Trentino’s Bloody Past – Part 2

If you missed it, check out the first installment, Trentino’s Bloody Past – Part 1, where I explain Italy’s northernmost region, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol.

To continue, dear readers, let’s take a trip down history lane: WWI (aka ‘The Great War’) was epic. The war of all wars, with roughly 32 countries involved, worldwide.

But how did it all start, you ask?

Well…some Serbian dude named Gavrilo Princip (I love this name!) had to go and assassinate the Austro-Hungarian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand. Naturally, Austria-Hungary is irritated, so backed by Imperial Germany (naturally), they declare war on The Serbian Kingdom.

Makes sense. Kill our leader and we’ll fight you with our fists and guns…

Headline of The New York Times, June 29, 1914.
Headline of The New York Times, June 29, 1914.

Of course Russia sees an opportunity to gain something, so they step in to defend Serbia from Austria-Hungary and Germany. Which only prompts Germany to declare war with Russia. Why not.

Then France says, “Hey! We’re with Russia…and the Serbians,” which, of course, Germany takes personally, sending their troops to sneak over via Belgium and Luxembourg, aiming to conquer France. Which seems like a good move, except…

…it backfires. The United Kingdom can just picture Germany reaching its borders, so they declare war with the Germans.


Germany is now at war with Serbia and Russia (to the east), and with The UK and France (to the west). They’re in it from all sides — a portent of things to come? Naturally, the US simply can’t resist a good fight, so we start sending in our own troops. Even the Ottomans (Turks) come to play.

The whole thing is one big, hot mess.

French troops fighting in 1914
French troops fighting in 1914
Explosions of trench mortar shells, WWI
Explosions of trench mortar shells, WWI

In time, Russia succeeds at taking over Austria-Hungary, and although the Germans manage to defend themselves, 18 countries worldwide (including Cuba and Bolivia) officially declare war with Germany.

They are just hated.

Italy, of course, can’t make up its mind who it’s fighting for (a trend for them, as evidenced later on by WWII). The UK eventually fends off Germany, sweeping them out of France, and the US sort of ducks out, heading home and happy none of their citizens starved to death along with most of Europe.

Eventually, Italy wised up and took advantage of Austria-Hungary’s collapse by charging its northern borders to steal some land (more on that later).

Highest-elevation trench warfare, 1917 (WWI).
Highest-elevation trench warfare, 1917 (WWI).
Fighting in WWI
Austro-Hungarian fighters in the Tyrolean high mountains, WWI

Other countries join the fray, but it’s irrelevant by this point. There’s just a lot a lot a lot of trench warfare and maiming and death. And it goes on like this until over 7 million people are wiped out, and Europe is in ruins.

But get this (probably the most wow-factor thing to come out of the war): four of the world’s major imperial powers—the German, Russian, Austrian-Hungarian and Ottoman empires—are wiped out. They cease to exist because of the war. They are finished. Gone. Kaput.

Eventually, armistices are agreed upon, peace treaties signed, and maps are redrawn.

Map of Europe before and after WWI: 1914 and 1924
Europe Before And After WWI: 1914 and 1924

This is where Trentino comes in to play. Italy’s northern border fighting results in the acquisition of
Südtirol (the southernmost region of the now former Austro-Hungarian Empire), which gets annexed into Italy in 1918. After several renditions over many years, Südtirol becomes the Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol of today.

Phew! You all caught up?!?

The best part was that, once Mussolini came into power, he attempted to “Italianize” this new region by literally shipping Italians in and German speakers out. Literally. But it hardly worked to change the culture of Trentino (and was inevitably interrupted by WWII).

Benito Mussolini Portrait As Dictator
Benito Mussolini Portrait As Dictator

So what have we learned today, folks?

  1. WWI was a clusterf*%k.
  2. Italy grew by a whole new northern mountainous area.
  3. Don’t kill an Archduke, or piss off the Russians (be warned, Ukraine!).
  4. The Germans’ calculating overreach does not make them friends (which is just beginning), and…
  5. Don’t expect Italy to ever really have a plan.

Funny—I look around Trentino today, and I still don’t see any Italians anywhere. Unless they’re visiting. From Italy. So get out your Lederhosen my friends, because Trentino holds strongly to its Austro-Hungarian roots.

Need proof? Check out this post about a Christmas market in a Trentino town called Levico Terme, appropriately titled, Smack A Backside And Buy A Brezel.

And next time you’re in north Italy, stop by to see its German-speaking folk. They’ll be waiting for you at the border.

With würtzel.

And snow.

If you’re looking to learn more, here’s a documentary I recommend. And if anyone out there can recommend a good book on WWI history, please lemme know! I’m yet to find one that doesn’t bore me to death with the names of Generals and battle dates.

[Images Credit: all images are in the Public Domain]

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