Trentino’s Bloody Past – Part 1

This post is part of a two-part series, Trentino’s Bloody Past – Part 1 and Part 2.

Who out there doesn’t like blood, guts and gore?

If you’re at all familiar with European history, you’ll know it’s no stranger to violence and mayhem of the political-religious-clashing sort. Today, though, you see little of that. Which is why it was so surprising to learn that the part of Italy Jason and I called home for two years had once been a major battlefront.

The insistent pounding of the world wars left their mark. And it wasn’t pretty…

Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol (simply called “Trentino from here on out) lies far up north on Italy’s border with Austria. It’s famously known for the Dolomites, Alpine meadows, and high altitude adventure sports. If you’ve ever visited, you’ll know that the area has a decidedly more Austrian/German feel.

Cavareno, Val di Non (Trentino).
Cavareno, Val di Non (Trentino).

But this isn’t because the region is somehow trying to be different. Turns out, Trentino hasn’t always been a part of Italy.

Did you read that right? Yes you did.

Way back in 1918, back before the ubiquity of cars or women’s rights, back when smoking was still “good for what ails ya'”, WWI was winding down and, as a result, Trentino was incorporated into Italy. There were undoubtedly some guts/blood/gore there, but I won’t get into that.

Not yet, anyway.

Modern-day Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol is the region in RED.
Trentino-Alto Adige in Italy, author: TUBS, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

News flash: before WWI, modern day Austria wasn’t a country yet, but instead was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which once spread from today’s Czech Republic to Romania). Today’s Trentino belonged to that same empire.

As you can see in the map below, many of today’s countries were not yet in existence, or had different borders all together. In fact, there were four major European empires prior to WWI (note how Italy is missing a big chunk of land on its northeast border).

Map of European borders, 1914
FR-WW1-1914, author: Exec, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Here’s Europe after the war, when the lines were redrawn:

FR-WW1-1920, author: Exec, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

What the map explains is the proliferation of Tyrolean architecture and language in Trentino, and the admittedly less Italian food (what can I say…I’m biased). Trentino was Austro-Hungarian long before it was Italian. In fact, when you do the math, Trentino has been Italian for less than 100 years. You heard it here, folks—even the telephone has been around longer than that.

Built in 1716, you can see the typical Tyrolean-style architecture (Molosco, Val di Non)
Built in 1716, you can see the typical Tyrolean-style architecture (Molosco, Val di Non)

Built in 1716, you can see the typical Tyrolean-style architecture (Molosco, Val di Non)

Makes sense why the culture is the way it is. Makes sense why people in this area still call anywhere south of Trentino: “laggiù in Italia” (down there in Italy).

After all, Trentino is an autonomous region: it doesn’t send its taxes to Rome, and any regional disputes are solved through The International Court of Justice in the Hague (also not in Rome). Which makes Trentino both a part of Italy, and…not a part of Italy???

We’re all confused, by now.

As for the blood/guts/gore part of the story, I will say this about WWI: it was a disaster-mess. All I could recall from my high school days was that Russia was somehow involved and Ernest Hemingway drove an ambulance on the fronts in Italy (go read A Farewell to Arms, ya’ll).

EH 2723P Milan, 1918 Ernest Hemingway, American Red Cross volunteer. Portrait by Ermeni Studios, Milan, Italy. Please credit "Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston".
Ernest Hemingway in Milan, 1918. Portrait by Ermeni Studios, Milan. Photo credit: Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

So, for all the other historically-oblivious out there, I’ve put together a quick WWI synopsis to help highlight what the war was all about: the follow-up post, Trentino’s Bloody Past – Part 2, will tell you how Germany got greedy and multiple empires crumbled in one of the bloodiest wars on earth. So, read on!


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