The National Park of the Belluno Dolomites extends entirely north of Val Belluna and includes Mount Pavione, the Vette Feltrine peaks, Piazza del Diavolo, the Plains of Eterni-Errera-Val Falcina, the Scura valley, the Monti del Sole mountains and the western Schiara. Siliceous tools found on the summit of Mount Avena confirm the first human presence in this area from the beginning of the mid Palaeolithic era, a time when the more advanced, more organised Neanderthal men appeared, skilled stone and bone engravers, dedicated to hunting large mammals.
Traces of work to extract and process stone are also documented in the upper Palaeolithic era. In the same period, small groups of nomads, hunters-foragers, occupied open-air sites and sheltered under the rock, as evidence of artefacts from living quarters show in Val Cismon and the Hunter’s tomb, dating back to about 12,000 years ago. Other archeological finds, such as the Mesolithic site of Mondevàl di Sora, where a tomb was found with rich burial accoutrements, have led archaeologists to abandon the idea of an “anthropological vacuum” in prehistory in the central area of the Belluno Dolomites and to put forward the opposite theory of the presence of a community of hunters, who were by this time semi-sedentary.
The Neolithic era (5500-3300 BC) is the moment when evidence of permanent settlements becomes more numerous, as we pass from a society dedicated to foraging and hunting to one with an economy based on agriculture and husbandry. Now, man was building villages, as testified by the numerous finds. With the end of the Bronze Age came a rapid transformation of the local communities and the crossover of different cultures and peoples. The Iron Age saw Belluno, Cadore and Alpago, on the one hand, involved in Celtic influxes. On the other, it records a considerable presence of Paleovenetians in Mel and Cavarzano, a people with origins in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey). Of no less importance was the presence of Rhaetian influence, as proven by the numerous traces to be seen in the town of Feltre.
Romanisation of this area is noticeable from the end of the 3rd century BC, when the military occupation by the Roman army was followed by not only political and administrative, but also town planning interventions. The territory of eastern Veneto, which Livy called Venetorum angulus, saw a slow, pacific Roman penetration, shown by the founding of the Latin colony in Aquileia in 181 BC. Numerous arterial roads were built (such as the Via Annia, the Via Postumia and the more recent Via Claudia Augusta Altinate). As a result, numerous municipia were built, such as Bellunum (Belluno), Feltria (Feltre), Iulium Carnicum (today’s Zuglio) and Opitergium (Oderzo), from the mid 1st century BC onwards. At this stage, the entire area covered a relevant strategic role to control the Alpine passes. The two most important municipia, Belluno and Feltre, were built on military sites, and in the 1st century BC, the military road, Claudia Augusta Altinate, was opened with the strategic purpose of rapidly connecting Altino with the territories of Rezia along the Danube.
In the Middle Ages, Belluno and Feltre became Episcopal seats. After being dominated by the Byzantines, Longobards and Franks, it became a territory of hierarchies, in which these two towns played a leading economic and political role over the minor fiefdoms. This situation eased following the famous battle on the plain of Cesana between the people of Belluno and those from Treviso. The result ended territorial unity and the dominion of Feltre and Belluno. The two towns united in a single diocese in 1199, but in later centuries they were subjected to the domination of numerous seigniories: in 1200, by the da Romano and the da Camino families, in 1300, by the Scaligeri, Carraresi, the great German houses (Luxemburg and Brandenburg) and the Visconti families.
From 1420, Venice conferred unity and order to the region. The dominion of the Serenissima lasted until 1797 and coincided with a long period of peace, except for the dramatic event of 1510, which saw the destruction of Feltre following the invasion of the imperial troops during the war between Venice and the Cambrai league. Venetian domination encouraged the territory to grow: Venice could now fulfil its own requirements and exploit the mountain territory, rich in woods and mines. It increased trade with the two towns specialising in the manufacture of swords in Belluno in particular, and of woollen cloth in Feltre.
From the 17th century onwards came the slow, inexorable, economic decline of Venice. After its definitive fall in 1797, the territory fell under French and Austrian military rule. In 1805, Veneto was incorporated into the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy and the towns of Feltre and Belluno formed the Department of the Piave. After the Congress of Vienna and the defeat of Napoleon, Feltre and Belluno were established as part of the Lombard-Veneto Kingdom.
In 1866, at the end of the 3rd War of Independence, a plebiscite of the citizens was to decide annexation of the province to the Kingdom of Italy.