The Val Canale: Meeting Point of Three Cultures in an Alpine Setting, with Historic Forests and Enchanting Lakes.

The Val Canale (Val Cjanâl in Friulan language, Kanalska dolina in Slovene, Kanaltal in German – which can literally be translated as Canal Valley into English) is a valley of the Oriental Alps, extended between Pontebba in the west and the Coccau Pass in the east, with a predominant west-east direction.


The Val Canale is crossed in its initial section by the river Fella – a tributary of the Tagliamento – and the Slizza stream, which can be encountered after the ‘Sella di Camporosso’ (816 m), which represents a watershed that divides the two hydrographic basins (this is expalined in more detail just below).

The Val Canale separates the Carnian Alps (Alpi Carniche) to the west from the Julian Alps (Alpi Giulie) to the east. The man centers in the valley are:

  • Tarvisio
  • Malborghetto-Valbruna
  • Pontebba – but only the section of territory to the hydrographic left of the Pontebbana stream.

These centers are all described in more detail in the following sections of the page.


The Val Canale was annexed to Italy with the Treaty of Saint-Germain in 1919; before this date, the majority of the valley had been part – for centuries – of the Duchy of Carinthia, while its oriental secton had belonged, since the 11th Century, to the Duchy of Carniola. With the treaty over the so-called ‘options’, signed in 1939 between Germany and Italy, 80% of the Germans (circa 5.600) and about 100 Slovenes left the Italian territory towards Germany. Only about 20% returned after the war, while the majority preferred to remain in what is actually Carinthia (Austria). In year 2000 there was still about 20% of the local German and Slovene autochthonous population in the Val Canale.

The German and Slovenian characteres remain detectable today, more than anything, in the architecture. Typical houses in Carinthian style can be seen in Oltreacqua-SantAntonio. The hamlet around the Sanctuary in Monte Lussari (German Luschariberg; described in more detail below) also displays buildings in Carinthian style. A beautiful church in typical Carinthian style can be admired in Camporosso (German Saifnitz).


From a linguistic point of view, the Val Canale represents a unique case in the European cultural panorama, as within it coexist Neo-latin (Friulan and Italian), Slavs (Slovenian) and Germanic (Carinthian) native speakers. In particular, for Slavs and Germanic peoples, this represents a ‘linguistic peninsula’, as it were - as it borders with both Austria and Slovenia.

The Friulan, Slovenian and German linguistic minority are now protected by a law of the Italian State, which regulates all matters concerning linguistic minorities.

The Sella di Camporosso

The Sella di Camporosso (Saifnitzer Sattel) is a pass situated in the Val Canale, in the Julian Alps, at 816 m of altitude. For this reason, it is the lowest pass in the Alps, located right on the watershed between Malborghetto – where the river Fella flows, whose waters drain into the Tagliamento and end up in the Adriatic sea – and Tarvisio, where the Slizza (Gailitz) stream flows, whose waters drain into the Gail (then the Drava/Drau, Danube, and finally the Black Sea).

The pass is located between Camporosso (Saifnitz) – a frazione of Tarvisio – and Valbruna (Wolfsbach), in the municipality of Malborghetto.

It is crossed by the National Road SS 13 Pontebbana, by the Pontebbana railway, and the Autostrada A23 Alpe-Adria (motorway).

The Municipality of Tarvisio

Tarvisio (German and Friulian: Tarvis, Slovene: Trbiž) is a comune (municipality) in the Province of Udine, located in the north-easternmost part of the autonomous Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Northern Italy.

The town is situated in the Canal Valley (Val Canale), ‘squeezed’ between the Carnic Alps and Karawanks ranges in the north, and the Julian Alps to the south.

Located at the border with both Austria and Slovenia, Tarvisio and the neighbouring municipalities of Arnoldstein (Austria) and Kranjska Gora (Slovenia) form the ‘triangular’ meeting point of Romance, Germanic and Slavic Europe. The height west of the town centre (‘Sella di Camporosso’/Saifnitzer Sattel, 816 m; also described above) marks the watershed between the Slizza creek – a tributary of the Gail River, which is part of the Danube basin – and the Fella River: a tributary of the Tagliamento discharging into the Adriatic Sea.

Tarvisio has access to the Autostrada A23 Alpe-Adria (motorway), part of the European route E55, running from the Austrian border to Udine, and further south to the Autostrada A4 at Palmanova. Tarvisio railway station is located on the new Pontebbana line from Villach to Udine opened in 2000, which replaces the tracks of the former Austro-Hungarian Staatsbahn built in 1879.


Despite the modest elevation, the town has a continental climate with harsh, cold winters (lowest recorded temperature is −23° C / −9° F in January 1985). Summers can be very hot; the highest temperature of 37° C / 99° F was recorded in July 1983.


Until 1918, the town – as the rest of the Canal Valley (Val Canale) – was overwhelmingly German and Slovenian-speaking. Today, residents of the municipality mostly speak Italian; Germans and Slovenes, however, make up a substantial minority (about 20%). In 2012, the mayor put up multilingual signs in four languages: Italian, German, Slovene and Friulian, declaring “the inhabitants deserve to use their mother tongues freely”: an apt statement for a community that always has always stood at theborder, and at the threshold between different cultures.


As a town built along ancient trade routes across the Alps to Venice, Tarvisios roots date back to Roman times. In 1007 Emperor Henry II vested the newly created Diocese of Bamberg with territories that included the then Carinthian Canal Valley (Val Canale), all the way down to Pontebba: a region which had considerable importance because of nearby ore mines and ironworks – especially around the village of Fusine in Valromana (Weißenfels/Bela Peč/Fusinis; described below). Tarvisio remained a southern exclave of the Prince-Bishop of Bamberg, until in 1758 the Bishop finally sold the town to the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Until 1918 Tarvisio was part of the Duchy of Carinthia; it received town privileges in 1909.

Main sights

Tarvisio features include the parish church of the Saints Peter and Paul, built in the 15th century, displaying the typical onion-domed belltower – which is an undoutable sign of German origin – as well as outstanding natural sceneries like the Laghi di Fusine (Fusine lakes). At the summit of the 1,789-metre (5,869 ft) high Mount Lussari (Luschariberg/Svete Višarje; read below) is a pilgrimage church where, according to legend, in 1360 a shepherd discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary. The church and the nearby ski centre can easily be reached by cable car from Camporosso. The area around the Sella Nevea mountain pass (1,190 m) – between the municipalities of Tarvisio and Chiusaforte – is also a popular ski resort.


For decades, Tarvisio has benefited economically from people coming from Austria and Yugoslavia for shopping trips. However, trade at the notorious ‘Rag Market’ diminished considerably after the implementation of the Schengen agreement and the establishment of the Eurozone. Today, tourism and winter sports in the Karawanks, Carnic Alps and Julian Alps have become the most important local industry. Tarvisio is well-known for its heavy Alpine snow, which attracts many tourists for skiing and snowboarding – especially school groups.


The comune of Tarvisio includes the following frazioni (fractional parishes):

Names in: Italian (German, Slovene, Friulian):

  • Camporosso (Saifnitz, Žabnice, Cjamparos)
  • Cave del Predil (Raibl, Rabelj, Rabil/Predil)
  • Coccau (Goggau, Kokova, Cocau)
  • Fusine in Valromana (Weißenfels/Weissenfels, Fužine/Bela Peč, Fusinis)
  • Monte Lussari (Luschariberg, Sv.Višárje, Mont Sante di Lussàri)
  • Muda (Mauth, Múta, Mude)
  • Plezzut (Flitschl, Flíčl, Pleçùt)
  • Poscolle (Hinterschloss, Zágradec, Puscuèl)
  • Rutte (Greuth, Trbiške rute, Rute)
  • Sant'Antonio (Sankt Anton, Sant Antòni)
  • Riofreddo (Kaltwasser, Mrzla Voda)

The main frazioni (highlighted above) will be described in more detail below.

The frazione of Cave del Predil

Cave del Predil (German: Raibl, Slovene: Rabelj) is a frazione (subdivision) of the comune of Tarvisio. The hamlet is located about 15 km (9 mi) south of the town centre, in the valley of the Rio del Lago stream (Seebach), along the road to the Predil Pass (1,156 m) in the western Julian Alps, close to the border with Slovenia.

A lead and zinc mining settlement was established here about 1320, then part of the Carinthian possessions of the Prince-Bishop of Bamberg. The Bishop also gained control over the trade route across the mountain pass leading to the city of Cividale del Friuli – the importance of which, however, diminished after the Friulian lands had been conquered by the Republic of Venice in 1420. Bamberg finally sold the area to Empress Maria Theresa of Austria in 1759, who incorporated it into the Hapsburg Monarchy.

With the Duchy of Carinthia, Cave del Predil was part of Austria-Hungary until World War I, but by 1919 (with the Treaty of Saint-Germain) it came under control of the Kingdom of Italy. Its mines operated until 1991; since then, the population has strongly decreased. On a curios note, a tunnel – originally used for water drainage, and then for the transport of miners and political refugees escaping from Communist Yugoslavia – connects the village with Log pod Mangartom, in nearby Slovenia.

The frazione of Coccau

Coccau (Cocau in Friulan, Goccau in German, Kokova in Slovenian) is a ‘frazione’ of the municipality of Tarvisio.

The settlement is divided into Coccau di Sopra, Coccau di Sotto and Coccau Valico. In this latter part passes the boundary between Italy and Austria, as decreed by the Treaty of Saint-Germain after the end of WW1 in 1919.

The frazione of Fusine in Valromana

Fusine in Valromana (Slovene: Bela Peč, German: Weißenfels) is another frazione (fractional parish) of the comune (municipality) of Tarvisio.

The locality takes its name from the Slovene (Fužine) and Friulian (Fusinis) – terms that denoted the presence of historic ironworks sites. The Italian name is a slight modification from the Friulan, with in Valromana added referring to an adjacent valley, which however is located a fair way off. The Slovene denotation Bela Peč – like the German name Weißenfels (literally “white rock”) – refers instead to a historic castle erected by the Counts of Celje in the early 15th century.


The hamlet is located in the western Julian Alps, about 8 km (5 mi) east of Tarvisio town centre and close to the point where the borders of Slovenia, Austria, and Italy meet. It is a stop along the Italian highway No. 54 (SS 54), which leads from Tarvisio to the Slovenian border through the Fusine saddle (‘Valico di Fusine’ or Rateče Pass, 850 m), which continues on to Podkoren via Rateče, then leading further to the town of Kranjska Gora, down in the upper Sava valley (Sava dolinka).

The mountains and lakes in the vicinity of Fusine in Valromana are popular destinations for mountaineers and trekkers. The upper and lower lakes known as Laghi di Fusine (Fusine lakes) are fed by artesian springs, arising from the northern face of the majestic Mangart peak (2,677 m / 8,783 ft), and attract many tourists.

The area immediately surrounding both lakes is protected by the 45-hectare scenic Natural Park called Parco Naturale dei Laghi di Fusine (Fusine Nature Park), while meadows and pasture lands above the lake belong to the Fusine in Valromana pasture cooperative. This area includes the entire valley, with about 180 hectares of Alpine pastureland and 200 hectares of forest.


A first mining settlement was probably established about 1320, when the area was still part of the March of Carniola. Unlike other neighbouring villages in the west, the easternmost part of the Canal Valley (Val Canale) was not included in the Carinthian possessions of the Prince Bishop of Bamberg, which were granted him by King Henry II of Germany in 1007.

In 1404, the reigning Ortenburg count Frederick III gave the consort Bartholomew the right to build a forge, which established the iron industry in the area and instigated the settlement of German-speaking workers. Several more forges were operating within the village by 1456, when cooperation agreements were made with the Austrian House of Habsburg, which had inherited the estates from the last Count of Celje, Ulrich II.

The Lordship of Weißenfels remained the north-westernmost part of the Habsburg Duchy of Carniola, and from 1804 it fell under the control of the Austrian Empire and of Austria-Hungary until the end of WW1. According to the terms of the 1919 Treaty of St. Germain, it then passed under the authority of the Kingdom of Italy.

The frazione of Monte Lussari

Monte Lussari is a jewel of incomparable beauty; here you can see (and enjoy) the wonderful natural scene of majestic high mountain peaks. This place is not only an important naturalistic site, but also a Sanctuary – a Sanctuary that brings the Slavic, Italian and German ethnic stocks together. In the 16th century the mountain was already the destination of pilgrimages for the three people; today it can undoubtedly be considered as a European Sanctuary.

According to an ancient tradition, in 1360 a shepherd from Camporosso lost his flock of sheep, which he found shortly after around a pine bush. With great wonder, he noticed that in the center of the bush there was also a little statue of a Madonna with the Baby. He took the statue with him and brought it down in the valley, and carried it to the Parish priest of Camporosso. But the following morning the statue was found again on the Lussari mountain, surrounded as before by sheep kneeling down. Such episode was repeated another time. The Parish priest informed about the fact the Patriarch of Aquileia, who therefore ordered that on the place in which the statue was found a chapel should be constructed.

Today the original chapel exists no more; it was replaced instead in the 1500s by the actual chorus, made all in stone – as the vault. In 1760 the community of Slovenian believers celebrated the fourth centenary of the Sanctuary. In 1786, the then Emperor of Austria – Joseph the Second – prohibited the celebration of whichever religious function inside the church. The building was therefore closed; the interior was stripped of all its sacred objects, and the pilgrimages were prohibited. But in 1790 the successor, his brother Leopoldo, cancelled the decree: the Madonna could therefore return to her dwelling on Mount Lussari. In 1807 a lighting hit and destroyed the wooden part of the church; however, the industrious believers rebuilt it in a short time, expanding it.

In 1915 the Sanctuary was caught in the combat lines of the Great War; on September 16th a bomb was launched against the church and caused a fire, which destroyed it. Under the order of the then Parish priest, Padre Pio, the statue was carried downhill by the keeper of the church. From the day of Pentecost to the month of July it was conserved in the presbytery of the parish church at Camporosso; later it was carried out to Villach, Klagenfurt and Maribor, in the Basilica of the “Madonna delle Grazie”. In September 1920, it was taken to the Church of the Pilgrims of the Saint Cross in Davograd; in August of the successive year it could return to Camporosso: on June 24th, 1925, it was finally replaced in the small church on the Mount, which meanwhile was being reconstructed.

During the Second world-wide conflict the Sanctuary also remained closed: the statue of the Virgin Mary was transported again in the presbytery of the parish church at Camporosso, where it remained from August 1943 until August 1945, when it was taken back to its home on Mt. Lussari for good.

In 1960, the sixth anniversary of the Sanctuary was celebrated: on that occasion, the church was restored, and a lot of the works to renovate the houses around the Sanctuary were started. The most important restoration coincided with the Jubilee of 2000, when a lot of maintenance works were executed in the Sanctuary, and the presbytery was completely renewed.

Mt. Lussari has always been a place of pilgrimage of excellence for the Slovenian population. The interior of the church holds valuable paintings; they were executed by the Slovenian painter Tone Kralj: there is a representation of “The Comforting Madonna of the Plagued”, “The Annunciation”, “The Flight to Egypt”, “Twelve-year-old-Jesus in the Temple”, “Maria who prays under the Cross” and “The Coronation of the Virgin”. The season of the summer pilgrimages starts in June and finishes on the first Sunday in October.

Opening times vary slightly from year to year; in the summer season of 2016 the visits at Monte Lussari will follow the following schedule: from June 20th through to September 18th daily; September: 25th, 26th; October: 2nd, 3rd. Hours: weekdays: 9.00 – 17.15; holidays: 8.30 – 18.15. Bear in mind that the last run of the cable car down to Camporosso is also at 17.15 on weekdays and at 18.15 at the weekends/holidays. [In 2020, as I am updating this page, all this is being changed and revised because of the Covid-19 emergency, so it is best to visit the website before coming, to make sure of the opening times].

The Municipality of Malborghetto-Valbruna

Malborghetto-Valbruna (Friulian: Malborghet-Valbrune, Slovene: Naborjet-Ovčja ves; German: Malborgeth-Wolfsbach) is a comune (municipality) in the Province of Udine, in the Italian region Friuli-Venezia Giulia.


Malborghetto-Valbruna is located about 100 kilometres (62 mi) northwest of Trieste and about 50 kilometres (31 mi) northeast of the regional capital Udine, not far from the border with Austria. It is one of the three municipalities of the Canal Valley (Val Canale), along the Fella River, in a central position between Tarvisio in the east and Pontebba in the west.

In the north, the crest of the Carnic Alps forms the border with the Austrian region of Carinthia and the neighbouring municipalities of Hermagor-Pressegger See, Sankt Stefan im Gailtal, Feistritz an der Gail and Hohenthurn. In the south, the Jôf di Montasio (2,752 m/9,029 ft) massif of the Julian Alps separates the territory of Malborghetto-Valbruna from the Italian municipalities of Chiusaforte and Dogna.

Beside the villages of Malborghetto and Valbruna, the municipal area includes the frazioni of Bagni di Lusnizza (Lusniz, Lužnice, Lusnitz), Santa Caterina (Sante Catarine, Šenkatríja, St. Kathrein) and Ugovizza (Ugovize, Ukve, Uggowitz), as well as the localitiy of Cucco (Cuc, Kuk, Kúk). Ugovizza-Valbruna station is a stop on the Pontebbana railway line from Udine to Tarvisio, which was largely rebuilt in the year 2000. Valbruna also has access to the Autostrada A23 Alpe-Adria (motorway), running from the Austrian border to Udine as part of the European route E55.


For centuries, German-, Romance- (Italian and Friulian) as well as Slavic- (Slovene) speaking people settled in the Canal Valley (Val Canale), which from 1077 was ruled by the Carinthian duke Liutold of Eppenstein, while King Henry IV of Germany ceded the adjacent territory of the Imperial March of Verona (in the south) to the Patriarchate of Aquileia. While the Aquileia territory was gradually conquered by Venice and incorporated into the Domini di Terraferma by 1433, the settlement then named Buonborgeth (which could roughly be translated as ‘Good Borough’) remained part of the Carinthian possessions held by the Prince-Bishops of Bamberg. The village – economically relevant for its iron ore and silver deposits at Valbruna, as well as for its forests – then had its name changed, and received the epithet of Malborgeth (turned into the current Italian Malborghetto, 'Bad Borough’) due to the constant border quarrels with the Serenissima.

The Austrian Habsburgs – dukes of Carinthia since 1335 – had a border fortress built at Malborgeth, which was occupied by Venice in 1616, then by the French Revolutionary troops led by General Masséna during the War of the First Coalition in 1797, and finally by the French Imperial forces under Napoleon's stepson (Eugène de Beauharnais) in 1805. Attacked again by Beauharnais’ troops during the War of the Fifth Coalition in 1809, the fortress was defended by an Austrian contingent under the command of Captain Friedrich Hensel. The Austrian finally succumbed to the French, but prevented their arrival at the Battle of Aspern-Esling, where Archduke Charles was able to repel Napoleon’s forces. The Malborgeth fortress was then re-named Fort Hensel in honour of the captain, who was killed in the battle.

After WW1 and the dissolution of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Malborghetto – together with the rest of the Canal Valley (Val Canale) – was adjudicated to the Kingdom of Italy, according to the Treaty of Saint-Germain and the 1915 London Pact. During the course of the 1939 South Tyrol Option Agreement between Italy and Germany, most of the local German-speaking population was resettled to Carinthia.

Demographic evolution

As of 31 December 2004, Malborghetto-Valbruna had a population of 1,025 and an area of 120.5 km². According to the 1971 census, 46,2% of the population were Slovene.

The Municipality of Pontebba

Pontebba (Pontebe in standard Friulan language, Ponteibe in Carnic Friulan, Tablja in Slovenian, Puntafel in German – a name that only designates the German section of town, however) is an Italian municipality of 1,527 inhabitants of the Province of Udine, in Friuli-Venezia Giulia.


The ancient stone demarcating the historic boundary carries an iscription dating back to the “Impero d’Austria – Ducato di Carinzia” (Austrian Empire/Duchy of Carinthia)  10 miriametri da Klagenfurt” (myriameters – an ancient unity of measurement – from Klagenfurt).

The town is crossed by the Pontebbana stream, which, until 1919, marked the boundary between Italy and Austria, thus dividing the town into two parts – which, as a matter of fact, were at one time also two separate municipalities: Pontebba (Italy – ‘Provincia del Friuli’) and Pontafel (Austria – Carinthia). This ancient boundary, dating back to the Venetian time, has constituted for centuries a barrier – not only political, but also cultural – between the Val Canale (of predominantly German and Slovenian language) and the other valleys of Friuli. The Pontebbana stream flows soon after into the river Fella, which skirts the town centre of Pontebba as it descends through the Val Canale.

Anthropic Geography

Main Frazioni:

  • Aupa (Friulan Aupe)
  • Frattis (Friulan Frattis)
  • Pietratagliata (Friulan Perteade o Pieretaiade).
  • Laglesie-San Leopoldo (Friulan La Glesie, Slovenian Lipalja vas, German Leopoldskirchen) – this hamlet (‘frazione’) is rather famous in the field of linguistics, as it has been several times the object of study: it was precisely here, in fact, that – until 20-30 yearso ago – lived a relevant number of people (now in constant decrease) speaking correctly – besides Italian – also all the other languages that are beink spoken in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and now recognised as ‘minorities’ by the Italian State (Friulan, Slovenian and German). Nevertheless, the Comune di Pontebba (Municipality of Pontebba) is included only in the list of municipalities with historic Friulan-speaking and German-speaking communities, and does not befall, therefore, in the list of ‘Comuni’ with Slovenian-speaking minorities.
  • Studena Alta (Friulan Studene Alte)
  • Studena Bassa (Friulan Studene Basse)


For a long time, the Val Canale fell into the jurisdiction of the Prince-Bishops of Bamberg (in Bayern, Germany). The Canal del Ferro (the Fella valley south of Pontebba) gravitated instead onto the Italian area, with the Patriarchal feuds belonging to the Abbey of Moggio Udinese before, and to Carnia (when administered by the Venetian Republic) afterwards. For the four centuries of dominion of the ‘Serenissima’, the boundary with the Austrian territories was passing right through Pontebba: there was, at that time, a ‘Venetian’ Pontebba and an ‘Imperial’ Pontebba (Pontafel), separated by the Pontebbana stream. Once annexed to Italy in 1918, Pontafel then took the name of ‘Pontebba Nuova’, and was joined with the other Pontebba in 1924. In 1926 the former municipality of La Glesie-San Leopoldo was also aggregated to Pontebba.

In 1976, the territory of Pontebba was devastated by the earthquake, which provoked several collpases and extensive damage. Pontebba was later awarded the decoration of the “Medaglia dOro al Merito Civile” (‘Golden Medal for Civil Value’) for the difficult endeavor of reconstruction of the town.

Language and Dialects

As the other two municipalities of the Val Canale, described above (Malborghetto-Valbruna and Tarvisio), Pontebba is also a plurilingual reality in which – besides Italian – Friulan, Slovenian and German are spoken.

In reality, the linguistic situation has changed considerably over the course of the centuries; it is interesting, in particular, to consider the case of the Friulan language – but in order to explain it, it is necessary to report some historic peculiarities first. Before annexation to the Kingdom of Italy, both the ‘frazione’ of San Leopoldo and the actual part of Pontebba that is known in German as Pontafel – and in Friulan Puntafel (the section of Pontebba to the left of the Pontebbana stream) – have constituted two self-standing municipalities (‘Comuni’) of their own, part – since centuries – of the cultural area of Carinthia.

San Leopoldo (described in more detail below) was diverse ethnically and linguistically from Pontafel, as in it both German and Slovenian were spoken (as still today in the greatest part of southern Carinthia), while in Pontafel the language used was almost exclusively German. Both in San Leopoldo and in Pontafel, the Friulan language (before 1919 spoken only in the part of the current territory of the municipality to the right of the Pontebbana stream) has grown in presence only after that date (1919) – and even more following the annexation of the two municipalities, formerly autonomous, to that of ‘unified’ Pontebba (Pontebba Nuova/Pontafel, 1924; San Leopoldo, 1926), as well as after the ‘Options’ of 1939. These events, as a matter of fact, have encouraged the immigration of families from the rest of Friuli and of Italy.

After the Italian, in the whole territory of the municipality of Pontebba, currently, it is precisely the Friulan the most widespread and vital language. In the typical variant of Pontebba, it is distinguished by two types: ‘Carnico’ (Carnian) and ‘centrale’ (central). German is almost completely disappeared from the ‘capoluogo’ (the town centre), but it survives – albeit patchy – in the part of town still known as Puntafel (in Friulan; Pontafel in German) – as well as in San Leopoldo.

From the point of view of legal protection of the linguistic minorities, in the municipality of Pontebba is applied the Regional Law (18 December 2007, no. 29 Norme per la tutela, valorizzazione e promozione della lingua friulana”), with which the Region Friuli Venezia Giulia protects linguistic minorities, and all official denominations must be in standard and local Friulan, as established for all the ‘Comuni’ in which Friulan is effectively spoken. In the municipality, also subject to protection are the German-speaking linguistic communities of San Leopoldo/Leopoldskirchen and Pontafel. The Slovenian dialect spoken in San Leopoldo is also the object of studies and research on the part of the linguistic International scientific community – but at this stage it does not enjoy any degree of legislative protection.

San Leopoldo-La Glesie

Until before the Opzioni (‘Options’) of 1939, in San Leopoldo (Slovenian Lipalja vas) Slovenian was currently spoken in the dialect variant known as ‘diepuško’ (linguistically akin to ‘zegliano/ziljsko – a dialect group of Slovenian spoken in Carinthia). A plaque witnessing the presence of a Slovenian dialect in the village (Umgangssprache; pogovorni jezik) is fixed to the left of the entrance door to the village church of St. Gertrud – in which, reflecting precisely its status of language of current use in the community, it is stated that the services were once officiated in High-Slovenian. Of Slovenian origin are also many of the names in vulgo of the local homes. Nowadays, however, in San Leopoldo the Slovenian dialect is spoken only by very few inhabitants. The remaning part of the population, often descending from immigrants to the village following the already mentioned ‘Opzioni’, seems to have only a vague historic memory of this linguistic change. Additionally, also in this frazione – as we were already saying before – after the Italian, now the more spoken minority language is Friulan, followed by German, which survives a bit better than Slovenian.

Culture and Folkore

The ‘Festa della Tae’

Pontebba is the only remaining locality of the Valcanale in which the feast called ‘Festa della Tae’ – but also known as ‘Festa del Cioch, ‘del Puch or even ‘Ploch – is celebrated: a manifestation that usually takes place in the second to last Sunday of Carnival. ‘La Tae’ – that is, a tree trunk (normally of spruce) – is being cut and embellished by the youngsters of the village, to then be taken around the streets and finally be sold at an auction.

The ‘Krampus’

Each year, on the 8th of December, the Krampus of Pontebba parade the streets, and are joined by groups from Hermagor (and surroundings), Malborghetto, Coccau, Cave del Predil – and many others.

Monuments and Other Items of Interest

Pontebba possesses a Gothic church of a certain interest, Santa Maria Maggiore, built over the years straddling the 15th and 16th centuries. In the interior, a Flügealtar can be admired – an exquisite wooden altar attribuited to Wolfang Haller – and a painting by Palma il Giovane that portrays a ‘Madonna con i Santi Rocco e Sebastiano, from the third decade of the 17th century. The building has been completely renovated after the severe damages caused by the earthquake of 1976.

The Palazzo Municipale (Town Hall), erected in 1923, is the work of architect Provino Valle, and it stands in the main square (‘piazza’) of Pontebba.

In the village there are also a few other historic buildings worth noticing:

  • Casa Micossi (18th century): belonging to the Micossi family, who arrived from Carinthia in the 1500s;
  • Casa Gaspero-Rizzi: this house is the most ancient in town, and it dates to the 17th century. In 1870 it became the seat of a spinning mill, owned by Leonardo Di Gaspero.

The Venetian lions date back to the 17th – 18th century: these are bas-reliefs, sculpted and inserted in different locations: in the right embankment of the Pontebbana stream, in the vicinity of Piazza Garibaldi (the so-called ‘Leone della Rosta’), within the balustrade of the Palazzo Comunale and in the containment wall of the stream’s embankment itself.

Notable people connected to Pontebba include:

  • Arturo Zardini, composer and poet, author of the traditional song Stelutis alpinis;
  • Ernesto Lomasti, Italian mountaineer;
  • Alberto Primicerj, belonging to the ‘Corpo d’Armata dell’Esercito Italiano’, since 2009 Captain of the Alpine Troops (‘Truppe Alpine’).

Economy and Tourism

Pontebba lies at the foot of the ski area of ‘Nassfeld-Pramollo’ – the largest ski carrousel in Carinthia (Austria), straddling the border with Italy.


There is a local, historical ice-hockey team in Pontebba.

The Ice Rink (‘Palaghiaccio’) in Pontebba often hosts important hockey competitions too.

Return from Val Canale to Julian Alps

Return from Val Canale to Italy-Tours-in-Nature

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