The huge walls, towers, steeples and pinnacles that characterize the Dolomites were formed mainly by the horizontal lines of marine strata formed during what is called “litogenetic process” (or rock formation) and the vertical lines of cracks caused by uplifting forces due the clash between the plates of Africa and Europe that have characterized the second phase, the “orogenic process”, the  real  mountains formation process.

These intersections of lines are the depth secret of the endless forms of these mountains.  These rocks are born  230 million years ago when, a phenomenon not yet fully understood, with the slow accumulation of sand and mud on the seabed of the Paleo-Thetys, many of the limestone present in the present Alps is enriched with magnesium creating that chemical now known as Dolomia. A rock composed of calcium magnesium double carbonate identified for the first time by Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu that associated his name forever  to these amazing  mountains.

Deodat De DolomieuDéodat de DolomieuDéodat Guy Silvain Tancrède Gratet de Dolomieu (Dolomieu, June 23, 1750 – Châteauneuf, November 26, 1801) is the French geologist from which the Dolomites get their name.

His father enrolled him, when he was three years old, to the Order of Malta so, destined him for a military career. This would mark his whole life, as would enable him to travel and to satisfy his passion for science.

He received a classical education after which he turned to chemistry and natural science, devoting the early geology.

He identified the chemical compound of the alpine rocks that compose Dolomites, discovering that the mineral of which they are made of is the calcium magnesium carbonate. SoDolomieu distinguished the Dolomia from the more common limestone and he had the scientific proof when he sent twelve mineral samples to Nicolas De Saussure. So the mineralogist definitely gave the finding of this new rock to Dolomieu.

The Alps region will be called “Dolomites” only much later in 1864 when  Josiah Gilbert and George Churchill, a painter and a naturalist, published in London an account of their travels with the title “The Dolomites mountains”.
(Major source: wikipedia 2010)

The ancient sea has therefore created the horizontal layers and only 100 million years after the early Cretaceous Period, 120 million to 130 million years ago, they settled the last and youngest sediments currently in the Dolomite region. Only in the late Cretaceous period, ie 70 to 80 million years ago, the endogenous forces of the earth began to slowly lift and bend the giant package of sediment creating vertical , oblique or twisted lines. At this stage the African continent began slowly to approach that of Europe, leading to a crushing of interposed materials and their consequent rise (orogeny).

The Dolomites began to be affected by these dynamics about 40 million years ago, but particularly in the last 25 they have had the strongest effect, the Dolomites are slowly raised from the sea up to three thousand meters. The major and definitive lifting has had over the past 4-5 million years when the hard and resistant Dolomia have been increasingly isolated, while the soft volcanic rocks and their sedimentary derivatives were leveled easily resulting in valleys, passes, highlands.