History of Cortina d'Ampezzo

The past of Cortina d'Ampezzo, its history, the birth of the most interesting places, and some interesting facts about the Pearl of the Dolomites. A page where we talk about history in depth, but not too much.

Introduction

Knowing the history of Cortina d'Ampezzo means a lot: a better understanding of the life of our ancestors who lived in the mountains, knowing something about the first world war, that took place in our mountains, and also a general knowledge about the places of interest of Cortina.

This page will allow you to know more about the history that has characterized life in the Ampezzo Dolomites, starting from the arrival of the first hunters, around 6000 BC, up to the present day.

Historical photograph of Cortina's ice stadium during the 1956 Olympics
Historic postcard of the Tiziano hotel in Cortina, Italy.
Historical postcard of Cortina d'Ampezzo
(1) The ice stadium during the 1956 Olympic games. (2) Historic postcard of the Tiziano hotel. (3) Panorama of Cortina in the past.

The page opens with the history of Cortina in past centuries, and then proceeds with a series of insights, for better understanding the most important points that have been covered in the article. Needless to say, the page is full of interesting anecdotes, so we recommend reading it in its entirety. If you are more interested in the history of the Dolomites and their geological formation, please read the following page:

Prehistory of Cortina

First we have to consider that there is no certain date for the birth of Cortina. What we know is that the first traces of activity date back to the Mesolithic era, thanks to the discovery of a mummy. It was a hunter, buried in the locality of Mondeval, which made it possible to date the human presence in these areas to, at least, 6000 BC.

... there is no concrete evidence of any permanent settlement until 1156...

Despite the presence, in the near Cadore, of the Paleovenetians and, subsequently, of the Romans, there is no concrete evidence of any permanent settlement in the Ampezzo valley, at least until 1156. This is the date where Ampezzo appears in the first official document. It is a sale between Domenico from Treviso and Giovanni from Cadore.

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Ancient history of Cortina

Until the year 1510 Cortina was considered part of Cadore, and it was probably frequented in summer, as life in winter would have been very difficult.

For many centuries the town was known only as Ampezzo; the suffix Cortina would not be added until 1900, as we will see later in the article.

Until the 15th century, the inhabitants of the territories of Cadore and Ampezzo lived in a state of relative peace, passing under the rule of Aquileia, Tyrol, and Aquileia again.

... the equality of all the people and equal rights between men and women...

During this historical period the Cadore Statutes were drafted, from which the statute of the Regole of Ampezzo was born. The Statute decreed the equality of all the people before the laws, did not recognize any noble title to its own citizens, promoted equal rights between men and women, exempted from military conscription and reduced the power of the church.

These statutes were extremely modern for the time and, in the future, were always reconfirmed by those who ruled over these lands.

Some historical photographs on display at the ethnographic museum in Cortina d'Ampezzo
Fort Three Stones War Museum
Radetzky's Cannons on display in the Cortina town hall
(1) Some historical photographs, on display at the ethnographic museum of Cortina. (2) Museum "Forte Tre Sassi". (3) Radetzky's Cannons in the entrance of Cortina's town hall.

In 1412 the Republic of Venice decided to conquer the territories of Cadore and Ampezzo, taking them away from the Patriarchate of Aquileia, which was part of the Holy Roman Empire.

... the emperor Maximilian conquered the Fortress of Botestagno...

For many years the empire asked for the resolution of this dispute, which took place a century later, when the emperor Maximilian of Habsburg conquered the Fortress of Botestagno

Maximilian asked for the submission of the Ampezzo citizens guaranteeing, in exchange, the maintenance of all privileges, including those contemplated in the Cadore Statutes.

... the separation of these territories created many difficulties in future relations...

Ampezzo accepted, and it was merged with the imperial domains, while Cadore remained in the hands of Venice. The separation of these territories created many difficulties in future relations between the two towns. For centuries there was bickering, but always governed by a discreet mutual respect.

Despite a few fights and beatings, there have never been serious cases of misunderstanding; in fact, no deaths have ever occurred.

Modern history of Cortina

For almost three centuries Cortina's history continued peacefully under the reign of Austria. Cortina had an enviable autonomy and a fair amount of wealth, thanks to the timber trade. This peace lasted until the arrival of Napoleon's army, which conquered Cortina and Toblach in 1809, aggregating them back to Cadore.

This situation did not last long. Only a couple of years later, with the fall of Napoleon, the Habsburg Empire succeeded in annexing all the territories that had belonged to the fallen Republic of Venice, including Cortina.

... the arrival of tourism led the town to be recognized as the Pearl of the Dolomites...

Towards the end of the 1800 the beginning of tourism made it possible to transform a mountain town into the locality we know today. The arrival of the first hikers brought the town to be internationally recognized as one of the most beautiful places in the Alps, earning the title of Pearl of the Dolomites.

The arrival of tourism also brought a fair amount of wealth, which allowed to raise some of the most distinctive buildings, most of them can still be admired today. First of all the bell tower, erected between 1852 and 1858. If you want to know more about the bell tower of Cortina, we invite you read the page we wrote on the subject, you can find it below:

Cortina's success seemed unstoppable, but the outbreak of World War I, in 1914, brought a terrible trench warfare to be fought on these lands.

The fighting ended in 1918, with the defeat of the Austrians at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto. It led to the annexation of Cortina to the Kingdom of Italy, initially under the province of Trento.

... Its name was changed from Ampezzo to Cortina d'Ampezzo...

On 21 January 1923 the town was assigned to the province of Belluno, and its name was changed from Ampezzo to Cortina d'Ampezzo.

With the arrival of fascism Cortina experienced a strong return to tourism, but this cost it much of its identity. Many of the highest fascist hierarchies liked to spend their vacations here, bringing a large influx of capital, used for the construction of ski slopes and ski lifts, but also the demand for linguistic homogenization by the Ampezzo people.

It was during this period that Italian took the place of the Ladin language as the main language. Many streets were renamed with more patriotic names, such as Cesare Battisti or Corso Italia. For the people of Cortina it was a hard blow, as they had maintained a strong autonomy throughout all their previous history.

The plaque to Paul Grohmann, who brought tourism to Ampezzo
The Cortina Ice Stadium in a 1971 historical photograph
Photograph of Roger Moore in Cortina for the filming of the 1981 007 movie.
(1) Plaque to Paul Grohmann, first tourist hiker in the valley. (2) The ice stadium in 1971. (3) Roger Moore in 1981 Cortina for the filming of the 007 movie.

The arrival of World War II slowed again the tourism in Cortina, which was also invaded again by the Nazis. The Germans sent many young men to war and made it a hospital town, thus preserving it from bombing. The arrival of the Americans led to the liberation of Cortina, which was again annexed to Italy.

The modern history of Cortina ends with the arrival of the 1956 Olympic games, the first to be broadcast on television. This brought the Pearl of the Dolomites to be internationally known, which it still is today. From that day on, appearances on the screens followed one another, tourism took off and there was an economic boom like never before.

Many buildings that were erected during the Olympics can still be visited, such as the Ice Stadium or the Ski Jump Trampoline Italia , in the district of Zuel.

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The "Regole" of Ampezzo

The Regole of Ampezzo, or family communes, are an institution that administers Ampezzo's forests and pastures. It's still active today. They act according to a complex of institutions, laws, customs and habits that have their roots in Cortina's earliest history.

The first written document that formalizes this type of administration dates back to the Cadore Statutes, whose drafting is estimated to be around 1235, but it is supposed that the Regole have much earlier origins, around the eighth century after Christ.

... ownership of a forest or pastureland is common among the entitled parties...

In contrast to Roman law, where the owner of a piece of land is the government or the person who bought it, in Cortina, Cadore and Comelico, ownership of a forest or pasture is common among those entitled to it. The eligible are the original residents, and the properties cannot be transferred except by direct line of inheritance. The institution of the Regole is recognized by the Italian state through specific laws, which protect its special reality.

The territory is divided into eleven Regole, specifically: High Lareto, Low Lareto, Ambrizola, Zuel, Campo , Pocol, Rumerlo, Cadin, Mandres and Fraina. About twenty years ago the different Regole have united in commonality.

... i marighi non possono rifiutare l'incarico...

Each Regola is managed by an administrative manager called Marigo. By statute, each Marigo is elected once a year, they work without pay and cannot refuse the position, except on payment of a fine. The main decisions that the Marigo had to make in the past was about the cattle and the pasture, as well as the payment of the shepherds, who were usually salaried. The entity of the Marigo still exists today, but their role for society is much more marginal than in the past.

Once a year all the Regolieri meet in assembly to discuss the past year and vote on some topics. Initially the meetings were held outdoors, but in 1957 the old school of the village was converted into the Ciasa de Ra Regoles, the house of the Regole, where the meetings are held nowadays.

We have already written about it on the page dedicated to the central street of Cortina, Corso Italia, which you will find below:

Considering that forests, as mentioned above, are a kind of "common private property," each Regoliere is entitled to a share of the wood that comes from cutting them. These are seven cubic meters of wood for each householder, plus one cubic meter for each of its members.

This wood, in the past, was very useful for heating or cooking. Each Regoliere can also request construction wood, the best available, but only for his own use, excluding the possibility of trading it.

Nowadays the territory owned by the Regole of Ampezzo is about 16,000 hectares and includes large woods of conifers, mainly spruce, larch, silver fir and pine.

Over the centuries, the tasks of this ancient institution have evolved. Today, the Regole are mainly occupied with the protection of the territory, the management of the Natural Park of the Ampezzo Dolomites, the renting and allocation of common goods, such as high altitude refuges and pastures, as well as the preservation of Ampezzo culture and traditions. The latter is mainly promoted through the Ampezzo Ethnographic Museum. If this topic interests you, you should read the following page:

The "Sestieri" of Ampezzo

During the Middle Ages, Ampezzo was part of Cadore, of which it constituted one of its ten centenae. The centenae are administrative subdivisions typical of the Nordic countries, inhabited by about one hundred families. Each centenae was commanded by a Centenarius and was in turn subdivided into ten decenas, commanded by ten Decans.

Around 1500, probably in a spirit of emulation to Venice, the decenas were reduced to six and were called Sestieri. The Sestieri are respectively. Alverà, Azon, Cadin, Chiave, Cortina, and Zuel.

Each Sestiere had a village chief, called Laudador, who was elected once a year. The main task of the Laudador was to organize life inside the villages, maintain order, communicate with the other Laudadors and coordinate the activities of the men in case of unforeseen events, such as fires or landslides.

Over the years the role of the Laudadors has been gradually diminished, until the arrival of the modern era, where the Sestieri have become mainly a tradition. The village chiefs have been replaced by the Presidents of the Sestieri. These are volunteers who organize the activities of the Sestieri, such as the country festivals of Cortina, which we discussed in depth on the following page:

The Sestieri of Ampezzo also organize other activities. The most interesting, at least from a historical point of view, is the Palio of the Sestieri. This is a competition where six teams, one for each district, compete in a cross-country skiing relay race.

The first edition of the palio was run in 1936 and, since then, all the editions have been held, except those from 1941 to 1945 due to the great war and those of 2021 and 2021 due to of the Covid emergency. If you want to learn more about the activities of the Sestieri of Ampezzo, we invite you read the following page:

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The Grand Council

As mentioned earlier, Cortina was managed by village leaders, one for each Sestiere, called Laudador. The duty of these six men became more important in 1508, following the separation from Venice. At that time Ampezzo referred to the Parliament of Pieve di Cadore for legal diatribes and its absence, due to the separation, would surely lead to problems in handling disputes.

Initially it was thought that the assembly of the Regole could provide a good solution, but the impartiality of such sessions could not be guaranteed. It was decided to organize an independent council, called the Grand Council. This consisted of 24 people, including twelve Laudadors, the six in charge and the former six, as well as other prominent figures of the country, such as the Captain of the castle of Botestagno.

The duties of the Grand Council were related to the management of the land in all its parts. Reading through more than 800 documents of the time, historians have found decisions regarding religion, public education, budgets, justice, defense, agriculture, transportation, roads, and even hunting, including wolf and bear hunting. At that time these predators were present in the valley and were dangerous to the herds more than to the population.

Mount pomagagnon in a historical photo
The village center with the bell tower and the Nuvolau in the background
Historical photography panorama of downtown
(1) Mount Pomagagnon and the bell tower. (2) The bell tower and Mount Nuvolau. (3) Historical photo of the center and Mount Faloria.

The importance of the work done by this parliament can still be felt today. It has wisely administered the country for centuries, responsibly managing the proceeds of timber sales, building valuable public buildings, preserving the land from abuse and bringing the town to what it is today.

Cortina is not only a town of great beauty, which has been able to preserve its identity, but it has become, with its splendid bell tower, one of the most iconic images of the good life and mountain holidays.

The fortress of Botestagno

The remains of the Fortress of Botestagno are little more than ruins, but in the past this stronghold was crucial to the defense of Cortina, whichever faction decided to conquer it at that particular time in history.

The first document mentioning Botestagno is dated 1175, but probably the castle was there much earlier. The fortress stands on the top of a rocky outcrop near the parking lot to Malga Ra Stua and can be easily reached both from the state road or from the former railroad.

Venice conquered the Ampezzo territories in 1412 and took them out of the hands of the patriarch of Aquileia. After that they needed to conquer the fortress, in order to establish a defensive outpost of the newly conquered lands.

... the only way to obtain the fortress was to put his hand to his wallet...

The task was so much more difficult than they imagined, so much that they had to give up the assault. They had to buy the fortress, and they paid a fortune, because it was almost impregnable. The same happened almost a century later, when Maximilian of Habsburg demanded the surrender of Ampezzo to the Kingdom of Austria. The only way to obtain the fortress was to put his hand to his wallet.

For many centuries the castle ensured the defense of the Ampezzo lands, until the mid 1700, when the improvement of artillery made the existence of the fortress much less important.

The Castle of Botestagno in a seventeenth-century print
A reconstruction of the fortress of Botestagno at the museum of the Ampezzo rules in Cortina
The hill where the castle once stood
(1) Fortress of Botestagno, circa 1600. (2) A reconstruction of the Fortress of Botestagno. (3) The hill where the outpost stood.

In 1908, an American millionaire came to Cortina and, after seeing the castle of Botestagno, fell in love with it. He decided that he wanted to build his house there at all costs. If you ever visit it, you will see that the view is breathtaking. The council of the Regole, however, decided that they had no intention of selling the property, because they didn't want to preclude any visitors from seeing the remains of that venerable castle.

As wisely foreseen by the council the Fortress of Botestagno is usually frequented by tourists and residents. In addition to history, visitors can admire a beautiful panorama over the Ampezzo valley.

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Most important dates

Here you can read the most important dates in the history of Ampezzo. Many dates have been mentioned in the previous chapters, while others have been inserted to give a context. Some of the names described may not say much to the tourists, but they are crucial moments for the history of Cortina and the nearby valleys.

Curiosity and thanks

Before concluding, we would like to leave you with a curiosity. Many wonder where the name Ampezzo comes from. Although there is no clear origin, local scholars and linguists agree that it derives from the Latin amplus, that means open, large place. The suffix Cortina, instead, could derive from "small court". In Italian would be piccola corte, but you could also make up the word "Cortina". Another possibility is due to the curtain that surrounded the cemetery, in Italian called "cortina".

For the drafting of this article, the scholar and writer Mario Ferruccio Belli was fundamental. He gave us, as a gift, an autographed copy of his book History of Cortina d'Ampezzo, it has allowed us to become passionate about the subject, providing the essential foundations for the creation of this page.

The information contained was integrated with texts by other authors, such as History of Cortina by Giuseppe Richebuono and other material, such as the calendars of the Cooperativa di Cortina or the websites of the Municipality of Cortina and the Regole d'Ampezzo.

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Conclusion

We hope you liked the page on the history of Cortina d'Ampezzo. Before saying goodbye, we would suggest you read all the articles we wrote about Cortina d'Ampezzo by clicking here.

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