on the rooftop of the world were among the most treacherous ever endured in the history of warfare. If bullets or shell fire didn’t tear you asunder, the mountain’s pummeling snow, hellish winds and crashing boulders would.

Brunico (also known as Bruneck) in South Tyrol was home to several wartime hospitals. Those injured battling on the front lines of the Dolomites received care here. Many did not make it out alive. Too many. When the local cemetery could no longer support the dead, a new one was founded on this hill in Brunico known as Kühbergl.

An Austrian Lieutenant Colonel, A. Bechtold, developed the vision for the Soldiers’ Cemetery. For the men who suffered horrors on the summits, he sought to bring them final peace within the mossy velvet of the forest floor.

The cemetery was built by Russian prisoners of war. Logs from stands of pine became the grave markers — forever memorializing the fallen in harmony with the stillness of the forest.

At Rest in the Forest

More than 100 years ago the last shot of the First World War rang out. At 11 am on the eleventh day in the eleventh month of 1918, Germany signed an armistice bringing the war to an end. Upon receiving the news, soldiers simply laid down their arms and went home.

The toll? 37 million dead.

Brunico War Forest Cemetery
Brunico’s Soldiers’ Cemetery is a place of unexpected beauty.

669 lie in the Soldiers’ Cemetery. They are soldiers from the Austro-Hungarian empire, as well as Russia, Serbia and Romania. Just 20 years later, the world would spiral into another war taking the lives of 50 million more. Nineteen German soldiers killed in bombing raids from the Second World War are also at rest in the cemetery.

bruneck soldiers cemetery jewish muslim soldiers

In a solemn act of respect for the men, the cemetery dedicated sections to the respective faiths of the soldiers. Men of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith lay in the Soldiers’ Cemetery separate but together. These brothers fighting for pieces of the earth now share it in quiet rapture as their home.

Caretakers of the Forest Cemetery

As we continued walking through the Soldiers’ Cemetery, we came across a few women tending to the graves. We learned they are members of an association of women that has kept each grave in pristine form since 1921.

Watching them work was as moving as the cemetery itself. In silence, they carefully placed evergreen branches and other favors from the forest throughout the resting places. These beautiful deep wood adornments evoked an even more serene feeling in our timbered surroundings.

Brunico War Cemetery Caretakers
Since 1921, an association of women has given their time to maintain and beautify Brunico’s war cemetery.

The manner in which South Tyroleans still reverently care for those lost long ago is touching to witness. Whether encountering a carefully carved wayside shrine off a hiking trail or rows of masterfully forged iron crosses in candlelit churchyards, the traditions of this land inspire awe. Taking time to reflect in such settings requires no belief in the divine to appreciate the beauty of humanity.

How to Visit Brunico’s Soldiers’ Cemetery

Path to Soldiers' Cemetry on Brunico's Kühbergl
Near Bruneck Castle is a footbridge that leads you to the Soldiers’ Cemetery on Kühbergl.

A visit to the medieval town of Brunico in Val Pusteria is an easy trip add-on before or after hiking around Lago di Braies. While in Brunico, a walk through the Soldiers’ Cemetery is a must. Every lover of nature and history will find it an enchanting sight.

The town offers you a few ways to reach the cemetery. From the grounds of the Bruneck Castle walk to the south castle wall and continue down a small slope to a footbridge. Cross over the road (Via Riscone) to the Kühbergl hill. Then follow the path to the right for a bit until you come to a set of stairs leading uphill. The cemetery sits at the top of the steps.

Additional options to visit the Soldiers’ Cemetery include two parking lots directly off Via Riscone. If you choose either one, you’ll have to walk uphill even more, but neither path is difficult.

No matter how you choose to visit, keep an eye out for signposts indicating ‘Cimitero di Guerra’ and ‘Kriegerfriedhof’ to ensure you’re heading in the right direction.

Kriegerfriedhof in Bruneck, South Tyrol
Plan on 30 minutes to an hour to walk through the Soldiers’ Cemetery.

Capturing the Soldiers’ Cemetery with your camera is a moving experience no matter when you visit, but please be courteous to anyone there paying respect to those lost.

To learn more about the war’s impact on the Dolomites, check out our Tre Cime di Lavaredo hiking guide. We highlight key historical events that make hiking the Three Peaks even more jaw-dropping.

Traverse Awards Winner

We are honored this post was recognized by Traverse Creator Awards with a “Best Storytelling Award”. The ability to discover the amazing history of South Tyrol while exploring all of its natural splendor is a gift we do not take for granted. Our hope is to inspire all who visit to take the time to get to know the history of the land and its people. Doing so is even more rewarding than the gorgeous scenery.

brunico soldiers cemetery italy
kriegerfriedhof bruneck war cemetery
cimitero di guerra brunico

23 thoughts on “Forest of the Fallen: The Soldiers’ Cemetery of Brunico (Bruneck)”

  1. My son died by suicide after 3 deployments – 2 to Iraq and 1 to Afghanistan. I now mentor other moms going through the same thing and one of them is an artist And told me she wants to create a shrine walk through the woods around her house where she lives in the mountains. She is an artist and loves wayside shrines. Her husband is good with woodworking and together they will create a memorial to their only child. This post was an inspiration to her, to me and will be for many, unfortunately, to come. Thank you.

    • So very sorry about your son Patricia. We are truly touched to hear about your work with other mothers who have experienced a similar loss and that this post has served as an inspiration. May God bless you and the families who have lost loved ones. Thank you for your family’s service and for taking the time to share your experience with us.

    • Yeah Helen it’s heart wrenching. And to think that just 20 years later another 50 million more were lost in WWII. Unbelievable.

  2. This sounds like such a thought provoking place to visit. My husband is fascinated by these events and would love to explore something like this

  3. What a hauntingly beautiful memorial for fallen soldiers. This brings me to tears on a day to honor so many of them.

  4. Wow this place looks incredible. There’s so much to do and see there! Looks like a brilliant place to take the whole family

  5. It’s very sombering to look back over histories of any war, but especially World Wars. So many lives lost and so many innocent soldiers sent out as pawns in bigger power struggles. But they are still a part of our histories as mankind and deserve to be remembered.

  6. Wow, this is such a unique place for cemetery. Recently I have been to a cemetery for European soldiers (majority are British) who fought during the first and second world war in Myanmar (Asia)! This one here are incredible as they are made of timber. Glad that there are women who work so hard to keep the garden a nice and serene place for the dead and the visitors.

  7. I have never heard of this place. I can imagine it is very emotional and moving to visit it. I might go, I live in Vienna, so not far at all.

  8. The soldier cemetery sounds interesting as I haven’t seen or been to one. How I wish this place was just near so I can experience what you experienced too.

  9. This must be a very emotional place to visit. I am looking forward to explore this place to know everything about it.

  10. What a haunting memorial – maybe if more people understood the sacrifices of war they would be more cautious about their tone & words that they use. Life is precious

  11. I never knew such place existed! It looks absolutely beautiful and so peaceful. I am sending this link to my friend, she loves such places, I am sure she would LOVE to travel there

  12. WOW…this is really interesting! This is something I never knew about but would love to know more about. Thank you for enlightening me!

  13. I would love to see that in person one day. It is so visually interesting, and I think it’s a really powerful tribute as well.

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