You will like the hospitality of the Ladins — native people of the Dolomites

Traveling to the Dolomites and not knowing about the Ladins — no, that’s not how it works. Because any, even the most beautiful place on earth, is the people who live in it. And here in the mountains they are not only Italians, Austrians and others, but Ladins — native people of the Dolomites. Learn some quick facts about them before the trip.

Ivan Kuznetsov
Outdoor journalist from the Dolomites and Karelia

Valleys and Villages
Legends (Sagas)
Feast “La Desmontega”

Ladins: History

— The Ladins belongs to the group of people speaking Rhaeto-Romance languages, a group in northern Italy and Switzerland, a total of 30—35 thousand people. It is about (and in total) 4.53 % of the total population of the region South Tyrol.

Rhaeto-Romance people are Romanized descendants of the Rhaetians. The Rhaetians are tribes that lived in the valleys of the Western and Central Alps. Where the roots of the Rhaetians themselves go, it is unknown. Some identify them with Etruscans.

During the Roman Empire, the Ladins were already under the influence of the Germans and later of the Austrian Empire, and thus underwent the process of Germanization.

During World War I, Italy conquered part of South Tyrol. This part of Italy can only be called Italy at a stretch.

Ladins: Valleys and Villages

The centre of Ladins is the five world-famous valleys of the Dolomites: Val Gardena, Val Badia (also known as Alta Badia), Val di Fassa, Livinallongo and area of Cortina d’Ampezzo.

The Ladins live in the following specific communes: Cortina d’Ampezzo, Ortisei, Badia, Marebbe, Moena, Selva di Val Gardena, Pozza di Fassa, Canazei, Santa Cristina Valgardena, San Martino in Badia, Livinallongo del Col di Lana, Corvara, La Valle, Laghetti, Vigo di Fassa, Campitello di Fassa, Soraga, Mazzin, Colle Santa Lucia.

The region is also called Ladinia or the Kingdom of Fanes after a small national folk epic of the Ladins. The territory occupies 1200 square kilometers. The main mountains and mountain ranges in the Ladinia are Sella Group, 3151 m, Marmolada, 3343 m, Antelao, 3263 m, Cristallo, 3221 m, and other.

People celebrating Ladins’ main national feast of the year "La Desmontega" ("Destonteada") in Lamon, BL, Dolomites in Oct. 2018 © Ivan Kuznetsov
People celebrating Ladins’ main national feast of the year “La Desmontega” (“Destonteada”) in Lamon, BL, Dolomites in Oct. 2018 © Ivan Kuznetsov

Ladins: Language

Ladins has its own language, called the same — Ladin language. The name of the language means “vulgar Latin”. Latin is often associated with a remnant of vulgar Latin dialects left after the Romanization of the Alps.

It is also called Tyrolean Romanian language, Dolomite language, or Trentino language. Ladin is spoken in the valleys and villages, which I mentioned before, but also in other places in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, where it is officially recognized, as well as in the north of the province of Belluno, region of Veneto, where it has the status of a protected language.

Ladin language has several common dialects, depending on the region. People in Val Gardena, Val di Fassa, Zoldo, Alleghe, and other valleys and villages speak and write in slightly different ways. The Ladin written language is based on the Latin alphabet with the addition of several letters. In general, the inscriptions in Italian and Ladin (as well as French and Spanish) are very similar.

Both oral and written languages are used in official institutions, on road signs, and taught in schools.

Ladins: Legends (Sagas)

The Ladins have their own legends, tales, myths, and beliefs, like almost every ethnic group on this planet.

Legends of Ladins tells about kings and princesses, mountain shepherds, villagers, dragons and other incredible creatures, insidious villains and simpletons, valiant knights, and all kinds of natural phenomena and mountains.

“The Kingdom of Faines” is the main, but not the only work of literature by Ladins. Actually, even this one wasn’t written by any Ladin. Like everywhere in the world, people told tales from month to month before.

This and another 14 legends were collected by Karl Felix Wolff (1879–1966), a German journalist, writer, and #1 collector of myths and legends of Ladins. The book called “Pale Mountains” or “Sagas of the Dolomites”.

It is available in English, Italian, and German. I also translate it into Russian.

Buy the book “The Dolomites and Their Legends” by Karl Felix Wolff (ISBN: 978-88-7283-452-7)

The second best source of information about Ladins’ legends — this time, visual — drawings of the legends of an Italian artist Luisa Rota Sperti. She’s from Somana, a village in the commune of Mandello del Lario in the province of Lombardia. Since 1972, she has painted the Dolomites and other mountains.

The drawings can be viewed on the author’s website or in the book “Dentro la Montagna. Le Dolomiti tra leggenda e geologia” (“Inside the Mountains. Dolomites Between Legends and Geology” by an Italian author Paola Favero.

One of the most famous legends of the Ladins is called "The Splendid Colors of the Lake Carezza", and Luisa painted it in her unique way © Luisa Rota Sperti
One of the most famous legends of the Ladins is called “The Splendid Colors of the Lake Carezza”, and Luisa painted it in her unique way © Luisa Rota Sperti

It’s an amazing book that has helped me to love the Dolomites literally from the first days I arrived here. I’ve found it in the library of the school where we lived. It consists not only of Luisa’s drawing of the legends, but the text of some of the legends, information about the geology of the Dolomites, and ready-to-go guides to the places that are spoken of in the legends.

The book is only in Italian language, but it is worth to buy.

Buy the book “Dentro la montagna. Le Dolomiti tra leggenda e geologia” (ISBN: 978-8883146596)

Ladins: Feast “La Desmontega” (“Destonteada”)

The feast or holiday is dedicated to the return of shepherds and domestic animals — cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, and some others — from high mountain pastures back to mountain valleys for the winter. It is celebrated every year on the 15—20 of October. The animals leave for pastures in early spring as soon as the snow melts and the grass appears.

For the inhabitants of all the Dolomites, regardless of their ethnicity, this is one of the main holidays of the year, which will allow them to preserve and not forget the cultural traditions of the region. In addition, it is one of the most important components of economic life in the Dolomites. Cows, sheep, and goats give the world-famous Alpine milk. Thanks to animals, people still live in the Dolomites, not just because they are visited by millions of tourists from all over the world.

People celebrating Ladins’ main national feast of the year "La Desmontega" ("Destonteada") in Lamon, BL, Dolomites in Oct. 2018 © Ivan Kuznetsov
The feast “La Desmontega” represents the return of animals in a literal sense: they pass through towns and villages in one big parade with huge herds from small to large: first goats and sheep, then cows © Ivan Kuznetsov
People celebrating Ladins’ main national feast of the year "La Desmontega" ("Destonteada") in Lamon, BL, Dolomites in Oct. 2018 © Ivan Kuznetsov
Animals are dressed up with colorful ribbons and hats, the inhabitants themselves are dressed up in traditional Alpine and Ladin outfits © Ivan Kuznetsov
People celebrating Ladins’ main national feast of the year "La Desmontega" ("Destonteada") in Lamon, BL, Dolomites in Oct. 2018 © Ivan Kuznetsov
Animals walk along the main city streets, and in small towns like Lamon, they make several circles around the main square © Ivan Kuznetsov

Yes, Lamon’s celebrating this holiday, too.

I participated in it two times: in 2013 and 2018. Feast also celebrated in towns like Fiera di Premiero, Cavalese, Canazei, Predazzo, Selva, and Soraga in Val di Fassa, from where it is believed that the feast took place and kept there its appearance as accurately as possible.

After a parade of animals, the village is celebrating with treats, music, and dancing.

Ladins: Museums

There are four main museums of Ladins in the Dolomites. Each has different format, location, exhibitions, etc.:

Museum of History, Customs and Traditions of the Ladin People in Livinallongo del Col di Lana

The museum is divided into four sections that deal with different themes: from a civil organization of the territory, community management, the type of houses and agricultural and forestry economy to the geology, flora, fauna, and ancient history. There are more than 600 photographs of Ladins, as well as many films.

Address: Via Pieve, 78, Livinallongo del Col di Lana, 32020.
Tickets: no data.

Ladin Museum in Fassa (Museo Ladin de Fascia) or Fassa Ladin Museum in San Giovanni di Fassa

It is a part of the important Ladin Cultural Institute (Institut Cultural Ladin “Majon Di Fascegn”) with has larger ethnographic collection. It dedicated to the different aspects of the Ladin civilization in 17 information points with a total of 74 short single-topic films concerning objects or aspects of the exhibition.

Address: Strada de Sen Jan, 5, San Giovanni di Fassa, 38036.
Tickets: 5 euro for adults, free for children under 14 y. o.

Museum Ladin Ciastel de Tor (Ladin Museum — Tor Castle) in S. Martin de Tor (San Martino in Badia)

The museum focuses on some significant aspects of the present and past lives of the Ladins. It highlight the important influences of cross-regional events on the lives of the population and pinpoint the existing interrelations between landscape forms and lifestyles.

Address: Via Tor 65, S. Martin de Tor (San Martino in Badia), I-39030.
Tickets: 8 euros for adults, free for children under 6 y. o.

Museum Ladin Ursus Ladinicus in St. Kassian

The museum is a branch of the Ladin Museum in St. Martin de Tor. It has three floors with the exhibition telling about the evolutionary history of the Dolomites. It display the finest and most significant fossils from the area around St. Kassian, including the reconstruction of the Conturines bear cave.

Address: Micura de Ru Str., 26, St. Kassian, 39036.
Tickets: 8 euros for adults, free for сhildren up to 6 y. o.

Important: it is better to check the working schedule of each museum before the trip because opening hours depend on the season, holidays, and, sometimes, weather (when there are no visitors at all).

Cover photo: “La Desmontega” in Lamon in Oct. 2018 Ivan Kuznetsov.

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