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Published: August 28th 2019
Today I am off to visit Bolzano with Sue as this is one of the places that I shall be bringing groups to next summer. I have briefly been once before but it was back in 2010 and I only have hazy memories. It is really nice to be doing this excursion with a good friend. And we are doing it by car and not by train! We have an early start as we want to miss the traffic both ways - it is a Friday and there will be lots of people crossing this part of Austria and Italy. Somehow it doesn’t feel the same as the M6 on a Bank Holiday Monday though!
We make our way first over the Europa Brücke (bridge) and then over the Brenner Pass. The Europa Briücke is located approximately half way between Innsbruck and the Brenner Pass. It was considered a masterpiece of engineering when it was completed in 1963 with its height of 180m and span of 820m. Bungee jumping from the Europa Brücke has become a popular tourist attraction (probably not appropriate for our guests next summer, who tend to be of a slightly older age group than
bungee jumping’s target audience!!). The Brenner Pass is a mountain pass through the Alps which forms the border between Austria and Italy. It is one of the principal passes of the eastern Alpine range. You get lovely views of alpine pastures and mountains either side. The central section covers a motorway and rail tracks connecting Innsbruck in the north and Bolzano to the south. We are lucky today in that there are no traffic jams. We are equally lucky that a Swedish driver towing a caravan doesn’t wipe us out when he pulls out without looking, leaving us the “jam in the sandwich”. This was a phrase uttered many times by our police driving instructors i.e “never
be the jam in the sandwich”!
Bolzano (German name is Bozen) is the provincial capital of South Tirol in northern Italy. With over 107,000 inhabitants it is by far the largest city in the province, and is the third largest in Tirol as a whole. It is home to the first tri-lingual university, the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano where lectures and seminars are held in German, Italian and English. It is rated as fifth best city in Italy from a
quality of life perspective. Bolzano is considered a bridge between North and South due to its two spoken languages, and as Sue describes it, it is a city where two cultures combine - that of the Alpine North and the Mediterranean South.
The province of South Tirol was once part of the wider Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was annexed by Italy in 1918. Benito Mussolini subjected the province to an intensive Italianisation programme by forbidding German, and pushing through Italian vocabulary and culture. The goal of the programme was to outnumber the local German-speaking population by tripling Bolzano’s population through Italian immigration from other regions of Italy. Under the 1939 South Tirol Option Agreement, Hitler and Mussolini determined the status of the German and Ladin ethnic groups living in the region. They could either emigrate to Germany or stay in Italy and accept their complete Italianisation. This included the loss of their German names and national identity, the prohibition of schooling in German and use of German for day to day transactions. Those who wanted to stay, called the ‘Dableiber’, were condemned as traitors while those who left (called ‘Optanten’) were defamed as Nazis. Due to the outbreak
of WW2 in 1939, this agreement was never fully implemented. Since the war, independent movements gained popularity among the German/Tirolean population in Bolzano and the province of South Tirol, and in the 1960s a number of terrorist attacks and assassinations were carried out by the South Tirolean Liberation Committee. After several years of mediations and negotiation the two countries reached an agreement that would guarantee self government to the newly created Autonomous Province of South Tirol.
We have a great run into Bolzano arriving sooner than anticipated, giving us the chance to enjoy some excellent coffee and pastries in one of the welcoming cafes in the city centre. Sue and I visit the main sights that we shall have time for during our visits next summer. These include: Walther Square
- with its statue of Walther von der Vogelweide. He was a Minnesänger, a travelling singer, who composed and performed love-songs and political songs in Middle High German. He performed for patrons at various princely courts in Germany and with the Babenberg Court in Vienna. He has been described as the greatest German lyrical poet before Goethe. The Gothic Cathedral
this was started in 1184, expanded in the 14th century by architects Martin and Peter Schiche, and completed in the early 16th century by Hans Lutz von Schussenried. The Laubengasse or Via dei Portici
- this is a street 330 metres long in the city centre and easily recognised by its attractive medieval arcades along its entire length. Nowadays these house high-street shops. We clearly have to check some of these out! I am really pleased that for once I manage to look at some walking gear without actually buying a new fleece/walking trousers etc. The South Tirol Museum of Archaeology
- this is the highlight of our trip and we spend ages looking at the Ötzi the Iceman exhibition. This is a must see! The exhibition is highly visual. You can also, if you wish, take audio guides, but we find that the display boards alongside the exhibits are really interesting and laid out so very well. Ötzi is now one of the world’s best known mummies. He was discovered in September 1991 by a Nürnberg couple who were walking in the Ötz Valley Alps. After descending from the Final Peak in the
Tisenjoch area the couple decided to take a short cut. As they walked past a rock gully filled with melt water they noticed what they thought was some rubbish, but soon realised it was part of a human corpse. They thought this was an unfortunate victim of a mountaineering accident. Only the back of his head, bare shoulders and part of his back jutted out of the ice. The corpse’s chest lay against a flat rock with its face obscured. The couple took photos and reported this to the landlord of the Similaun refuge, Markus Pirpamer. As the scene of the discovery lies along the Austrian-Italian border, Pirpamer alerted both sets of officials. Later that day Pirpamer visited the site himself and discovered various objects close to the corpse such as clumps of hair, pieces of wood, lengths of string and strips of hair. This dead man and his objects were to become famous throughout the world and develop into the archaeological find of the 20th century. What is so interesting about Ötzi is that his life came to an abrupt end leaving him and a large part of his clothing and possessions intact. We now know that he was
murdered. It has been possible to carry out studies on this corpse dating from the fourth millennium BC and to study items of Copper Age clothing and equipment in detail. Years of research at the scene of the discovery have been undertaken, providing us with a previously unavailable glimpse into the daily life of Copper Age man, his environment and his ability to survive. The museum is really well worth a visit. There is far too much of interest to write in this blog. If anyone wants more information, I have an excellent book that you can read.
Both Sue and I really love the Ötzi museum. After all this sightseeing we are ready for lunch and find one of the restaurants in the city centre with outdoor tables. After an enjoyable and relaxed Italian pasta lunch we slowly make our way back to the car, popping into various shops along the arcades as we go. We are equally fortunate on the way back to Axams and an hour and a half later we are back. This evening we have a late supper with wine on Sue’s lovely terrace with its incredible views. We chatter late into
the evening despite the tremendous thunderstorm as the terrace is sheltered.
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