Once upon a time there was a closed and hostile city that had great potential, which was suppressed by ethnic conflicts and political stalemate by those who wanted it sacrificed on the altar of the ‘rich periphery.’ Although all this took place quite recently, it seems like a lifetime ago, because so much had changed since then. Today, on the threshold of the third millennium, Bolzano is looking to become a real European capital, a city of trade and business meetings, a link between northern and Mediterranean culture. A border town, proud of its origins and its own traditions but looking to the future in the knowledge that it has much to offer.
‘Sleepy’ to some, ‘busy’ to others, what is the city really like? To give you a real feel for Bolzano take a look at the shop keepers of i Portici, who are inundated with customers or watch the young people at Bermuda Dreieck, the bar and pub area that fills up at weekends with voices and sounds. But there is much more: the Sunday bike rides or the university where students are taught in three languages.
Bolzano and its tourists feel the same way about each other. There are the attractive piazzas, the colourful markets, baroque palaces, medieval alleyways, or even the characteristic stretches of geraniums, the gastronomic delights, the two main languages (Italian and German) spoken throughout the city, the courtesy of the locals. It is not by chance that Bolzano has, for years, been top of the league in Italy for quality of life.
The cultural role of the capital of the Alto Adige is seen in the variety of its buildings and events which have an international flavour. Lets start in the world of music: the Conservatorio Monteverdi, where Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli taught, houses one of the most prestigious international piano competitions, the Busoni. Symphonies are the order of the day at the Auditorium Haydn, the permanent home to the orchestra of the same name, whilst you will find rock and pop on stage at the Palaonda and the Palaresia, with international stars such as Sting and Zucchero. Music week, jazz festivals, Le settimane musicali meranesi, the jazz festival, Gustav Mahler orchestral concerts and those of the ‘European Community Youth Orchestra’, the festival of holy music and ‘Musicastello,’ all contribute to a top class offering. Even theatre lovers can not complain. As well as Bolzanos Stabile prose season founded by Fantasio Piccoli, there is the comic theatre of ‘L’arte del far ridere,’ the Uilt and ‘Nuovo Spazio’ amateur and dialectal dramatics season, cabaret and alternative productions, ‘Carambolage’ and the ‘Theater im Hof’ for youngsters.
Dance is celebrated with an international festival that is held alongside a series of very popular stage shows, whilst the Capitol and Filmclub cinema complexes offer a literary café, a sala d’éssai and a library for cinephiles. Art lovers can admire the cathedral and the many churches, cloisters and convents, palaces rich in treasures such as the Mercantile and other sanctuaries, abbeys and convents only a few kilometres away. There are many museums, and the archaeological museum holds the famous Similaun mummy, a real worldwide attraction which has revolutionised the citys traditional tourist trade. The Museum of Modern Art, the Natural Science Museum and the Civic Museum are also of interest. There are plenty of art galleries from photography to figurative painting, whilst training and research are guaranteed at the Accademia Europea, the Accademia di Design and the Scuola di sanità. The most acclaimed centre of learning however, is the Università Europea di Bolzano, where studying is undertaken in three languages (Italian, German and English) with internationally acclaimed lecturers particularly in economics, marketing, design and industrial engineering.
The most popular sports in Bolzano are football and ice hockey. A game of hockey at the Palaonda is an experience not to be missed: handball and American football are also played at a high level. The Palaresia plays host to international events such as the world fencing championships, indoor trials, athletics meetings and cycle tours. Those who prefer active to passive sports will not be disappointed either: there is swimming in the indoor pool, and in the wonderful town lido, which also accommodates international diving meetings, and there are plenty of winter sports, with lots of tennis courts, a network of cycle lanes and cycle routes for tourists and an almost infinite number of climbing itineraries. Golf, too, can be played on the Monte San Pietro green. There are also plenty of saunas, public swimming pools and gyms.
In your spare time you are spoilt for choice with plenty of castles to visit in the surrounding area or the city itself (Castel Mareccio, Castel Roncolo, Castel Firmiano, Castel Rafenstein), a walk in the green meadows of Talvera, a trip around the orchards of the Oltradige and Batta Atesina as well as shopping opportunities in the Via dei Portici where Italys most rich and imaginative window displays invite tourists to come in and spend their money. Or you might like to take one of the three cable cars that leave from the city (Colle, San Genesio, Renon) to reach only a short distance away lovely areas immersed in woodland and surrounded by mountains, ideal for a day trip, either alone or with friends.
Bolzano has always been more of a business town with its railway, main road and A22 motorway from Brennero which place it right at the centre of the main route between northern and southern Europe. Now it also has a small but efficient airport with daily flights to and from Rome and a few other foreign destinations. And there are plenty of hotels with rooms for seminars and conferences, buildings such as the Castel Mareccio and Fiera congress centers which promise to increase business tourism; it is not by chance that many conventions, seminars and meetings are all held in this ‘meeting point for language and culture’ as a university slogan says. In short, Bolzano is small, but beautiful.
History of Bolzano
In prehistoric times the Bolzano area was not habitable as it was marshland and was often flooded by the three nearby rivers (Adige, Isarco and Talvera). The first human settlements were therefore on the mountainsides and other high ground. In 15 BC. Druso, the adopted son of the Emperor Augusto conquered the Val d’Adige and Val d’Isarco areas building a bridge (Pons Drusi) and a road outlook or post in the Bolzano area. The exact location of this station is unclear, but must have been of average size and importance. Some say it must have been near to Castel Firmiano on the Adige, others say the area of Rencio Isarco, whilst there are some who maintain that the first settlement was near to the old town between the cathedral and the convent of the Cappuccini. The name Bolzano only appeared in 680 in its Latin form of ‘Bauzanum’, in the ‘Historia Longobardorum’ by Paolo Diacono. However the name did not refer to a real urban settlement. According to some interpretations the name actually derives from a Roman landowner, Baudius, whilst others say it referred to the original swampy area at the bottom of the valley.
The Early Middle Ages
After the fall of the Roman Empire the region was invaded several times by the Goths, the French, the Longobards and the Bavarians. In the 11th century the Emperor Corrado II gave the area in fief to the Bishop of Trento Ulderico II who took the area occupied by a vineyard belonging to the monastery of Tegernsee, and promoted the foundation of a small urban nucleus corresponding to what is now the Via Portici, a road full of commercial activity (a central communication point between North and South). The city was built between the 12th and 13th centuries equipping itself with a wall and moat and obtaining municipal rights. In 1222, it was devastated by fire with around 1500 deaths. In 1277, Bolzano came under the control of the Tyrol counts and passed to the Habsburgs in 1363, increasing its commercial prospects and expanding in the area which is now the old town. At the beginning of the 13th century, the city had 3000 inhabitants. It was from the original nucleus of the Via dei Portici (a road set between two rows of houses with shops and arcades, surrounded by walls), that the city and its commercial activities and fairs began to develop, a privileged meeting point between merchants from the Mediterranean area and those of Northern Europe.
The Asburgo dynasty
In 1363, Margherita di Maultasch, the last Tyrolian countess, abdicated in favour of the Duke of Austria, Rodolfo d’Asburgo who took care not to damage the commercial aspects of the flourishing city which in 1450 obtained the right to have its own mayor. At the beginning of the 15th century, Federico Habsburg thanked the city for its support during the struggle with the rebellious Tyroleans with the insertion in the Diet of the Tyrol of two Bolzano representatives. At the height of its prosperity the citys destiny crossed with that of Claudia de’ Medici, widow of the arch duke Leopoldo V, who set up the merchants’ magistrate, a sort of bilingual tribunal to decide commercial disputes which has now evolved into the modern day Chamber of Commerce. Claudia de’ Medicis intuitions were very exact: even today, Bolzano is a primarily commercial city with many fairs all year round. The meeting of two cultures has developed not just in the commercial sector but can also be seen in its culture, gastronomy and traditions.
The 19th century
In 1797, Napoleons troops invaded the city but they were driven back by the territorial armies that became todays Schützen, or defenders of the homeland, the beloved fatherland. In 1805, the Tyrol passed to Bavaria together with Bolzano annexed to the Italic kingdom, or the Napoleonic collapse when the Tyrol was returned to the Asburgos. The medieval urban structure remained almost intact to the middle of the 1800s when the civic architect Sebastian Altman di Monaco was placed in charge of the plans for a new district, Gries, a spa centre renowned among the bourgeoisie of central Europe, initially an autonomous town, only becoming part of Bolzano in 1925.
A history of winners and losers
After the First World War the treaty of Saint Germain moved the borders to Brennero, assigning the Alto Adige to the kingdom of Italy: a splitting of the historic Tyrol area (which stretched from Borghetto, between Trento and Verona, to Kufstein between the Tyrol and Bavaria) the effects of which were felt for many centuries and still are today. A little before the march on Rome (October 1922) fascists arrived in Bolzano and occupied it, removing the Perathoner syndicate which had governed the city since 1895. Mussolini wanted to ‘Italianise’ the Alto Adige and its capital, Bolzano. The objective was to integrate immigrants coming from all over Italy. The final result – a city of 100,000 inhabitants. In the ’30s the construction of the industrial area began, which led to a further influx of workers. Teaching of German was forbidden and punishable, Italian was declared the official language, the use of the name ‘Tyrol’ was banned and the German language was banished from public life. With the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria, Nazi Germany arrived in Brennero. And it was here that the alliance with Mussolini began. The Duce obtained solemn declarations on the intangibility of the borders of Brennero, as well as the renunciation of the Reich of clams on the former Southern Tyrol. In 1939, Italy and Germany signed an agreement for ‘options’: South Tyrol was to decide whether to go back to Germany or remain part of Alto Adige, renouncing all ethnic protection. A sharp split.
The roots of “special autonomy”
With the Second World War over, a group of South Tyroleans founded the Südtiroler Volkspartei (Popular Party of South Tyrol) in Bolzano requesting the right for self-rule for the German speaking population. In April 1946 the foreign ministers of the four great powers (United States, England, France and the Soviet Union) rejected the Austrians’ requests for a plebiscite for Alto Adige. On the 5th September of the same year, the president of the council of Italian ministers, Alcide Degasperi and the Austrian foreign minister Karl Gruber signed the Treaty of Paris, which assured special measures for the South Tyroleans for the maintenance of ethnic character and Economical and Cultural development. It was agreed that primary and secondary schools would provide teaching in the mother tongue, that both languages would be used along side each other in the areas of public administration, official documents and place names. In 1948, the Italian constitution ratified the first Statute of Autonomy with which the two provinces of Bolzano and Trento would be unified in the Trentino-Alto Adige region, but in 1956, regional autonomy entered into crisis: German protests exploded into what would become a long wave of terrorism. On the 11th June, 1961, South Tyrolean Irridentists recruited among country people, artisans, students and workers carried out dozens of attacks on high voltage pylons and other installations. International repercussions were widespread. The terrorism continued intermittently until 1988 with dozens of deaths and a few hundred wounded. On the 1st September 1961 the Council of Italian Ministers created the Commission of the 19: a new body who were assigned to study the Alto Adige problem and were to present their findings to the government. In November 1969, the Svp congress approved the ‘pact’ of 137 laws of ethnic leadership: the second statute of autonomy came into effect in 1972. The latest regulations were passed twenty years later (30.5.1992), with Italy informing Austria that it had carried out its promises: with Vienna pacified, international confrontations are definitively closed. Any violations of the Statute of Autonomy can be dealt with by the International Court of Aja.