At a glance
1,071,775 (as of 2018)
Strong local identity, Alpine charm, efficient, well-organised
Separatist, Not Italian - Austrian manners / cuisine / language / sensibilities
One need only look at its unusual name to see that Trentino Alto Adige/Südtirol is unlike any other Italian Region. That is due, quite simply, to the fact that between the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye on the 10th September, 1919, the entire region was subject to Germanic, and not Italic, rule. At a tremendous cost of blood and treasure, the Kingdom of Italy emerged as one of the victorious allies of the First World War, annexing the southern half of what had then been known as the County of Tyrol from the collapsing Austro-Hungarian Empire. This followed three years of intense fighting in arguably the single most inhospitable conditions of the Great War, high in the Alps and on the sheer drops of the Dolomites. What the muddied fields of Flanders and the Western Front mean to the Anglo-Saxon psyche, the peaks of the South Tyrol are to the Italian.
The Annexation ever after remained a contentious and highly controversial issue. Despite President Woodrow Wilson's assurance that the new boundaries of Europe would reflect national and ethnic lines, the northern half of the region - the South Tyrol - was not returned to Austria. Even today, a century after the end of the Great War, only a quarter of the population speaks Italian as a first language. Relations between Italy and Austria, and the South Tyroleans and other Italians, were aggravated further by forced attempts at Italianisation under the Fascist government. Anger has occasionally spilled over into violence and terrorism, including a fatal bomb attack in 1967. While the pro-reunification movement in South Tyrol remains potent, it has been largely peaceful since the region was granted almost complete autonomy in 1972, and an agreement was reached with Austria in 1992. However, the issue is far from invisible.
Despite its turbulent last century, the South Tyrol is one of Europe's most idyllic lands, almost entirely straddling the Alps, with the famous Dolomite range running down its eastern flank, the Brenner Pass leading it to the old motherland of Austria, and the dramatic Stelvio Pass watching over the Swiss border. The region's unique governance and composition have blessed it with a prosperity that other Italians can but dream of, in a uniquely pristine and unspoiled land.