South Tyrol corresponds, from an administrative point of view, with the territory of the autonomous province of Bolzano – Alto Adige, which is the northernmost province both within the Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol region and Italy. It counts about 500,000 inhabitants and it has a surface of nearly 7,400 km², which make it also the most extensive province in Italy. Together with the province of Trento and North Tyrol (in Austria), it constitutes the ‘Euroregion Tyrol’, corresponding – with a certain degree of approximation – to the historical region of Tyrol, to which this province belongs historically and culturally.
The province is bilingual in all respects, with the presence also of a Ladin minority. It is officially called Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano – Alto Adige in Italian and Provinz Bozen – Südtirol in German, while the Ladin language has two variants (corresponding to the Val Badia-Marebbe and the Val Gardena).
During the many centuries of Austrian rule the territory of the actual province was also known as Mitteltirol; that is, Central Tyrol – or sometimes even Deutschsüdtirol, while the name Südtirol designed the actual Trentino (and sometimes even the whole region). One should nevertheless notice that the Italian version Sudtirolo is used today only to define the Bolzano province and its inhabitants (‘sudtirolesi’).
According to the Second Charter of Autonomy ('Secondo Statuto d'Autonomia'; see below), all place names of the province have to be strictly bilingual. An interesting note of history, in that respect, is that all the Italian names were collected and listed by the zealous Senator Tolomei under the Fascist regime (often with ridicule results), and today they officially have to come abreast with German and Ladin names. The Italian name of the province (Alto Adige) was introduced at the time of the Napoleonic rule, when – during the Kingdom of Italy – the area was known as “Department of the Alto Adige” (a name derived from the upper course of the river – following the French tradition of naming Departments after rivers).
The province of Bolzano (South Tyrol) borders to the north and east with Austria (North Tyrol and Salzburg regions), to the west with Switzerland (Canton Graubunden), to the south-east with the Veneto (province of Belluno), to the south with the province of Trento (Trentino) and to the south-west – past the Passo dello Stelvio – with Lombardy.
South Tyrol comprises many valleys, passes, rivers and lakes that surround the entire territory. The Valle Aurina/Ahrntal is the northernmost in the whole of Italy, while the village of Predoi/Prettau – in the valley's upper reaches – is the northernmost settlement in the country. It lays at the foot of the aptly named Vetta d'Italia (the ‘Peak of Italy’; Klockerkarkopf in German, 2,912 m) – Italy's northernmost mountain, at the border with Austria. In fact, this inauspicious name is probably the most emblematic products of the Fascist propaganda, and recently there have been serious attempts at renaming the mountain 'Vetta d'Europa/Europaspitze', which we can only hope will be crowned by success.
The province of Bolzano is entirely mountainous. In its territory rise the Central Alps, to which belongs the Ortles, the highest massif in South Tyrol as well as in the whole region (3,902 m), while the Oriental Alps are in the eastern section of the province.
Among the most elevated peaks one must include the Palla Bianca/Weißkugel (3,738 m), the Similaun (3,607 m), the Gran Pilastro/Hochfeiler (3,510 m) and the Cima Altissima/Hochwilde (3,480 m).
A section of the Dolomites also belongs to South Tyrol, and amongst these are the noteworthy groups of the Dolomiti di Sesto/Sextenrdolomiten with the Punta dei Tre Scarperi/Dreischusterspitze (3,152 m), the Croda dei Baranci/Birkenkofel (2,922 m), and the renowned Tre Cime di Lavaredo/Drei Zinnen; the Dolomiti di Gardena/Grödnerdolomiten (Sassolungo/Langkofel, 3,181 m; Sassopiatto/Plattkofel, 2,969 m; Piz Boè, 3,152 m, in the Sella group) and other Dolomite mountains such as the Latemar (2,846 m), Catinaccio/Rosengarten (3,002 m), Sciliar/Schlern (2,563 m), as well as notable locations such as the Plan de Corones/Kronplatz (2,275) and the Plose (2,562 m).
The Brenner Pass (1,372 m) undoubtedly represents the main gateway between the Germanic and Mediterranean worlds, marking the boundary between Italy and Austria. It is located on the watershed between the Adriatic sea (Isarco-Eisack valley) and the Black sea (Sill valley); being one of the lowest passes in the entire Alps, its space is contended by railway, motorway and National road.
Numerous – and a lot more atmospheric – are the other Alpine passes connecting the various valleys, amongst which one must include: Passo Gardena/Grödner Joch (2,121 m), Passo Sella/Jëuf de Sella (2,240 m), Passo di Campolongo/Ju de Ćiaulunch (1,875 m; these are three of the passes going around the Sella group – a circuit also known as 'Sellaronda').
The Passo dello Stelvio/Stilfser Joch (2,758 m) is the highest pass in Italy and the second highest in Europe
Other passes include (in decreasing altitude) Passo del Rombo/Timmelsjoch (2,509 m); Passo di Pennes/Penser Joch (2,211 m); Passo di Valparola/Jù de Valparola (2,192 m); Passo di Monte Giovo/Jaufenpaß (2,094 m); Passo Stalle/Staller Sattel (2,052 m); Passo delle Erbe/Würzjoch (2,003 m); Passo di Pampeago/Reiterjoch (1,983 m); Passo di Costalunga/Karerpass (1,753 m); Passo Nigra/Nigerpass (1,688 m); Passo di Monte Croce di Comelico/Kreuzbergpass (1,636 m); Passo delle Palade/Gampenjoch (1,518 m); Passo di Resia/Reschenpass (1,504 m); Passo della Mendola/Mendelpass (1,363 m) and Passo San Lugano/St. Lugan (1,097 m).
Some of these passes connect South Tyrol with Austria, while some others are 'internal' passes either linking valleys within the province or with neighbouring Trentino and Veneto (Belluno province). Many of them – especially those at higher altitudes, or in side valleys – will have only a sesonal opening (usually May to October; it is advised to check beforehand if you are planning to travel in the area by car or public transport), while the lower ones are usually open all year round.
The ‘valle dell’Adige’ (Adige valley) is the main axis of the region from Merano/Meran to the border with the province of Trento. It is the most densely populated area of South Tyrol (as it is in Trentino), with the provincial capital of Bolzano/Bozen that extends along the main valley floors of the Adige/Etsch (towards Merano/Meran) and Isarco/Eisack (towards Bressanone/Brixen). These latter are also the two main towns in the province, to which one must add Brunico/Bruneck in the val Pusteria/Pustertal and Vipiteno/Sterzing in the upper Isarco/Eisack valley. Densely populated centres are also in the conurbation around Bolzano, such as Laives/Leifers, Lana and Appiano/Eppan.
Numerous and important are the valleys that cover the whole territory of the province like a web, branching off from the main rivers. Among these valleys (in bold the main ones) we should at least include – converging on the Adige – the Val Passiria/Passeiertal, and the Val d'Ultimo/Ultental, while radiating from the Valle Isarco/Eisacktal are the Val di Tires/Tierstal, Val Gardena/Grödnertal, Val Ridanna/Ridnauntal, Val Sarentino/Sahrntal, Val d'Ega/Eggental, Val di Vizze/Pfitschtal, Val Racines/Ratschingstal, Val di Giovo/Jaufental and Val di Fleres/Pflerschtal. On the Val Pusteria/Pustertal converge the Valli di Tures/Tauferertal and Aurina/Ahrntal, Val Badia/Gadertal, Valle di Casies/Gsiesertal, Valli di Sesto (Setxten) and Fiscalina/Fischleintal, Valle di Anterselva/Anthölz, Val di Landro/Dürrensteintal and Valle di Braies/Prags; while off the Val Venosta/Vinschgau are the Val Monastero/Münsteirtal, Val Martello/Martelltal and Val di Senales/Schnalstal.
As a consequence of such an extended network of valleys, the whole territory is crossed by rivers: Adige/Etsch, Isarco/Eisack, Rienza/Rienz, Passirio/Passeier, Talvera/Talfer are the main ones; the Drava/Drau has its springs here; then there are many other small streams.
In the province there are 176 natural lakes and basins with a length superior or equal to 100 m; the majority of these basins are at an altitude above 2,000 metres. Among the 13 bigger lakes (with a surface above 5 ha), only two lie at a relatively low altitude below 1,000 m (the Lake of Caldaro and the two Monticolo lakes); all the remaining lakes are to be found at higher altitudes: amongst these are the Lago di Anterselva, Lago di Braies, Lago di Carezza, Lago di Costalovara, Lago di Dobbiaco, Lago di Favogna, Lago di Fiè, Lago di Santa Maria, Lago di San Valentino alla Muta, Lago di Landro and Lago di Varna.
There are also artificial lakes, some of which are quite extended, such as (without distinction of altitude) the Lago di Resia, Lago di Zoccolo, Lago di Fortezza, Lago di Rio di Pusteria and Lago di Valdaora.
In a land of rock and ice, so rich in water, it is perhaps not much of a surprise that there will be also impressive waterfalls. Although it is impossible to list them all here, among the most notable ones one must certainly include the Cascate di Stanghe in Racines/Ratschings, near Vipiteno/Sterzing; the Cascate di Riva near Campo Tures/Sand in Taufers in Valle Aurina/Ahrntal, and the Cascata di Parcines, near Parcines/Partschins in Val Venosta/Vinschgau – the tallest waterfall in the whole of Alto Adige.
Within the territory of South Tyrol lies a significant portion of the Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio – one of Italy’s historic National Parks – which was instituted in 1935 with the aim of safeguarding the flora, fauna and the overall outstanding beauty of the landscape around the Ortles-Cevedale range, in order also to start developing and promoting early forms of tourism in those Alpine valleys – of course according to the values of the time, which have significantly changed since then.
But apart from this important institution, there are also other notable presences within the territory of Alto Adige; notably, seven others Natural Regional Park which constitute an overall network for protection which is among the foremost within the whole Alpine range. These parks are: Dolomiti di Sesto/Sextnerdolomiten (now re-baptized Tre Cime Nature Park/Drei Zinnen Naturpark), Fanes-Sennes-Braies/Prags, Gruppo di Tessa/Texelgruppe, Monte Corno/Trudnerhorn, Puez-Odle/Geisler, Sciliar/Schlern, Vedrette di Ries-Aurina/Riesegruppe-Ahrntal. An eight park – the Alpi Sarentine/Sahrntal – is under way.
On top of this, it is worth reminding that parts of the sites making up the collective Dolomites UNESCO Heritage Site also befall within the province; besides the aforementioned Puez-Odle/Geisler and Sciliar/Schlern, it is worth adding the Bletterbach canyon, one of the most important – and impressive – sites for studying the geology of the Dolomites.
The valleys and mountains of South Tyrol also offer some varied natural monuments; the most famous are perhaps the earth pyramids at Plata and at Renon/Ritten – the latter are the most famous, on a scenic plateau just above Bolzano. Besides the aforementioned Bletterbach, other notable sites, in this respect, include the Rastenbachklamm gorge and the ‘Fossa di Bronzolo’. There are also several monumental trees, usually marked with a plaque.
A unique feature of the region are the Botanical Gardens at Trauttmannsdorff Castle, near the city and spa resort of Merano/Meran. Inaugurated in 2001, the gardens are only 13 years old, but they look already well established, offering a unique range of habitats, many dedicated to the Sub-mediterranean plants that the mild micro-climate of the Merano basin affords to grow, as well as to traditional landscapes of South Tyrol.
The territory of actual South Tyrol was originally inhabited by the Rhetian people, and at a later stage it became part of the Roman Empire. Christianity developed here only during the Middle Ages, and after that the area was colonized by Germanic people – namely the Baiuvars.
Afterwards, some parts of South Tyrol (the Val Venosta/Vinschgau and the Val d'Adige) fell under the domain of the Prince Bishops of Trento, while other areas (the eastern valleys of the actual province) became part of the domains of the Prince Bishops of Bressanone/Brixen.
South Tyrol then had to undergo harassments at the hands of the Lords of Appiano, and above all of the Lords of Tyrol (who came from the village that ended up giving its name to the whole region); as a matter of fact – even though not by right – from the 14th century onwards, the area found itself being turned into a county (the County of Tyrol).
But already from 1363, the possessions of the Counts of Tyrol had been inherited by the Hapsburg, and at that point the territory of the whole province of Bolzano became in all respects a domain of the Hapsburgs – even though, at least formally, the Prince Bishops of both Bressanone/Brixen and of Trento kept their privilege on the region and their prerogative as participants in the Sacred Roman Germanic Empire until 1801, when finally the Principalities run by the Bishops were abolished by Napoleonic decree.
After that, since 1815 South Tyrol became officially part of the County of Tyrol, which belonged as a whole entity to the Austrian Empire from 1814, and lastly to the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1867. Between 1810 and 1814 some parts of the province had been annexed to the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy; namely, the territory south of Bressanone/Brixen, including Bolzano itself and the Lower Adige Valley ('Bassa Atesina') – and this is when the name ‘Alto Adige’ first appeared, as in 'Dipartimento dell'Alto Adige’ – while some other parts of South Tyrol (in particular the eastern valleys around Dobbiaco/Toblach) were aggregated to the 'Dipartimento della Piave' (which corresponded roughly to the actual province of Belluno).
Following the Italian victory in WW1, the territory of the province – almost completely Germanic from a cultural and linguistic point of view – was disembodied from the now dissolved Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was then annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in its entirety, thus crowning the aspirations of the growing irredentism movement (fighting for Trentino and other parts of Tyrol becoming Italian). The Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1919) decreed the new boundaries of the Kingdom of Italy, without the population of South Tyrol having really had their say beforehand.
Following the advent of Fascism, the German-speaking population underwent a harsh attempt to become ‘italianised’: the use of German language was banned, while at the same time massive immigration of Italian population – mainly from the south and the poorer areas of the north – was encouraged (as a matter of fact, enforced). These immigrants established themselves, above all, in the main urban areas – namely around Bolzano and Merano.
At the end of WW2, the agreement signed by Prime Ministers De Gasperi-Gruber envisaged a certain degree of autonomy for the province, in order to safeguard the German-speaking minority – which, as a matter of fact, was (and still is) the majority in South Tyrol. The First Charter of Autonomy ('Primo Statuto di Autonomia'), signed in 1948, guaranteed some basic rights by reinstalling the official use of the German language, and by giving ample competences to the newly formed region Trentino-Alto Adige, where, however, the Italians were the majority.
This was considered unsatisfactory by the German-speaking population, who was led by the Südtiroler Volkspartei – at the time a very conservative party, which was contrary to immigration, industrialization and mixed marriages. Castel Firmiano/Sigmundskron, which is located just outside the city of Bolzano, was the location of an important political demonstration in 1957 in favor of autonomy. In the following years, the situation became very tense and things came to a point when a series of terroristic actions were carried out at the expense of the Italian institutions. In 1972, however, the Second Charter of Autonomy ('Secondo Statuto di autonomia') was approved: this was the real turning point, as most of the competences were officially transferred to the two provinces of Trento and Bolzano, which became in all respects independent from each other, even though still formally united under the regional name of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol.
Thanks to the level of welfare that has been reached since then, today South Tyrol is an affluent area which provides a peaceful example of coexistence between different cultures and ethnic groups. The tensions have not completely disappeared, however: on the one hand, since the 1970s the Italian group has been seeing its numbers constantly decreasing; on the other hand, within the German-speaking group, the extremist parties have increased, and these still push either for annexation to Austria or for the creation of a 'free South Tyrol'.
The current province of Bolzano, in the course of its history, has been going through several dominations, each of which has left a trace. The longest domination of all, however, was that of the Hapsburgs, in the shape of the Tyrolean County, which lasted for more than five centuries – starting in 1363 and ending only in 1918 – thus leaving a deep mark both in the population and in the historic/artistic heritage.
The numerous castles of the province still bear witness to the Medieval period; the most important of these is Castel Tirolo (Schloss Tirol); in fact, the region has taken its name from these Lords – the Counts of Tyrol. In Castel Roncolo (Runkelstein) there are important frescoes of chivalric subject, while in Castel Coira (Churburg) is hosted an important collection of armors. During the Austro-Hungarian Empire various forts were also built, amongst which is Fortezza/Franzenfeste.
In the building of Trauttmannsdorff Castle, near Merano/Meran (also home to a vast, magnificent Botanical Garden), is hosted the Touristeum, the Museum of Tourism, taking visitors of all ages on an intriguing journey through 200 years of tourism in the Alps of South Tyrol.
A particular meaning is held by the ruins of the fortress of Castel Firmiano/Sigmundskron, which is located just outside the city of Bolzano. It was the location of important historical events (as highlighted above), and recently it has been renovated in a very innovative manner. It now hosts the headquarters of the Messner Mountain Museum network (MMM), which is dedicated to the relationship between man and mountains.
Another castle of particular interest is the Castel de Tor, in San Martino in Badia/St. Martin in Thurn in the Lower Val Badia/Gadertal, hosting today the Ladin Museum.
Besides castles and fortresses, in the province of Bolzano there are numerous churches, abbeys and monasteries, built in different styles over the centuries (Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque). Amongst these are the Abbazia di Monte Maria/Abtei Marienberg, the Abbazia di Novacella/Neustift, the Monastery of Sabiona/Kloster Säben, the Collegiate Church of San Candido/Innichen and the Cathedrals in Bressanone/Brixen and Bolzano.
During the Fascist regime various other monuments were erected, in accordance with the iconography and ideology of the period, such as the 'Monumento alla Vittoria' (a sort of rather offensive triumphal arch) in Bolzano and the 'Monumento all'Alpino’ (Monument to the Alpine Soldier) in Brunico/Bruneck.
The province of Bolzano is officially trilingual: Italian and German are the official languages, to which one must add Ladin in two of the Eastern valleys (Marebbe/Enneberg and Badia/Gadertal). Just over two thirds of the inhabitants of South Tyrol are of German mother tongue, even though in daily life a dialect of Austro-bavarian origin is being used. The German group dominates in 103 municipalities out of 116; in 77 of these it represents more than 90% of the population (just to give an idea) – with a peak of 100% in Martello/Martell.
The Italian group, which amounts to about ¼ of the population of the province, is the majority only in 5 municipalities of the Bolzano area (Bolzano itself, Laives/Leifers, Bronzolo/Branzoll, Salorno/Salurn and Vadena/Pfatten), while about 50% of the residents are Italian in Merano, the second city of the province; the percentage of Italians is relatively high also in Fortezza/Franzenfeste and Bressanone.
The Italian native speakers are commonly referred to as ‘Walsche’ (as the language is defined ‘Walsch’); both terms derive from an ancient Germanic root that originally simply meant ‘foreign’, but today the term is being used in a slightly derogatory way. A dialect of Trentino is also spoken in a handful of municipalities in the area of the ‘Bassa Atesina’.
Only about 4% of the population speaks Ladin as a mother tongue; these are concentrated in the 8 municipalities of the Marebbe/Enneberg and Badia/Gadertal valleys – namely, La Valle/Wengen (nearly 98% of Ladin speakers), San Martino in Badia/St. Martin in Abtei, Badia/Abtei, Marebbe/Enneberg, Santa Cristina Valgardena/St. Christina in Grödnertal, Selva di Valgardena/Wolkenstein in Gröden, Ortisei/St. Ulrich and Corvara in Badia.
These linguistic divisions still retain an actuality, as in fact the autonomy of the province was based, in the first place, on the principle of differentiating the ethnic groups (this may seem a bit controversial, especially when one considers that today the area is often being referred to as a harmonious example of integration – but these divisions are still relevant when it comes to public sector employment, council housing, school, etc).
School, however, represents an exception to the rule, in some ways, as even though pupils are being taught in their mother tongue, there is an obligation to learn the other language as from the primary school. Also, it has already been hinted at the fact that the Italian ethnic group has seen its numbers decreasing steadily since 1971.
In the territory of the province of Bolzano all state schools are subdivided according to the language that is being taught as primary. The Ladin valleys are an exception, as there both the Italian and German language have equal rights – plus standard Ladin, which is of course being taught too.
In South Tyrol there are also some very important postgraduate and research institutions, such as the Libera Università di Bolzano, founded in 1997, the Accademia Europea (EURAC) and the Techno Innovation Park South Tyrol.
A Brief Political History
Since the beginning of its political life within Italy, South Tyrol was governed by the Südtiroler Volkspartei – the gathering party of the German-speaking population (now ruling in 107 municipalities out of 116). It was traditionally allied to the Italian Christian Democrats in those municipalities with a strong Italian presence; however, since the 1990s – following a major upheaval in the country's political system – the alliance is formed with the centre-left coalition (the Democratic party).
In the German group there are still some parties which fight for separation from Italy and annexation to Austria (Die Freiheitlichen; Süd-Tiroler Freiheit and Union für Südtirol), but this aspect has now somewhat subsided. The Ladin group also has a party, the Ladins, even though the Südtiroler Volkspartei is usually being supported. The Greens – it is worth noticing – are the only cross-cultural party, which cuts through ethnic and linguistic belonging towards a shared ideal.
After the reformation of 1972, with the Second Charter of Autonomy the province has been granted a higher power to legislate, while in the First Charter of Autonomy of 1948 this power was still only marginal.
This difference is huge, and it must not be underestimated: while all other Italian provinces have merely administrative functions, the two autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano have legislative powers in many matters usually of competence of the State or the Regions.
Particularly relevant for their impact are the competences in regards to health, school, education, work and transport. Financial autonomy is also very important, as 90% of the taxes paid remain in the territory; therefore, the province can count on 9,000 euros of yearly resources for each of its citizens against – just to put things in perspective – 2,000 euros in Lombardy (exceeded only by 12,000 in the Valle d’Aosta).
It is also worth spending a few words on how the Autonomy of the Province is actually delivered. The ‘Consiglio provinciale’ is a legislative body akin in all respects to a small parliament, composed of 35 members. It also exercises a controlling function in regards to the Provincial Municipality (‘Giunta Provinciale’).
The Giunta is presided by a Landeshauptmann, and it is today composed of the Südtiroler Volkspartei and the Italian Democratic party (centre-left coalition), which together have an absolute majority, owning 20 seats in the provincial parliament.
The entire territory of South Tyrol is further subdivided into 8 sub-units in the German manner (Bezirksgemeinschaften); these are administrative entities that are intermediate between the local authorities and the province, which delegates some functions in order to coordinate the work of the individual municipalities. The 8 ‘comunità comprensoriali’ (as they are called in Italian) are (in decreasing order of inhabitants): Bolzano/Bozen, Burgraviato/Burggrafenamt-Merano/Meran, Val Pusteria/Pustertal, Oltradige-Bassa Atesina/Überetsch-Unterland, Valle Isarco/Eisacktal, Salto-Sciliar/Salten-Schlern, Val Venosta/Vinschgau and Alta Valle Isarco/Wipptal.
Some Economic Aspects
The Economy of South Tyrol is today very diversified. The cultivation of fruits is highly developed: 10% of the apples in the EU – that is, 2% of the global production – are grown here, over a surface of about 18,000 hectares.
Thanks to the mild climate – especially along the so-called Strada del Vino/Weinstrasse, touching in sequence the five towns of Appiano/Eppan, Caldaro/Kaltern, Cortaccia/Kurtatsch, Cortina/Kurtinig and Termeno/Tramin – vineyards also grow particularly well.
Many wines have a D.O.C. (protected origin) label; amongst these, the Gewürztraminer, the Kalterersee, the St. Magdalener, the Weissburgunder and the Blauburgunder. Also worth remembering are the Schiava (or Vernatsch) and the Lagrein, two autochthonous wines typical of the region. Although the area covered by vineyards amounts to just about 1% of the national winemaking surface (5,100 hectares), this does not prevent the wines of South Tyrol from being appreciated nationwide and beyond, as they are starting to become better known far and wide.
From South Tyrol also comes a local brand of beer, Forst, which has a plant near Merano (in Lagundo/Algund), where it can be sampled. The same goes for the many cellars of the Bassa Atesina, where the local wines can be tried and tested, often accompanied by local dishes.
Industry has also known a major development over the last few decades, and it is worth pointing out that many efforts have been made in order to conjugate growth, environmental awareness and sustainable development. This province, in particular, has pointed in the direction of using more and more alternative energies: biomass, hydraulic power, solar power – and in the future there is a hope of using hydrogen too.
Without a doubt, however, tourism is the most important economic sector in the region, as there are some important skiing resorts (Plan de Corones/Kronplatz, 'Sellaronda', Plose and the skiing district of the Alta Val Pusteria/Hochpustertal – just to name but a few). There is also a spa in Merano, and a highly diversified cultural offer in art cities such as Bressanone/Brixen, Merano/Meran and Bolzano itself – especially since the mummy of iceman 'Ötzi' is hosted in the Natural History Museum.
But of course, the beauty of this quintessentially Alpine landscape – one that, in comparison to many other regions in the Alps, is lovingly cared for – represents the main calling of South Tyrol, so that one could say that summer holidays really form the ‘core’ offer of this territory – and figures speak for themselves: the province of Bolzano now hosts millions of tourists every year, making it the first in Italy for its presences – in front of such internationally renowned tourist hubs such as Venice and Rimini.
It goes without saying that this has created an unprecedented level of welfare, in an area that was once very poor (it is one the very few areas in the Alps that keep growing steadily and that see their population increasing; also, with a very low unemployment rate, one can really say that this is one of the few regions – not just in the Alps, but in the entire Europe – to enjoy full occupation). South Tyrol is now the second richest region in Italy after Lombardy.
South Tyrol has several ancient traditions, mainly inherited though its belonging – historically – to Tyrol. A few examples of such traditions, which are still present to this day, are the ‘Scheibenschlagen’ – literally, the “hurling of ardent discs” – the ‘Herz-Jesu-Feuer’ (the ‘Holy Heart Fires’ – so called as they take place around the 13th of June, the day commemorating Jesus’ Heart) and the tradition of Törggelen – that is, going around from farm to farm to sample and taste the new products at the end of season (notably chestnuts and wine – or grape products at large); finally, the ‘Krampus’ accompany the festivity of St. Nikolaus on the 6th of December.
Apart from these celebrations, there are various others legends and sagas connected to different areas and mountains, most notably the Catinaccio/Rosengarten; among the best known ones are the legend of King Laurin and the saga of the Fanes Kingdom, with princess Dolasilla.
Learn more about the culture of South Tyrol by consulting the page on the so-called ‘Culturonda Dolomythos’: an initiative that has been devised by the province, and whose aim is to propose twelve ways with which to explore culture in the Dolomites, divided into thematic areas.
The cuisine of South Tyrol is still very much alive, and traditional recipes are found in most restaurants. Among the best known dishes one must include Knödel (round dumplings made of bread and Speck, the local smoked ham, found also in nearby Trentino as 'canederli'), Kaiserschmarren (a sort of sweet omelette served with 'marmellata di mirtilli rossi' – akin in many respects to cranberry sauce), Schlutzkrapfen, Spätzle (green small gnocchi), Strauben, Strudel (the world renowned cake made with apple and raisins) and Tirtlen. But as anticipated above, perhaps the culinary emblem of the region is Speck, a ham smoked locally.
Transport and Communication
South Tyrol, for its position in the Alps’ heartland – and in particular thanks to the Brenner pass (the lowest pass in the entire Alpine range) – is at a fundamental crossroads between Central Europe and the Italian peninsula.
The well extended network of roads is being looked after by the province since 1998; nevertheless, they have maintained the denomination of ‘National Roads’. The Brenner railway line is the main artery, which connects Verona to Munich, and from which – like from the trunk of a tree – several secondary lines branch off, such as the ‘Ferrovia della Val Pusteria’ at Fortezza/Franzenfeste (to San Candido/Innichen) and the Bolzano-Merano line; this continues as ‘Ferrovia della Val Venosta’ all the way to Malles/Mals.
Interestingly, this latter branch line – which had been shut down in 1991 – instead of being dismantled (as it normally happens in such circumstances) was restored, and it has since been reopened (in 2005), to be integrated with the rest of the transport network. It is now a light-railway system belonging to the province, and operating a daily service that connects all townships along the Val Venosta/Vinschgau, very much appreciated by commuters and tourists alike.
A new gallery bypassing the Brenner is under construction, and it will avoid the steepest mountainous section between Fortezza/Franzenfeste and Innsbruck; also, the slow passenger line will be re-doubled soon.
An interesting feats of engineering is the Renon/Ritten railway (Rittnerbahn) – a line very much similar to a tram that originally connected the city of Bolzano to the Renon/Ritten plateau by means of a rack railway; today, part of the journey has been replaced instead by a newly established cable car (the ‘Funivia del Renon’; see below), and only the stretch between Maria Assunta/Himmelfahrt (the station just below Soprabolzano/Oberbozen, the arriving point of the cableway) and Collalbo/Klobenstein remains operative.
This small railway line runs through an idyllic scenery of woods and meadows, with enchanting views across the Isarco/Eisack valley to the Dolomites; the service is still carried out with historic carriageways. It is worth adding that the section now substituted by the cable cars can be walked almost all the way.
There is also a small branch line used in support of the industrial plants at Lasa/Laas, where marble is being extracted from the mountainside; this is an important example of industrial engineering.
Among the historical railway lines which have been dismantled for good (or so it seems, at this stage), and that are often the subject of nostalgic reminiscence, are to be included the following: Bolzano-Caldaro/Kaltern, Brunico/Bruneck-Campo Tures/Sand in Taufers, Lana-Postal/Burgstall, the Val Gardena/Grödnertal railway, the Val di Fiemme railway, which used to connect South Tyrol to Trentino, and the “Ferrovia delle Dolomiti”, linking Dobbiaco/Toblach to Cortina d'Ampezzo and further to Calalzo di Cadore.
Cable Cars and Funiculars
South Tyrol, because of its peculiar orographic situation in the middle of the Alpine range, hosts a considerable number of cable cars and other systems of transportations geared at surmounting steep gradients. Some of these infrastructures are quite old, and therefore – as well as being useful – today they have an historical relevance too. As well as the many cable cars that were created for tourist purposes – in particular for the practice of skiing – there are also several other infrastructures that simply connect elevated hamlets and townships to the valley floors.
In particular, it is worth remembering here the cable cars that start form the city of Bolzano, as these are often historical infrastructures, originally established as a useful way to connect the city to its higher suburbs or to other noteworthy locations.
The ‘Funivia del Colle/Herrenkohlern' was restructured in 2006, and it rises along the slopes of Monte Pozza up to the Colle di Villa (Bauernkohlern), at 1.134 m. The journey is only 7 mins long, and it covers a height difference of 872 m. As a note of curiosity, this is the first cable car infrastructure to have ever been opened in the world for moving people (in 1908), and one can still see an original carriage being exhibited at the upper station.
The ‘Funivia del Renon/Rittner Seilbahn' was activated in 1966 and it connects – in conjunction with the Renon/Ritten railway (see above for further details) – the city with the suburb of Soprabolzano/Oberbozen (literally, ‘Above Bolzano’). It was substituted in 2009 by a modern cableway with increased capacity, running every 4 mins. The journey is just under 12 mins long, and it covers a difference in altitude of 950 m.
The ‘Funivia di S. Genesio/Seilbahn Jenesien' was realized in the 1930s, and again it serves to connect the city with the wealthy suburban town of S. Genesio Atesino/Jenesien, at the edge of the Salto (Salten) plateau. The journey is also about 12 mins long, with a difference in height of around 740 m.
Funiculars are quite well-represented too; among the many present, one should at least include:
The Mendola Funicular, which is characterized by its noteworthy length and a very steep gradient; it connects the town of Caldaro/Kaltern in the Bassa Atesina with the Mendola/Mendel pass, while the Gardena Ronda Express and the Rasciesa Funicular are reaching two important ski resorts.
Two funiculars also belong to the historical past of the city of Bolzano: the ‘Funiculare del Virgolo/Virglbahn’ (destroyed during WW2 and later substituted by a cable car, now also closed) and the ‘Funiculare del Gùncina/Guntschnabahn’, dismissed during the 1960s.
The entire province is zigzagged by an extensive network of cycle paths – either urban or connecting towns and villages along the main valley floors; the network is in constant expansion. In the last few years, the cycle paths network has also been further developed, so that all the main valleys are more and more connected between each other and to the surrounding bordering regions.
Particularly important are the cycle path along the val Pusteria/Pustertal, which continues well beyond the National border at Prato alla Drava/Winnebach into Austria (a famous roundtrip excursion to Lienz can be made from here), as well as the Adige valley cycle path, connected with the Trentino cycle network past Salorno/Salurn; the prosecution of this path in the opposite direction – along the Isarco/Eisack valley – goes all the way to the Brenner pass, and continues further beyond into Austria towards Innsbruck.
An interesting combination can be had in the Val Venosta/Vinschgau, where cycling can be combined with the ‘Ferrovia della Val Venosta’ until Malles/Mals (as a matter of fact, this applies to the ‘Ferrovia della Val Pusteria’ too). In both valleys, one can easily hop on and off the train, and decide either to cycle only for smaller stretches between stations or to go for longer rides and then use the train for the journey back (the Dobbiaco/Toblach-Lienz roundtrip mentioned above is usually made in this fashion, for example).
On that note, another noteworthy cycle path to mention is the one that has been created along the track of the dismissed “Ferrovia delle Dolomiti” between Dobbiaco/Toblach and Cortina d'Ampezzo – this one in turn connecting South Tyrol to the Dolomites’ section belonging to the Veneto.
It is worth adding that because of this extensive cycle network, South Tyrol lends itself particularly well to cycle tourism, either if you are visiting an area or valley in detail, or if you are planning a wider cycle tour through the Alps which implies crossing the region.
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