History of Aosta

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The first evidence of settlements here date back to around 170 centuries ago, when the glaciers that used to cover the area of the Valle d'Aosta started to retreat, leaving steep valleys and a large, central basin in their wake. Hills formed from moraine formed around this, and it was on these hills, that the first people here settled, out of flooding danger. They probably came from the nearby region of Rodano, in France, by way of Gran San Bernardo. Later on, the Celts came here by the same route, from whom, according to tradition, the Salassi people orginate. These were called a 'warlike nation who are protective of the revenue that they produced from exploiting the gold mines in the area' by the Romans. The two nations soon entered into conflict, and Rome, who had a large army and had just conquered the last outpost before Gaul, won easily. In 25 B.C., Augusta Praetoria, was founded, a city linked to Eporedia (Ivrea) and Gran San Bernardo by road. After a few years, the urban centre became an place of importance both from a strategic and commercial point of view. The numerous monuments which were built at this time are witness to this, such as the l'Arco di Augusto, the Teatro Romano, the Roman Forum and the Porta Pretoria.

There is little written evidence from the beginning of the medieval age. The Valle d'Aosta was noted in documents only when the Pope or Emperors passed through Gran San Bernardo. In 575 the king of the Franks and the Lombard king signed a famous treaty in which the Valle d'Aosta was made part of an area of political, economic and cultural influence in the Franco-Borgognona. At the beginning of the first millenium, the power of the Valle d'Aosta was divided between bishops and secular power, represented by the Savoy dynasty. The relationship between the two powers was at the centre of regional life for the whole era, given that the descendants of the House of Savoy managed to subjugate the local nobility. They exploited the dissidents from the local, great families and obtained the support of the Viscounts of Aosta, the signori di Challant. Around 1191, the citizens of Aosta were some of the first beneficiaries of the Savoy-exemptions. After a period of disorder, the Count Tommaso I intervened in person guaranteeing aid and protection to the citizens, without claiming fiscal benefits that were not agreed by the two parties. In exchange he earnt the trust of the Aostans. The condition allowed the local population to develop a series of local institutions, including the Udienze Generali (for the administration of justice) and the Assemblea degli Stati Generali (who decided the amount of tax to give the count). Towards the middle of the eighteenth century, following the political and religious imbalances that shook the entire continent, the Valdostani found themselves facing a fundamental choice for the community. They could either adhere to Protestant reform and the Swiss Confederation or maintain their loyalty to the House of Savoy and the Catholic Church. At the end, Catholicism prevailed and a joint government was set up, the Alla "Conseil des Commis" which was the administrative head of the region and signed a peace treaty with the King of France. This was the beginning of self government for the Valle d'Aosta, that lasted almost a quarter of a century. However, after this, the interferences of the House of Savoy increased and on many occasions the government was disrespected, upsetting the local citizens. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the region entered into a grave political and economic crisis, after having been excluded by the main, commercial directors after Chambery became the capital of the Savoy kingdom. The regional economy became mainly agricultural and poverty increased. In 1770, the Savoy king revoked all the medieval exemptions, suppresed local institutions and the "Coutumier", a sixteenth century legal code.

The arrival of Napoleonic troops brought new vitality to the region, that became in favour of the French ruler. However, after Waterloo, the return of the Savoy monarch signified a backwards step for the Valdostani who soon forgot revolutionary ideology and accepted the Piedmontese king's rule. When Italy was in the process of becming united, the Valle d'Aosta was divided in two sections. These were the conservatives, mostly represented by the Clergy and the country people who wanted Restoration, and the Liberals who were mostly made up of the bourgeoisie and secular intellectuals, who were in favour of the Vienna Congress and the temporal power of the Pope. In 1835, the peasants and small landowners went to the square to revolt against the unpopular and liberal reforms of Cavour. This is known as the ''Regiment des soques'' and the revolt was quickly suppressed, although they still hated the liberals. The unification of Italy was proclaimed in 1861, and this was a fundamental step in local history. The region was marginalised at the foot of the Alps, far from the economic centres. This was the time of the first annexations with France. Between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Valle d'Aosta faced a serious, economic crisis, because of the end of the metal industry (the region used to depend on numerous mines) and the backwardness of the mountain agriculture. More than twenty thousand Valdostani (almost a quarter of the population), emigrated to France. Recovery, thanks to new, industrial development, only took place during the first world war, with the exploitation of hydro-electric resources and iron and steel production. At the same time, there was a rapid 'Italianisation' of the region, relegating French to a non-official language. After the first world war, the area became home to a large number of immigrants, mostly from the Veneto and Calabria, who came because of the iron, steel and textile industries. Fascism was not always unconditionally accepted in the area, and it was particularly opposed by the left and by regional movements. The brutal, politics of forced Italianisation, which included the translation of local names from French to Italian, tried to erase local, cultural traditions, but it was not successful. After the fall of fascism (there were many partisan units in the Valle d'Aosta) a strong movement developed in favour of annexation with France, while another group pushed to transform the region into an independent state or a federal state. The groups nearest to the Italian government won in the end, who assured the Valle d'Aosta a strong, administrative autonomy and a "Statuto Speciale", that was different from other regions.