Discovering Bolzano and Merano

A Christmas post in which Fabrizio takes us on a discovery of Bolzano and Merano, their treasures, and their Christmas markets!

December, time for parties, time for Christmas. On this joyous occasion there are many art cities in Italy that are tinged with the bright colors of Christmas illuminations and entertain with events and markets. But what are the true and original Christmas markets (without detracting from the others of course)? Certainly the tradition of Germanic-influenced Advent markets took root first in South Tyrol. We therefore wanted to conduct a special episode on just such an occasion and tell you about both Bolzano and Merano.

It is not difficult to sense that as soon as you enter South Tyrol, you breathe a different air. It is not only the healthy mountain air that refreshes the lungs, but it is an air with strong Germanic connotations. This territory is in fact South Tyrol, the Italian portion of the larger region of Tyrol, which had its first capital in Merano, which later passed to Innsbruck (in Austria). Subsequent vicissitudes led this area to change hands on several occasions until it became Italian land following World War I. South Tyrol with its capital Bolzano is an autonomous province and together with the other autonomous province of Trento formed the first region with a special statute in Italy.

Bolzano, Piazza Walther
Bolzano, Walther Square
Oggetti in vendita al mercatino natalizio di Bolzano
Items for sale at the Bolzano Christmas market.

Bolzano and Merano arose in strategic positions at the gateway to the Dolomites, important hinge points for doltralpe trade as early as Roman times. In the medieval period they were mercantile cities where merchants from the valleys around came to do business. The urban conformation of the historic core was centered on a long arcaded street overlooked by long narrow houses where on the first floor trade and craft activities took place, in the cellars goods were stored, and on the raised floors were residences. The facades of these houses are very characteristic, marked by erkers, the typical Tyrolean bow-windows.

Per le vie di Bolzano
Through the streets of Bolzano

All today one can appreciate these picturesque streets: in both Bolzano and Merano, Via Portici is the main commercial larteria of the old town. Other streets and squares also evoke in their names the activities that used to take place: via Argentieri, via Bottai, piazza del Grano, piazza delle Erbe.

Both localities, for different reasons, underwent urban expansion in later centuries. In Merano in the 1800s, the beneficial effects of the mild climate and oligomineral waters were made known, making it a renowned international health resort. Thus were born the spa and a series of buildings that gave the city a new Art Nouveau appearance. It thus became a favorite destination of the Habsburg aristocracy, which gave it international prestige.

Even today Merano is known as a spa resort; the new building that houses the baths was built 10 years ago and overlooks the promenade along the Passirio River, which continues in what has been baptized the promenade destate through the green (where the monument to Empress Sissi is located), while on the opposite bank (near the historic district where the cathedral stands) there is the passeggiata dinverno protected by an iron veranda: the Wandelhalle. Surely the most representative building in Merano remains the Kurhaus, which was founded as a place to serve vacationers with spaces for recreation, dancing, concerts, and there was even a casino. Today it is often the venue for conferences and events at the large Art Nouveau hall of the Kursaal.

Of Bolzano, on the other hand, it can be said that the most representative image is that of its largest and most famous square: Walther Square in which stands the statue of the German poet whose name it bears. Here the mass of the cathedral with its pierced bell tower and tiled roof reminiscent of Vienna Cathedral stands out.

Bolzano also reserves darte treasures worth visiting, such as the chapel of St. John inside the Dominican complex, a short walk from the cathedral. A long narrow chapel frescoed with pictorial cycles of the Giotto school with the use also of new pictorial techniques for that period such as the use of the individuality of the characters and perspective from which developed a pictorial current known precisely as the Bolzano school.

Also in Bolzano, there are other religious complexes, not included in our documentary for reasons of time, but which I would like to point out: the Franciscan church, the Capuchin church and in the hamlet of Gries the abbey of Muri-Gries, also famous because it is home to an important winery run by the Benedictines who produce excellent Lagrein wine.

Il Duomo di Merano
Merano Cathedral
Bolzano, la Cappella di San Giovanni
Bolzano, the Chapel of St. John

And if you still have time left over in your weekend between Bolzano, Merano and the traditional Christmas markets-and you can’t help but visit a museum-I’d like to point out the usual Women’s Museum in Merano and the Alto Adige Archaeological Museum in Bolzano, where ?tzi, the prehistoric man found on the Similaun glacier on the border with Austria, is housed.

One last piece of advice: if you want to make a tourist/cultural trip to South Tyrol, contact the Tourist Boards of the different cities, they will surely know how to indicate with extreme helpfulness and courtesy everything that is right for you for everything else there is Ready to Go. Happy Holidays!!!

Fabrizio nel Museo Archeologico con ?tzi
Fabrizio in the South Tyrol Archaeological Museum with ?tzi
Merano, i mercatini
Merano, the markets
Merano, monumento a Sissi
Merano, monument to Sissi, Empress Elisabeth of Austria

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