The Italian Job: Day 19 – At the Heart of the Tyrol

When you left me yesterday, I was trapped by a rainstorm in a bar, eating chocolate cake and drinking aperol spritz.

Thunderstorms have left me stuck in far, far worse places but, eventually, the rainfall stopped and I left the bar.

The rain had sent the heat plummeting to a far more pleasant temperature and the sky was clearing, so I wasn’t prepared to leave the Ritten Plateau just yet.

The bar was fairly close to the cable car station and also the second of three sites of the earth pyramids up here. I set off walking, across the fields watching the cable cars travelling up and down the lines and down the sloping path through the woods.

The rough cobbles of the rough path were already drying in parts but salamanders were lying comfortably where they were still damp. They quickly skidaddled as I approached but I managed to get (rubbish) shots of a couple. I’ve never seen salamanders before so I was quite excited to see four.

I’ve seen lizards since I arrived but salamanders are a novelty for me.

Managing not to be completely distracted by the amphibians, I continued until I reached the pyramids – the point of this particular walk after all.

The viewing platform for this site offered a closer and better view of the pyramids than the one I visited on Friday. The mist and cloud wreathing the towers added an eeriness to the view.

I headed back to the station and had a cable car to myself for the ride back down to Bolzano.

As I may have mentioned, there are three main languages spoken here: German, Italian and Lado (a language specific to this region). Most street signage has two place names on it: a German and an Italian name. Over the last few days I’ve noticed on quite a few signs that the Italian name has been crossed out – vandalism rather than an official update.

I also might have said that the area doesn’t have the same history of falling under different Italian city states for hundreds of years. Sudtirol (South Tyrol) was Austrian until 1919 when it was annexed by Italy as reparations for World War I.

In April 1915 a secret treaty between Italy and the Allies promised Italy the southern part of Tirol as a reward for entering the war (Treaty of London). Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary and under the terms of the Treaty of Saint Germain (September 1919) received Sudtirol. This included not only the Italian-speaking province of Trento but also the territory of Alto Adige which, according to the census of 1910, was inhabited almost entirely by German speakers (92.2%)

In 1922, the Fascists took power in Italy and the area experienced forced Italianisation. Encouraged by Mussolini’s regime, tens of thousands of Italians immigrated to Sudtirol; the use of the German language was forbidden; German schools were closed, while German-speaking officials and teachers were dismissed or compulsorily transferred.

In 1939, concerned about having to return the region to Austria/Germany, Mussolini agreed with Hitler a “solution” to the problem of Sudtirol – you couod leave your homeland and be resettled in the German Reich, or become an Italian citizen and abandon your identity. A massive campaign (also supported by the Nazis) began in favour of resettlement and was ultimately adopted by some 86 % of all Sudtirolans. Wartime events however mean that in the end “only” some 75,000 South Tyroleans actually left their homeland.

The ramifications of these decisions still impact on families here. If you stayed, you were called a traitor, and if you left, you were seen as a Nazi. Even now, there are divisions in families over who decided to stay or to go.

This morning, I was on the local train through the valley up to Meran (Merano). Another school party of six year olds boarded… but it was a much quieter journey than yesterday.. at least at this end of the carriage. Further up the train, it sounded like they were bouncing off the windows. I stayed where I was. I hadn’t brought a hard hat for this trip.

The day was already pretty hot as I got off the train in Meran (Merano) and strolled across town to catch the bus that would take me up the slopes to Castle Tyrol. The arrival of a minibus provided something of a clue as to the roads.

Going up there – not all the way to the top… just to that castle

Steep, narrow, zigzagging through the fields of hops and vines, requiring three point turns from the driver to get us around them.

The bus made it to the departure point and I set off along a path through the fields. Though far from the summit, even at this height the cool breeze was delicious.

View from the Path
St Peter’s Church
Destination in Sight

My destination was Castle Tyrol (Tirol): seat of the Counts of Tyrol for centuries and giving the area its name. (Another benefit of MuseuMobil – I’ve probably notched up about €80-90 spending on public transport (including cable cars) and museums for the outlay of only €34).

The castle hill has been inhabited since ancient times. The remains of a chapel go back to the 6th century.

The first castle was built before 1100. The second construction phase including the keep dates to around 1140. A third phase of construction took place in the second half of the 13th century under Count Meinhard II. In 1347 his granddaughter Countess Margaret besieged here by the forces of the Luxembourg king Charles IV. The castle remained the seat of Tyrol’s sovereigns until 1420,  when power was consolidated in Innsbruck.

Seat of Power

In more recent times parts of the castle fell into the so-called “Köstengraben”, a steep gorge. It was even sold in order to be used as a quarry. In the 19th century the castle was restored; the keep was rebuilt in 1904.

There’s another earth pyramid site below the castle too but it’s not as impressive as those on the Ritten Plateau. Get me, the earth pyramid snob. I only discovered these on Friday and you’d think I knew what I was talking about.

The museum within the castle is great, providing you understand German or Italian. A leaflet in English was handed to me but it just didn’t cover the depth and detail of information that the other two languages did. This was a shame for me as it seemed like a very extensive exhibition covering the history of the castle and also the Tyrol region.

The issue of the annexation of the region and the campaign to reuinte South Tyrol and North (Austria) was covered extensively with examples of people’s papers to show the “choice” they had made about their identity.

From here, I strolled down to Dorf Tyrol, the nearby village.

Lunch in the hills seemed a good idea and the fields of hops decided my drink choice. Seemed rude not to.


The afternoon was hot but the breeze continued to be refreshing. Thinking that leaving the cool of the heights may not be one of my better ideas… I did it anyway.

Wandering down from the hills and down to the town of Meran (Merano). The area has been settled since 3,000BC but the first record of a city here is 150BC.

I had no idea what to expect, after arriving at the railway station this morning and skirting the edge of the town to get up to Castle Tyrol. I was astonished when I wandered into the centre, passing first the church with an aromatic herb garden and the gunpowder tower.

It’s a stunning place – this felt like wandering around Vienna (albeit on a much smaller scale) and I was stunned.

My dawdling eventually brought me to the wonderfully named “Wandelhalle”. It was designed as a place to allow sheltered promenading under the porticos in Winter and offer cool, comfortable places to meet with friends in the Summer. The flower beds are planted with roses and shady trees and shrubs while the building is lined with paintings of Sudtirol scenery, by famous artists.

Meran was already building a reputation as a spa town in the 19th Century and the Wandelhalle was to be part of the attraction. Construction began around 1850 and was met with great resistance and hostility from the population, as this part of the Passer riverbank was used for washing clothes.

Passer River

Nevermind the needs of the local population, this was about tourism and up the building went. I can’t say that I’m sorry it did.

Categories: Bolzano, Italy, Nature/Landscapes, Public Transport, The Italian Job, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Your trip looks amazing. I’m so envious 🙂 !!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am havingan amazing time. Italy was going to be month 12 of my year out travelling in 2020. And with this trip I’m visiting places skirted/passed/talked about on previous trips Italy. This is the: “Ooh, I wouldn’t have minded going THERE” tour.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What an amazing trip. Those views from the castle windows are something else and the Wandelhalle is very charming. What a place! I’ve never been to this part of the world but I’d love to. I lived in Germany for a few years and the topic of Tyrolean independence would come up now and again. I can sort of see why!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s an amazing place. Bolzano was a great base for exploring South Tyrol – I’d recommend it in a heart beat.


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