When in Rome, do as the Romans do... but place names are turning German in South Tyrol

Teutonic governor in Italy’s northern  province to change  signage to German only

As the battle between Rome and Berlin continues over European austerity, in Italy’s northernmost province a linguistic conflict, provoking almost as much ire, is escalating between German and Italian-speaking locals.

In the Alpine South Tyrol, known in Italy as Alto Adige, the Teutonic governor Luis Durnwalder is taking an axe to the Italian names of 135 of the area’s leading beauty spots.

Signs, maps and tourist information will henceforth list celebrated peaks and vantage points such as the Monte Sant’Anna, the  Forcella del Santo and the Forcella di Vallunga in German only.

Local Italian-speaking politicians from the left and right have criticised the widespread replacement of Italian titles with German ones.

Daniela Rossi, the deputy secretary of the local branch of the centre-left Democratic Party, said: “We look like a laughing stock. This business was never discussed with us.”

Enrico Lillo of the centre-right People of Freedom party said: “It’s the usual case of the SVP [the German speaking South Tyrolean People’s Party] trampling over the Italian-speakers.”

But La Repubblica reported that hardliners in Mr Durnwalder’s regionalist SVP think the cull of Italian place names hasn’t gone far enough, and dozens more have been put up for Germanification. So far this hasn’t happened, possibly because Mr Durnwalder knows it might provoke the government in Rome to tear up the deal on the agreed 135 name changes.

A look at the history books shows the complexity of the situation. At the beginning of the 20th century the Italian nationalist politician Ettore Tolomei was charged with translating the German place names in South Tyrol – all 16,735 of them – into Italian.

With German and Italian side by side on most signs and guidebooks, Alto Adige became the place of the double name, with people pointedly using only the version from their own language.

Then, three years ago, Mr Durnwalder secured an agreement with the then minister for the regions, Raffaele Fitto, allowing him to identify and start disposing of the Italian names that he said were never used.

Critics of the plan to axe them say, however, that they are known and used, by locals, visitors and tourists.

The majority of South Tyrol’s half a million or so inhabitants are of Austrian-Bavarian heritage and speak German as a first language. The area was annexed from Austria after the First World War. About a quarter of the mountainous province’s population has Italian as its mother tongue, concentrated in the largest towns, Bolzano and Merano.

South Tyrol, one of the wealthiest parts of Italy in terms of per-capita income, has already been granted a large degree of autonomy, with a fiscal regime that allows it to retain and spend 90 per cent of local taxes raised.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...