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Useful Info * Alto Adige - South Tyrol

History of Alto Adige/South Tyrol

Buongiorno! Gutentag!
Entering the province of Bolzano, it immediately becomes obvious that this area is quite different from the one we have just left. Everything is written in two languages: Italian and German. This is a sign that we are in Alto Adige/South Tyrol, the border area between Italy and Austria.

The population of Alto Adige/South Tyrol, about 500,000 people, consists of 70% German speakers, 25% Italian speakers and 5% Ladin speakers. So do not be surprised if you are greeted in one language or the other, or in both, when you go into a hotel, shop or bar. Just respond in the language that you speak and the other person will immediately understand which language you prefer to use. This is a normal situation for those who were born here or live in Alto Adige/South Tyrol but can be a surprise for foreigners visiting the province for the first time. These brief historical notes that we have prepared may help you to better understand this meeting place of cultures: Alto Adige/South Tyrol.

Ötzi and the Romans
The first signs of human presence in this region date back to the end of the last ice age around 12,000 BC. As the glaciers gradually retreated, the first people moved up the valleys to hunt and later to engage in sheep farming and agriculture. The first rural settlements can be traced back to 5,000 years BC. The iceman known as Ötzi, discovered in a glacier in 1991, lived around 3,200 BC. The mummified body of Ötzi is exhibited at the Archaeological Museum of Alto Adige/South Tyrol in Bolzano, along with his clothing and equipment. These finds are considered of great importance in world archaeology for the study of human life in that period.
With the discovery of copper in the area of Tyrol came the development of trade with places further and further afield. The Resia Pass and the Brenner Pass, the latter the lowest pass in the Alps, offered traders easy north-south routes through the mountains. Basically, since the dawn of time Alto Adige/South Tyrol has witnessed the transit, from south to north and vice versa, of people with different languages and cultures, merchants and armies, who often left behind signs of their passage. In 15 AC Drusus, adopted son of Emperor Augustus, led an expedition in order to secure the north of the Empire. Drusus marched through the Adige valley with his troops while his brother Tiberius set off from the north of the Alps. The local tribes were left with no way of escape. The survivors of the battles were made slaves or enlisted into military service and the region was divided into the Roman provinces of Raetia, Noricum and Venetia cum Histris.
With the fall of the Roman Empire the territory of Alto Adige/South Tyrol saw the passage of numerous barbarian tribes: Ostrogoths, Franks, Lombards, Slavs and Bavarians. These continual invasions forced the local inhabitants to take refuge on the high ground and in the minor valleys of the region. The Ladin peoples of the Gardena, Badia, Fassa and Ampezzo valleys are the descendents of these “refugees”. The Ladin language still retains Latin and Rhaetian elements.

The Middle Ages, the birth of Tyrol and Napoleon
In the XI century Emperor Corrado II granted the territorial administration of the region to the bishops of Trento and Bressanone/Brixen, introducing also in this area the figure of the prince-bishop. Meanwhile, the Counts of Tyrol emerged from among the powerful local families. Mainardo II of Tyrol was the author of the constitution of the regional state (1258-1295). In less than thirty years, Mainardo II gained the upper hand over the bishops and managed to unify the region, which took the name 'Tyrol'. In 1363, with the abdication of Margareta "Maultasch", the last heir of the Counts of Tyrol, the region was taken into the domain of the Habsburgs and remained there, almost uninterruptedly, until 1918.
In 1420 Ferdinando IV moved the capital from Merano/Meran to Innsbruck. Tyrol experienced a calmer period and benefited from strong economic growth financed by income from the mines. After 1490, governed directly by the Emperor Massimiliano I, Tyrol became one of the centres of European politics. In 1511 Massimiliano granted the Tyroleans the right to set up their own militia to defend their territory and exempted them from the obligation of participating in military interventions outside Tyrol (Tiroler Landlibell).
In 1525, on the wave of the Reformation, the population rose up against the high taxes and the privileges enjoyed by the nobility and the clergy. This popular uprising, led by Michael Gaismair, was known as the "Peasants´ War". Gaismair proposed the creation of a democratic, Lutheran peasant republic, without serfdom. However, this dream was crushed with much bloodshed and Gaismair was assassinated. During the same period the Anabaptists were persecuted to death by the state and the church, while witch hunting spread in the valleys. The Counter-Reformation began with the Council of Trent (1545-1563).
In the XVI century the centre of the Empire moved towards the east following the conquest of Hungary and Bohemia. Tyrol became a peripheral region of the monarchy, administrated by a governor nominated in Vienna. International events, however, brought Tyrol back into the foreground. In 1805 Austria was forced to surrender Tyrol to Bavaria, which was allied with Napoleon, and in 1808 a constitution was introduced which put an end to the historic state of Tyrol. The Tyrolean people became ordinary Bavarian citizens with the obligation of military service.
When Austria again went to war against Napoleon, the Tyroleans also rose up and soon won three important victories at Berg Isel near Innsbruck. However, when the Austrians were overwhelmed, the Tyrolean resistance was also suffocated despite a desperate struggle. Andreas Hofer, commander of the popular militia known as the “Schützen”, was captured and executed in Mantova.
In 1813 Tyrol was returned to Austria and became part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. In 1866 Austria lost the region of Veneto to the newly founded Kingdom of Italy. Tyrol now became the southernmost point of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The two World Wars, Austria and Italy, the gain of autonomy
The end of the First World War saw the dissolution the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the signature of the Peace Treaty of Saint-Germain, which gave Alto Adige/South Tyrol to the Kingdom of Italy, separating it from northern Tyrol. Approximately 220,000 German and Ladin-speaking inhabitants found themselves in a new country where the arrival of fascism brought strict policies of assimilation. The teaching of German was forbidden, the use of Italian was imposed, even surnames were ´Italianised´ and Italian immigration was encouraged with a major programme of industrialisation. With the coming of Adolf Hitler´s National Socialism, many people hoped that Hitler would liberate Alto Adige/South Tyrol from the fascist oppressors, but the issue of Alto Adige/South Tyrol was not allowed to interfere with the alliance between Hitler and Mussolini. Brenner therefore remained the southern border of the German Reich and the German-speaking population of Alto Adige/South Tyrol were given the choice between two “Options”: citizenship of the German Reich with obligatory expatriation or Italian citizenship which meant assimilation and relinquishing their own language and culture. The majority of the population opted for expatriation and by 1943, 75,000 people had emigrated. The expatriation programme was then suspended due to the outbreak of war, however the “Options” created a huge division within the German-speaking population.
At the end of the Second World War, the peace treaties returned Alto Adige/South Tyrol to Italy. The victorious powers invited the representatives of Austria and Italy to work out a treaty to protect the German-speaking population. A plan was drawn up in 1946 in Paris (Paris Agreement), and then the “First Statute of Autonomy” was ratified in 1948 in Rome. It was based on the Paris Agreement but also included the neighbouring province of Trentino. By granting autonomy to the region of Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy wanted to ensure an Italian majority within the regional government. The issue of those who had “opted” for expatriation was also resolved in 1948; the South Tyrolean people who had emigrated were allowed to return and obtain Italian citizenship.
In 1956 members of the “Committee for the Liberation of South Tyrol” began a series of direct strikes against high voltage pylons, barracks, monuments and railway lines. These attacks culminated in June 1961 with the so-called “Night of Fires”, when 47 high voltage pylons were blown up. Alto Adige/South Tyrol came to worldwide public attention.
In 1957 the Südtiroler Volkspartei (SVP), the political party founded in 1945 that represents the interests of the German minority, called a mass demonstration at Firmiano Castle near Bolzano. The SVP called for autonomy for Alto Adige/South Tyrol, independently from the province of Trentino.
Meanwhile Austria decided to bring the “question of Alto Adige/South Tyrol” before the UN. The General Assembly adopted a resolution in 1960 and another in 1961, in which both sides were invited to the negotiating table. Talks got underway against the backdrop of hundreds of attacks, which, from 1961 to 1972, resulted in 19 deaths and dozens of injuries. Finally, in 1969 Austria and Italy ratified an agreement which contained 137 measures of protection for the German and Ladin people. This led to the “Second Statute of Autonomy”, which came into force in 1972. With this package of measures and subsequent laws, the Italian state handed over almost all its responsibilities to the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen. The provincial government of Alto Adige/South Tyrol took control of transport, public construction work, social policy, health, trade and crafts, industry, agriculture, education and vocational training and the management of the road network. Alto Adige officially took the name “Alto Adige/Südtirol”. Other cornerstones of the Second Statute of Autonomy are the obligation of bilingualism in the Public Administration (tri-lingualism in the Ladin valleys) and the allocation of public sector jobs in proportion with the different linguistic groups. The implementation of these regulations brought an end to the UN dispute between Austria and Italy over Alto Adige/South Tyrol.

Tension between citizens of the two main linguistic groups has decreased considerably but the wide-ranging autonomy does not satisfy the whole population of Alto Adige/South Tyrol. A minority of the German population would like complete independence from Italy while some of the Italian population resent the regulations that protect the German-speaking people. In fact, the autonomy of Alto Adige/South Tyrol guarantees, in a border area, the successful cohabitation of three linguistic groups. It probably represents the widest-ranging protection in the world for a linguistic minority within a nation state. As proof of this, the Provincial institutions often receive visits from governments and communities dealing with tensions and problems between different cultural groups living together.
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