The Ladin language

Ladin (also known as Dolomitic Ladin) is a Romance language spoken by about 30,000 people in the Dolomites - in five valleys around the Sella Group, to be precise: Val Badia (with the Badiot, Ladin de mesa val, and Marô dialects), Val Gardena (Gherdëna), Val di Fassa (Cazet, Brach, Moenat), Livinallongo del Col di Lana (Fodom), and Ampezzo (Ampezan).

Ladin is one of the “Rhaeto-Romance” languages and is spoken by about 40,000 people in the Swiss Alps, along with Romansh, Grijun, and Furlan, spoken by about 430,000 Friulians, the inhabitants of Friuli, the north-eastern region of Italy. Like all Romance languages, Ladin is descended from Vulgar Latin (latinus> Ladin). In the case of Rhaeto-Romance, this is the language that was used in the Alpine region toward the end of the Roman Empire; its structure and vocabulary had been influenced by the non-Romance languages, Celtic and Rhaetian. Only a few words were actually incorporated into the new languages; there are nouns for which there is no Latin derivation (for example, barantl - Swiss pine, dascia - branches of pine trees, roa - landslide, crëp - mountain, aisciöda - spring, nida - buttermilk, liösa - sled, dlasena - berry). In addition, some place names testify to their origin in the aforementioned pre-Latin languages (for example, Börz, Mareo, Rina).



Unfortunately, no written documents that could provide information on ancient history in the Dolomites have survived. The only information comes from archaeology and reveals that this area was already inhabited in the Mesolithic period, although only seasonally, not all year round; temporary lodgings have been foundthat served as shelters for hunters when they went to hunt at higher altitudes. These settlements include Plan de Frea and Mondeval de Sora. The first settlements date back to the Middle Bronze Age (Sotćiastel) and then to the Iron Age (Ortisei excavations). As far as concerns the Sotćiastel settlement in Badia, it is believed to have been inhabited by about 240-300 people since the end of the thirteenth century BC.

We know little about the people who lived in the Alps before the Christian era. In the second Iron Age (500-15 BC), at least some of what is now the Ladin area was part of the Fritzens-Sanzeno culture, probably the Raeti, who settled in the area that later became Tyrol. Little has survived of the Raeti, but we know that they wrote using an alphabet very similar to Etruscan, although the classification of their language is still controversial.



The Romans were already launching campaigns against the populations living in the Alps before 15 BC. But it was only in that year that they reported a final victory against the Raeti and the Vindelici on the plain, where the Eisack flows into the Adige. From that time on, the Roman presence was constantly developing: construction of important roads, Roman law, new religious cults, the dominance of the Latin language, and above all, from the fourth century AD, the Christian religion.

At that time, Ladin, or Rhaeto-Romance, reached the greatest geographic expansion in its history and occupied most of the Alps: from Lake Constance in the north to San Gottardo in the west, the Adriatic region of Istria in the south-east, and the Danube in the northeast.  A period of instability began in the fifth century. Various peoples coming from the north and east reach Rome, contributing to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. With successive migrations towards the end of the Roman Empire, the Germanic languages f north and the Slavic of the east reached the Alps, slowly replacing Vulgar Latin, which today only survives a few enclaves, especially in more distant mountain areas. Much of the Alps, once a Rhaeto-Romance region, was already completely Germanised before the year 1000 and other areas were Germanised or Italianised in later centuries.


The Middle Ages

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the main valleys around what are now the Ladin districts were occupied by the Lombards and later by the Bavarians; towards the end of the eighth century, Charlemagne conquered the entire region and incorporated it into France. During this period, the feudal system and a new division into counties were introduced. In 1027, the Bishop of Brixen was appointed Lord of the Inn and Eisack districts by the Emperor. In 1091, he was also granted the Puster Valley and Val Badia. The bishop delegated certain management rights and districts to refined and influential families, often the subject of controversy. Val Badia was divided into two domains: the left side of the valley belonged to the Lordship of Tor and thus to the bishop of Brixen, the right side (as well as Mareo) belonged to the bishop, but was also run by the Benedictine nuns of Sonnenburg (the Sonnenburg was known as Ćiastel Badia, which is why the entire valley was also called Val Badia). In 1363, the whole of Tyrol (and thus also the principalities of Brixen and Trento) was assigned to the Hapsburg Empire. Ampezzo was also occupied by Tyrolean troops in 1511 and became part of Austria, as did the remaining Ladin valleys. This situation later changed under Napoleon.


The Napoleonic era

The Napoleonic Wars also affected Ladin areas. In 1806, Tyrol passed to Bavaria and, in 1809, the Ladin population took part in Andreas Hofer's revolt to liberate Tyrol. In 1810, Ampezzo, Colle Santa Lucia [1], Livinallongo del Col di Lana, and the Val di Fassa were incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy by Napoleon, and in 1813, after all the struggles in these areas, they became part of Austria again until the First World War.

[1] Col

The two World Wars and Fascism

The First World War was an immense evil for Ladin. The Dolomite front ran through the centre of the Ladin valleys. More than 1,050 Ladin people died in the conflict and a number of villages, especially in Livinallongo del Col di Lana, were almost completely destroyed. Even after the war, unfavourable circumstances continued because South Tyrol, and thus also the Ladin areas, was Italian territory. In 1922, the fascist party in power launched a policy of forced Italianisation. In addition, the fascist government decided assign the Ladin population to three different provinces: the Val Badia and Val Gardena to the province of Bolzano, Livinallongo del Col di Lana and Ampezzo to Belluno, and Val di Fassa to Trento. In the following years, the Ladin people came under pressure between two movements. On one side was fascism - on the other, Nazism; the latter drew up a strategy to resolve the problems of minorities (Ladin peoples and the German-speaking population of South Tyrol), known as the Option (1939). The non-Italian part of South Tyrol was asked to move to the German Reich, and thus to leave their homes, or accept and implement the Italianisation of Tyrol. The implementation of the Option was then limited by the outbreak of World War II, and then completely abandoned on September 8, when the Pre-Alps zone of operations was established (all three provinces mentioned were managed by Hitler's Germany). After the surrender, these territories came back under Italian rule.


The post-war period

In 1946, about 3,000 Ladin people gathered at the Sella Pass to protest against the split into the three provinces implemented by the new Italian government following the fascist division. But the demands of the Ladin population went unheeded. A small step towards granting minorities rights was taken in 1948, with the first version of a statute of autonomy for the provinces of Bolzano-Trento. But it was only the second Statute of Autonomy in 1972 that provided a solid foundation for the official recognition of the Ladin people, teaching the Ladin language in schools, the right to Ladin place names, and to media in their native language. Over time, these minority rights were slowly expanded, but unfortunately only for the Ladin people in the provinces of Bolzano and Trento: Ampezzo, Livinallongo del Col di Lana, and Colle Santa Lucia have not been able to aspire to these successes so far.


The Ladin culture

In the period between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a group of scientists worked on the Ladin language and its history, thus creating an important cultural base on which it was possible to establish further findings. Among the pioneers,  Micurà de Rü, who wrote the first Ladin grammar ("Attempt at a grammar of the German-Ladin language")  in 1833,  is worthy of mention; he was followed by other writers, scientists, and historians such as Jan Batista Alton (1845-1900), Angelo Trebo (1862-1888), Hugo de Rossi (1875-1940), and Vijo Vittur (1882-1942). In 1905, the Union Ladina coalition, an inter-Ladin union that set itself the goal of raising awareness in the Ladin population regarding the appreciation of their language and culture, was formed in Innsbruck. It was also during these years that the first Ladin newspapers and chronicles appeared. In 1918, the Ladin communities joined the German Tyrolean municipalities, whose fate was quite similar during the First World War. In 1920, representatives of all five Ladin valleys met to demand the right of self-determination and recognition as an ethnic group. In 1946, the Ladin people met at the Sella Pass to protest against the splitting into three provinces. During the period of peace and economic recovery after World War II up to today, Ladin cultural lifehas spread steadily and passionately: Ladin institutions and museums have been founded (Ladin Institut "Micurà de Rü" and "Majon of Fascegn", Ladin Museum Ćiastel de Tor, Ladin Museum de Fascia, Intendënza Ladina, and others); Ladin newspapers have been printed (Usc di Ladins in particular, but also others that were only produced for a short time);  radio and television shows were broadcast and still are (such as Radio Gherdëina, Trail, and others); cultural associations spread Ladin culture through publications and fruitful events (Union Generela di Ladins dla Dolomites with its subdivisions, such as the EPL - Ladin Artists' Union, etc.).