History & cultureThe Ladin populations of the Dolomites are distributed in four valleys which, branching out from the slopes of the Sella Group give rise to the "Sella Ronda" or the "four pass tour", a famous skiing itinerary. One of these is Val Badia, located right in the heart of the Dolomites and cradle of Ladin history, culture, traditions and language. Even today, there are constant and strong references to the roots of the past in daily life.
The Dolomites, of sedimentary calcareous and coral origin, were named after the French geologist who discovered them, Déodate Guy Silvane Tancrède de Grandet, lord of Dolomieu who, at the end of the eighteenth century made this incredible discovery.
Two hundred million years ago, there was a warm and shallow sea where they are today, called the "Sea of Tethys". The decomposition of the remains of mineral and organic origin gave rise, in time, to rocky masses that began to emerge at the beginning of the Tertiary. About two million years ago there was the first phenomenon of glaciation which covered the whole territory with a thick layer of ice. Various phases of warm and icy climates alternated, during which the entire perimeter of the Dolomites underwent a number of transformations until they took on their present appearance which dates back to some twelve thousand years ago. Climatic and external agents, during the years that followed, contributed to outlining those "GAMES" of lines and shapes that make the Dolomites unique in the world.
The Dolomitic rock, called "dolomia" is thus rich in fossils which can easily be found and in various mineral elements. It is precisely due to the varied presence of these minerals that the Dolomites take on different colours, ranging from pink to brighter shades and from yellow to grey. At sunset, these hues are accentuated and the silhouettes of the mountains appear to be "set on fire". This absolutely unique phenomenon, of incredible beauty and suggestion, takes the Ladin name of "enrosadira" which over the years has given rise to many legends and fantastic tales.
Before man settled permanently in the Ladin valleys, including Val Badia, the only presence was abundant game, a favourite prey for the hunters of the Mesolithic period. In 1987, an extraordinary discovery and unique to the whole of the Dolomites, was made in a cave in the "Conturines" at 2800 metres above sea level: the remains of the "ursus speleus", a large specimen of a bear which became extinct during the last Ice Age. The first human settlements in the Valley date back to the middle Bronze Age, between 1600 and 1300 BC Important archaeological finds have been made from this period near "Sotcíastel" in Pedraces/San Leonardo. These were pre-Indo-European (Celtic) populations who, coming up against adverse climatic and logistic conditions, took advantage of the natural protection offered by the landscape and were able to make permanent settlements.
Archaeological finds show that these people were herders, made pottery and were weavers. These populations were later commonly called Rhaetian and it is to them that we owe the introduction of many daily activities still present in the Valley communities, such as growing millet and oats and making cheese, all basic ingredients in Ladin cooking.
With the invasion of the Romans, the first great change came about: for the first time a real political and administrative organization was introduced and above all, thanks to the amalgamation of the Rhaetian language with the "vulgar" Latin spoken by the conquerors, Ladin was born: a romance language which has been passed down in all the Ladin valleys until the present-day thanks to the natural defences of the territory against invasion from the outside. During the Roman Empire, the Ladin territory extended from the Grisons to the Adriatic, but this union gradually disintegrated with the invasion of the Bavarians who introduced a Germanic type of culture.
A fundamental date for administrative life in the Val Badia is 1027, when the age-old organization was replaced by ecclesiastical divisions. The Episcopal Principality of Bressanone was created that year, taking under its jurisdiction the left bank of the Gadera, the river that divides the Valley into two. The right bank belonged to the County of Pusteria.
It was in this period that the name "Badia" was coined, deriving from "Ciastelbadia", an old manor-convent of Benedictine nuns near San Lorenzo di Sebato.
In 1803 with the left bank of the Gadera joining the Hapsburg Empire, the whole of the Val Badia became part of the Tyrol.
This was followed by a tormented period when the population of Val Badia had to stand up to the Napoleonic invasion and for a short time was handed over to Bavaria.
The First World War was devastating for Val Badia and for the other Ladin valleys.
For four long years, the Dolomites were the scene of bloody conflicts and battles which ended in the deaths of thousands of soldiers on both fronts. It was above all a war of position where surviving the adverse climatic and living conditions which at times were impossible were added to the continuous struggle against snipers, always on the alert.
The routes and scars of those cruel battles, which had their most hard-fought fronts in the Col di Lana, Tofane and Marmolada, are still recognisable in the Dolomites.
In 1919 Val Badia was annexed to Trentino and consequently became part of Italy. A process of Italianization was begun which, however, was not to succeed in undermining Ladin traditions or the language.
Franz Kostner, a famous mountain guide, was the pioneer of modern tourism in Val Badia. At the end of the last century, together with his brother Ojop, he climbed all the most important peaks, including some in the Himalayas. On his return to Val Badia, with all the experience he had acquired in his travels, he was the first to understand the great possibilities offered by the valley. Well aware that skiing would become one of the best-loved and popular sports, he started out by making the Valley accessible by transport and founded the "Automobile company". Before then, Val Badia could only be reached on foot or by horse-drawn coach.
In 1930 he built Italy's first large sleigh in Corvara on the Col Alto and in 1934 Cesco Kostner founded the first ski school.
Since then it has just been a short step and today Val Badia is rightly recognised as one of the greatest skiing areas in the world, the strong point of the Dolomiti Superski which is the largest skiing area in the world.
However, affluence and popularity have not undermined the age-old traditions and the Ladin language still spoken today in Val Badia and neighbouring valleys.
It is only recently that Ladin, wrongly considered a dialect, has been recognised as a language: in Val Badia and Val Gardena, the two Ladin valleys in the Province of Bolzano, the Ladins are recognised as the third ethnic group and consequently their language and culture are protected.
The direct consequence of this is that Ladin is taught weekly in schools, it has been adopted and is used in the public administration, there are radio and televisions news and programmes in Ladin and the Ladin newspaper "Usc di Ladins" is published every week.
This new "awareness of the Ladins" is confirmation that, for these mountain people, although recently they have benefited to a great extent from the advantages of the intense development and increase in tourism, their intention and desire to keep their history, language and culture alive is well and deeply rooted.