Under Doctor’s Orders: Fiavè — Life on Stilts

Under Doctor's Orders: Fiave' -- Life on Stilts | ©Tom Palladio Images

Long before Amsterdam, Venice and the Kingdom of Paeonia, but sometime after Fred and Wilma Flintstone of Bedrock, a small prehistoric tribe near Fiavè, in the Trentino area of northern Italy, drove lengthy wooden piles down into Lago Carera, a glacial basin, and constructed one of mankind’s very first above-water communities.

Funny, I came to the Trentino for a modern-day spa treatment, but, in between my two-a-day water therapies, I ended up visiting an archeological dig and then being lectured about the Stone and Bronze Ages at Il Museo delle Palafitte di Fiavè (Pile Dwellings Museum of Fiavè — MPF).


They don’t call this part of Europe “old as mud” for nothing, as evidenced by the remains of those 7-9m long wooden stilts — driven into the soft underbelly of the lake millennia ago — peering back at me just above the surface of the now glacial basin-turned-peat bog.

Looking around at this little speck on the prehistoric map, wondering what life was like right here on this very spot some 6,000 or so years ago, really got my Vespa running. I needed to do some digging of my own and get to the bottom of this story about life on prehistoric stilts.

Under Doctor's Orders: Fiave' -- Life on Stilts | ©Tom Palladio ImagesArriving at MPF, I flash my press credentials, fill out a form and the pleasant administrator, Elena Brocchetti, waives the small €3.50 entry fee, provides me with all the literature I can carry, and immediately hands me off to Angelo Parisi.

Mr. Parisi tells me straight away that, “I’m not an archeologist, but I am very, very passionate about the museum.” And it showed, as he served as my guide for the afternoon and led the way on a private, in-depth VIP tour of the brand new, three-story, state-of-the-art facility that occupies the old Casa Carli in the center of Fiave’.

Under Doctor's Orders: Fiave' -- Life on Stilts | ©Tom Palladio ImagesThe museum, devoted entirely to those ancient “holes in the ground making history,” is laid out to illustrate — via plenty of interactive audio-visual screens, colorful static displays, glass cases filled with precious artifacts, and various mock-ups — the seven stages of the three prehistoric communities that lived around the glacial basin between the late Neolithic Age and the recent Bronze Age.

The Lake Carera finds are part of an overall 111 locations of prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps fully recognized by UNESCO and designated as World Heritage sites.

Under Doctor's Orders: Fiave' -- Life on Stilts | ©Tom Palladio ImagesThe informative walk around with the very knowledgeable Mr. Parisi, who, as a young student, assisted the discovery efforts at the archeological dig during the 1970s, shows the various construction types used to build the settlements, and demonstrates quite clearly how these ancient Alpine tribes went about their daily lives, survived and thrived.

The museum’s collection of objects and artifacts, dating back to nearly 4,000 B.C., is one of the most impressive of its kind: pottery, jewelry in bronze, Baltic amber and even gold;  tableware and kitchen utensils; and, a variety of farming and working tools, like hammers, sickles, drills, axe handles and ploughs. Perishables are also on display, and include food: ears of corn, cherries, hazelnuts, apples and pears.

Under Doctor's Orders: Fiave' -- Life on Stilts | ©Tom Palladio Images

On the third floor, and the last stage of the tour, visitors can experience “A day in a pile dwelling.” It’s a complete model recreation of a day in the life of a community on stilts some 3,400 years ago.

After thanking my personal guide and the administrator for their gracious hospitality, I took a stroll around the museum’s park-like grounds with the impressive bird house sculpture out back and the angled, symbolic palafette (stilts) that front the museum’s entryway.

The day trip now complete, I give Il Museo delle Palafitte di Fiavè and the archeological site at Lago Carera “two thumbs” way up; or, in the words of Fred Flintstone: Yabba-dabba-doo!

©The Palladian Traveler | ©Tom Palladio Images




  1. I’m thinking that my aches and pains could benefit from twice daily soakings. Do you think Medicare will pay??? 😀 This is such an interesting post. It stimulated my imagination.

      1. Thank you for the Abano Terme link. It’s just ten minutes down the road from me and – being new to the area – I haven’t yet visited. The terme in Sirmione is wonderful too and I have visited there many times over the years. Nothing quite like being wrapped top to toe in sulphurous fango! Love your blogs; all very interesting.

      2. I have many friends and family who have gone to Abano Terme for the fango baths, and I have a nephew who goes to the spa in Sirminone. Seems like there’s a “Holy Grail” water designed for whatever ails you all across Italy. Those Romans were clever. So, how is it that you landed in Italy and near my neck of the woods?

      3. Many years of a love affair with Italy made me want to retire here to write; a long held ambition which finally came true this year. Honestly, I’m still at the stage of wanting to pinch myself to check it’s real.

      1. Hi, I’m Liana. I’m the daughter of a woman that work at the Museo delle Palafitte di Fiavè. All the staff is enthusiastic about your article, I’ve translated it for my mom. But I must tell you an important thing: the name of your guide is Angelo, not Antonio 🙂
        p.s. terrific pics!!!

      2. Liana — How did I miss that. I’ll make the correction right away. Thanks so much, and thanks for translating the article to share with your mother and her colleagues. I enjoyed my visit to the museum, the archeological site as well as the entire Giudicarie. I can’t wait to return again and write and photograph more of this gem of a locale in the Trentino.

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