Nearest town: Courmayeur
Nearest village: La Thuile
The ring pops out of the snow
for just a few weeks a year
The Piccolo San Bernardo stone circle probably dates back to second or third millennium BC. It was re-discovered last century. Its large diameter (72 m - 236ft) makes it one of the most important stone rings in mainland Europe. It is located 2190 metres above sea level, exactly (and probably deliberately) on the watershed of the Piccolo San Bernardo mountain pass between Italy and France. Indeed, the circle straddles the border between the two countries.
Forty-six low stones remain, but originally there were probably more, as the site is now crossed by a road which almost certainly destroyed several others. According to some ancient sources, a dolmen once stood in its centre. A group of three large stones is aligned to the point where the sun sets at the summer solstice, but some of these stones may have been moved, or even replaced, over the centuries, so it is very difficult to prove that this alignment was important to the original builders.
A porphyry stone pillar, known locally as Columna Jovis (Jupiter's Column), could also have been part of the circle. This column now acts as the pedestal for a statue of San Bernardo, and stands near the stone ring. Ancient books say that in Roman times there was a big ruby called 'Jupiter's eye' or 'Escarboucle' on top of the pillar.
Petronius (a 1st century AD Roman satirist) appears to mention the stone circle in one of his books: In the Alps near the sky, where the rocks are getting lower and let you cross them, there is a holy place where the altars of Hercules rise. Winter covers it with a persistent snow and it raises its white head to the stars.