South Tyrol

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Flag of the Autonomous Province of Bozen - South Tyrol

South Tyrol (German Autonome Provinz Bozen-Südtirol, Italian Provincia autonoma di Bolzano-Alto Adige, Ladin Provinzia autonóma de Bulsan-Südtirol) is an autonomous province of Italy. It should not be confused with the autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige, of which it is a subdivison. South Tyrol's extensive autonomy makes it de facto comparable to an autonomous region of Italy.

The capital of the province is Bozen-Bolzano. It has an area of 7,400 sq km, and a total population of 476,023 (2004). There are 116 communes in the province (source: Italian institute of statistics Istat, see this link (



For the history of South Tyrol before World War I, see Tyrol.

World War I

Since 1882, Italy was part of the Triple Alliance (German: Dreibund), a defensive pact signed with Germany and Austria-Hungary. When Austria-Hungary, in 1914, declared war against Serbia, thus starting World War I, Italy remained neutral. Austria-Hungary, fearing Italian intervention in war against it, offered some territorial compensations in exchange for Italian neutrality for the whole war. On the other side, Triple Entente signed with Italy the London Pact, which promised territorial gains at expenses of Austria-Hungary, including South Tyrol, in exchange for Italian intervention in war. The frontline followed mostly the South Tyrol- Italian border, which ran right through the highest mountains of the Alps. The ensuing front became know as the "War in ice and snow", as troops occupied the highest mountains and glaciers all year long. 12 meters (40 feet) of snow were a usual occurrence during the winter of 1915/16 and ten thousands of soldiers disappeared in avalanches. The remains of these soldiers are still being uncovered today. The Italian Alpinis, as well as their South Tyrolean counterparts: Kaiserjäger, Standschützen and Landeschützen occupied every hill and mountain top and began to carve whole cities out of the rocks and even drilled deep tunnels and living quarters deep into the ice of glaciers like the Marmolada. Guns were dragged by hundreds of troops on Mountains up to 3,890 m (12,760 feet) high. Streets, cable cars, mountain railroads and walkways through the steepest of walls were built. But whoever had occupied the higher ground first was almost impossible to dislodge, so both sides turned to drilling tunnels under mountain peaks, filling them up with explosives and then detonating the whole mountain to pieces, including its defenders: Col di Lana, Monte Pasubio, Lagazuoi, etc. Climbing and skiing became essential skills for the troops of both sides and soon Ski Battalions and Special Climbing units were formed. In 1918, after Austrian defeat at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, Italian troops ended the war with Austria-Hungary by penetrating deep in South Tyrol. The annexation was confirmed by the Treaty of Saint-Germain. The areas around Trento formed Italian-speaking Trentino. In the north the region around Bozen/Bolzano were inhabited by ethnic Germans and Ladins (today Ladin is the third official language of South Tyrol, alongside German and Italian).

Fascist rule and World War II

After the rise of Fascism in 1922 a policy of Italianization was implemented ruthlessly. All places, down to the tiniest hamlet, were given Italian names, and even family names were translated. The process intensified in the 1930s, when the government of Benito Mussolini encouraged thousands of southern Italians to relocate to the region. Hitler did not claim the German speaking South Tyrol for his "Reich", because Mussolini was too important as an ally. In 1939, both dictators agreed to give the German population a choice: they could emigrate to Germany (or its new territories) or stay in Italy and accept their complete Italianization. It was a difficult choice for the people of South Tyrol: between their language or the landscape where their ancestors had lived. Both solutions meant the crackdown of their culture. As a consequence, South Tyrolen Society was deeply riven. Those who wanted to stay ("Dableiber"), were condemned as traitors, those who left ("Optanten") were defamed as Nazis. Because of the outbreak of the WWII, this agreement between Mussolini and Hitler was never fully accomplished.

In 1943, after the deposition of Mussolini and the capitulation of Italy, German troops invaded Northern Italy. South Tyrol became part of the "Operationszone Alpenvorland". Many German-speaking South Tyroleans wanted revenge upon Italians living in the area, which was mostly stemmed by the occupying Nazis, who still considered Mussolini head of the "Repubblica di Salò".

In 1945 the South Tyrolean peoples party (Südtiroler Volkspartei) was founded, above all by "Dableiber" - people who had chosen to stay in Italy after the agreement between Hitler and Mussolini. A party founded by the "Optanten" would not have been acceptable for the occupyng Americans, due to their apparenty close relationship to the Nazis.

After World War II

With the Treaty of Gruber-De Gasperi (1946) the German-speaking people were granted special rights. But the statutory order was implemented by De Gasperi for the whole region (South Tyrol and Trentino), where Italians were in the majority, making impossible a real self government for the German speaking South Tyroleans. Even the implementation of this "First statutory order" was delayed over and over again, while more and more Italians were encouraged to relocate to South Tyrol, with the aim of creating an Italian majority.

As consequence of delaying implementation of the statutory order, the late 1950s and especially 1960s saw the rise of anti-Italian terrorism in South Tyrol. At the beginning the terrorist strategy was targeted only against structures.

The 1960s finally brought a some progress towards establishment of self-government for South Tyroleans. In consequence, only the most fanatical of the terrorists wanted to continue their fight for an Austrian South Tyrol. These terrorists, such as Jörg Klotz, were prepared achieve their ends by hook or by crook, sacrificing even human life.

Terrorists carried out 361 attacks with explosives, guns and land mines, between 1956 and 1988. Acts were mainly against structures, so human casualties were very few considered the time span involved. However there were 21 human casualties, among which 4 terrorists who were slain by their own explosive devices. The wounded amounted to 57.

Eventually, the pressure of terrorism caused Italian central government to consider "Second statutory order" especially for the mostly German speaking province of Bozen/Bolzano (South Tyrol).

Today South Tyrol (i.e. the Province of Bozen-Südtirol or Bolzano-Alto Adige) enjoys a high degree of autonomy, and relations with North and East Tyrol - the two portions of the old state retained by Austria - are lively, especially since Austria joined the European Union. The South Tyrolean People's Party, or Südtiroler Volkspartei, has been consistently in power since its founding in 1945. Places still have two (German/Italian) or even three (Ladin/German/Italian) names.

According to the 2001 census more than two-thirds of the population is German speaking (69.4%); the second most used language is Italian (26.3%), followed by Ladin (4.3%).

Famous names

Freedom fighters:


Inventors and scientists:



See also

External links

ca:Tirol del Sud de:Südtirol fr:Province autonome de Bolzano it:Provincia autonoma di Bolzano ja:ボルツァーノ自治県 la:Tirolum Meridionale ro:Tirolul de Sud nl:Zuid-Tirol pl:Południowy Tyrol pt:Tirol Meridional

Template:Trentino-Alto Adige


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