What’s Doing in Bozen/Bolzano, Italy

By Jonathan Spira on 1 June 2010
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One of the most beautiful parts of Italy, Alto Adige, is actually German speaking.  It’s known to many as the Südtirol, or South Tyrol, and was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. Today, it is part of the Euroregion Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino.

The borders of the region, comprised of the Austrian province of Tyrol and the Italian provinces of South Tyrol and Trent (Trentino in Italian, Trient in German), are formed by the former former Austrian County of Tyrol (Gefürstete Grafschaft Tirol), which was divided between Austria and Italy after the First World War.

The region has nonetheless maintained its cultural integrity and both sides of the border maintain strong cultural, social, and economic ties.  Indeed, the South Tirol is fully bi-lingual, both socially and legally.

Bozen (Bolzano in Italian) is the capital of the South Tirol and is situated in a valley at an altitude of 265 m.   The region has been inhabited by a German-speaking population since 679.   (In a nod to the region’s multi-lingual character, the Freie Universität Bozen/Libera Università di Bolzano, founded in 1997, holds lectures in German, Italian, and English.)

Due to its location between the major cities of Venice and Augsburg, bishop Konrad of Trient elevated Bozen to the status of a town in 1190.  Today, Bozen is easily reached via the A22 (E45) Autobahn/Autostrade, which continues to Trent and Verona in the south and Innsbruck in the north.  A small airport has regular flights to and from destinations within Europe.

The town’s center is so integral to life in Bozen that it’s known as the “gute Stube” or parlor of the city.  The main town square is the Waltherplatz or Piazza Walther, named after Walther von der Vogelweide, one of the great Austrian lyric poets of the Middle Ages.  On one side of the square is the Gothic Duomo, or cathedral, construction on which was first started in 1295 in the Romanesque style and continued in 1340 in Gothic style.  It was finished in the 15th century.

The Via dei Portici/Bozner Lauben (Bolzano Arcades) form the core of the main shopping street in the city center. Originally built in the 12th century, the Laubengasse runs over one kilometer and is filled with galleries and shops of all kinds.

At the end of the Lauben is the Piazza delle Erbe/Obstmarkt, the lively fruit and vegetable market with vendors offering mounds of South Tyrolean fruit and vegetables as well as pleasant sidewalk cafés to take in the sights and the shoppers.

While Bozen has several interesting museums including the South Tyrol Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the biggest attraction is the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology, home of Ötzi, the 5000-year-old ice man.

Ötzi, known as the Simulaun Man or the Man from Hauslabjoch, is a well-preserved natural mummy of a man who lived 5300 years ago.  The mummy was discovered in 1991 in the Schnalstal glacier in the Ötzal Alps near Hauslabjoch, on the border between Austria and Italy. Ötzi (the nickname comes from the Ötztal (Ötz valley). is Europe’s oldest mummy and is displayed with his belongings in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology (Südtiroler Archäologiemuseum/Museo archeologico dell’Alto Adige).

Outside the Altstadt across the Tafler river, one will find notable remnants of Fascist architecture. Mussolini had made it a priority to try to overwrite and erase Austrian history in the region, and the Court of Law and the controversial Monumento alla Vittoria (Victory Monument), erected in 1928, celebrate the Italian victory in the First World War.

A visit to Bozen would not be complete without visiting Oberbozen/Soprabolzano (Upper Bolzano), a picturesque village 1200 m above Bozen.  Oberbozen is reached by a Seilbahn, or cable car, that provides the best views in the region.  Once there, there are restaurants, cafés, visit the bee museum and Plattnerhof bee farm in Costalovara and the earth pyramids in Valle del Rio Rivellone.

Finally, when it comes to dining, think Alpine meets Mediterranean.  In the many dining establishes of Bozen, the visitor will find traditional Austrian and Alpine fare in addition to pasta, pizza, and carpaccio.   The wines of the Südtirol/Alto Adige , white, influenced heavily by Austrian and German winemaking traditions, are among the finest in the world.  Just keep in mind that the Gewürztraminer originated in the Südtirol town of Tramin.


–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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