Aosta Valley (in French Vallée d'Aoste, in Italian Valle d'Aosta) is a mountainous region in north-western Italy, the smallest of Italy's regions. It is bordered by France to the west, Switzerland to the north and the region of Piedmont to the south. The region has a special autonomous status and forms one of the Provinces of Italy. The regional capital is Aosta-Aoste.

The region covers 3,263 km² and has a population of about 113,000, concentrated in the valley bottomlands and partially Francophone. French is used in the government acts and laws, though the language actually spoken by the biggest part of the population is Franco-Provençal, a regional language that used to be spoken more generally in Savoy, French-speaking Switzerland, Lyon area and the Jura and was formerly one of the original patois. The valle d'Aosta is the region in which the language is most in use. In the small Town Gressoney the population also speaks a German dialect.

The Valle d'Aosta is an Alpine valley that with its side valleys includes the Italian slopes of Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn; its highest peak is the Gran Paradiso, protected in Gran Paradiso National Park, established in 1922. It is a major centre for winter sports, most famously at Courmayeur. The Dora Baltea has its origins in the Valle d'Aosta, flowing south to join the Po.

The upper Val d'Aosta is the traditional southern starting-point for the tracks, then roads, which divided here to lead over the Alpine passes. The road through the Great St. Bernard Pass (or today the Great St Bernard Tunnel) leads to Martigny, Valais, and the one through the Little St Bernard Pass to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, Savoie. Today Aosta is joined to Chamonix in France by the Mont Blanc Tunnel, a road tunnel on E25 running underneath the Alps.

The area was of strategic importance, under the control of many different rulers after the collapse of Roman rule in the 5th century, until it passed to the house of Savoy in the 11th century. Valle d'Aosta was established as an autonomous region of Italy in 1948.

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History

The first inhabitants of the Valle d'Aosta were Celts and Ligures, whose language lingers in some local placenames. Rome conquered the region from the local Salassi ca. 25 BC and founded Augusta Praetoria (Aosta) to secure the strategic mountain passes, which they improved with bridges and roads. After Rome it preserved traditions of autonomy, reinforced by its seasonal isolation, though it was loosely held in turns by the Goths and the Lombards, then by the Burgundian kings in the 5th century, followed by the Franks, who overrran the Burgundian kingdom in 534. At the division among the heirs of Charlemagne in 870, the Valle d'Aosta formed part of the Lotharingian Kingdom of Italy, in a second partition a decade later, part of the Kingom of Upper Burgundy, which was joined to the Kingdom of Arles— all doubtless without many significant corresponding changes in the personnel of the virtually independent fiefs in the Valle d'Aosta. In 1031/2 Umberto Biancamano, the founder of the house of Savoy, received the title count of Aosta from the Emperor Conrad II of the Franconian line and built himself a commanding fortification at Bard. St Anselm of Canterbury was born in Aosta in 1033/4. The region was divided among strongly fortified castles, and in 1191 Tomaso di Savoia found it necessary to grant to the communes a Carta delle Franchigie ("Charter of Liberties") that preserved autonymy, rights that were fiercely defended until 1770, when they were revoked, to tie Aosta more closely to the Piedmont, but which kept re-surfacing during post-Napoleonic times. Under Mussolini, a forced programme of "Italianization", including population transfers of Valdostans into Piedmont and Italian-speaking workers into Aosta, fostered movements towards separatism; Aosta was regranted its autonymy in 1948 [1].

In the mid-13th century Emperor Frederick II made the County of Aosta a duchy (see Duke of Aosta), and its arms were carried in the Savoia arms until the reunification of Italy, 1870 [2]. The region remained part of Savoy lands, with the exception of a French occupation, 1539 – 1563.

During the Middle Ages the region remained strongly feudal, and castles, such as those of the Challant family in the Valley of Gressoney, still dot the landscape. In the 12th and 13th centuries, German-speaking Walser communities were established in the Gressoney, and some communes retain their separate Walser identity even today.

The Valle d'Aosta remained agricultural and pastoral until the construction of dams to harness the potential of its hydroelectric power brought metal-working industry to the region.

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If you were forced to choose the most typical Italian region, you certainly would never pick the Valle d'Aosta. Not only is it the smallest (3262 sq. km.) and least populated (116,000 inhabitants), it is also one of the country's five legislatively and administratively autonomous regions, as granted by the Special Statute of February 26, 1948. The region is bilingual, with both Italian and French taught in school and commonly used at home. The only exception is in the Gressoney (or Lys) Valley where, due to the strong germanic cultural and linguistic traditions of the Walser community (which originally migrated here in the 12th century from Swiss Valais), Italian, French and German are taught. Surrounded by some of Europe's highest and most beautiful mountains, even the landscape is not typically Italian. Val d'Aosta (as it is also called) is strategically positioned on either bank of the Dora Baltea River, and it controls access to the Great St. Bernard and Little St. Bernard passes, which have been vital European crossroads since Roman times.

 The area's art and craftsmanship are not what you'd call typically Italian either. This is one of the few parts of Italy where Gothic runs rampant. Of course the ancient Romans left plenty of relics, and Baroque beauties are everywhere, but Gothic prevailed here from the late Romanesque period until the 17th century, basically eclipsing the Renaissance. Architecturally it is evident in scores of churches, castles and cathedrals, but it is the sculptures that represent the highpoint of Aostan artistic sensitivity and skill, and no place offers a better vantage point than the Treasury Museum of the cathedral in Aosta, the region's capital.

 Both wood and marble sculptures are present here, and the tombs of Francesco of Challant and Tommaso of Savoy are fine examples of large marble pieces. Both are attributed to local sculptor Stefano Mossettaz in the early 1400s. However, the artistic star of Aostan sculptures shone most brightly in works of wood, probably because the valley has such abundant forests, unlike the rest of Italy. There is remarkable expression and sensitivity in the many Madonnas, altarpieces and saints (St. Christopher seems to be especially popular, perhaps because as the patron saint of travellers he was familiar to a people living on one of Europe's great migratory routes). The Treasury Museum's statues of St. John, St. Mary Magdalen (pictured at right) and the Madonna with Child are superb examples of early 15th-century international Gothic.

You'll also find a good number of pieces of German origin, of which the beguiling statue of St. Agata is one. The cathedral itself abounds with wonderful wooden pieces, including the carved choir stalls dating from 1470 and a colossal Crucifixion dating from 1397.

 Elsewhere in Aosta, don't miss the stupendous St. Christopher in the church of St. Etienne, carved around 1450 from a single five-foot tree trunk. There is also a worthy Crucifixion in the parish church of St. Cristophe. And don't miss the twelfth-century cloister and frescoed garret of the Collegiata di Sant'Orso (pictured at left).

 To get a more complete idea of the importance of Gothic sculpture throughout all of Valle d'Aosta, just drive or take a bus to any village. You are sure to find other splendid examples of the medieval style, usually in the local parish church or the museum annexed to it. One itinerary might include Saint-Vincent, Torgnon and Valtournenche, with a visit to the Torgnon parish museum to see the early 14th-century Christ at the Column (pictured at right), as well as the germanic Madonna, St. James, and St. Martin, all attributed to Jörg Lederer circa 1520. And there's a fascinating early 16th-century crucifix in the church itself.

 Another short trip could include Gressoney-Saint-Jean, Issime (pictured at left), Arnad and Antagnod. Although this is the most German of Val d'Aosta's thirteen valleys, it has surprisingly few germanic sculptures, a notable exception being the magnificent gilded St. Barbara in Issime. Gressoney's parish church boasts one of the region's oldest crucifixes, dating from the early 13th century. And when you are in Arnad, take a moment to admire the breathtaking portal of the church (pictured above) and to pay a visit to the parish museum. One of Valle d'Aosta's best wooden sculptures, a memorable portrait that may be of St. Bernard, is in the museum of Antagnod.

Our third itinerary leads to Valgrisenche, Derby, Introd and Valsavarenche. Gothic jewels are present in the churches and annexed museums in all these towns.

Most of the (few) tourists who travel to Valle d'Aosta are there for hiking or skiing. By all means indulge in the region's glorious outdoor activities, but don't forget to save some time to observe its unique artistic qualities as well.

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The name Valle d'Aosta speaks for itself: Valle means valley, i.e. the form of the territory occupied by the region; Aosta is a city founded by Romans in 25 b.C. and dedicated with the name Augusta Praetoria to the emperor Augustus.
Surface 3 263 sq.km (1260 sq.miles) (1%), population 119 000 inhabitants (0,3%), density 36 inhab./sq.km.
Between 35 000 and 11 000 years ago, when other regions of Italy were already populated, the space of Valle d'Aosta was empty. In those times the greatest part of its territory was occupied by ice, and only in 9th millenium b.C., in the moment when between its mountains was stabilized moderate climate, the ice melted and flora and fauna appeared, which gave the possibility to create human settlements. One of the first inhabitants of Valle d'Aosta were Celts (IX-VIII centuries b.C.); this phenomenon left profound signs still recognized in the names of the localities and language. After Celts the Romans came, who intended to assume the control over these lands because of their strategic position. Romans improved the local organization, built the systems of communications and founded that noted above center Augusta Praetoria (future Aosta).
During the Middle Ages came to the end continuous invasions of Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Longobards and Franks and the anarchy, and began the feudalism, which traces could still be observed in numerous castles.
One of the most particular characteristics of this part of Italy is the presence of a strong spirit of independence and autonomy belonging to the inhabitants, one of the expressions of this fact is bilingualism: Italian-French.
Till the middle of 19th century the plain territory of Valle d'Aosta was used mostly for agriculture, but the mountain parts of the region, poor of fertile lands, had to be used by other activities more adapted to the environment, such as is breeding of cattle and sheep. Starting from the second half of the past century and most of all in last decades, Valle d'Aosta, especially its plain part, is a theatre of profound rearrangement, based on creation of various industries, first of all, iron metallurgy, using the availability of hydroelectricity (thanks to Alps' water) and big enough quantity of minerals (loadstone). The careful planning of the industrial constructions saved the harmony of landscape. While in the mountain regions the only new economic activity possible is tourism (winter sports, summer camping).
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History
Man and Territory
 Economy and Resources
Archeology and Art
Origins
From X century b.C. the Valley is occupied by the Celtic-Ligurian peoples
.
.
Roman Epoch
(from II century b.C.)
New organization of life brought by Romans
Assigning of lands, construction of roads, bridges, aqueducts; foundation of Augusta Praetoria in 25 b.C., the city fundamental for the transalpine communications
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Middle Ages
(V - XV centuries)
Domination of Franks. In 1031 Umberto Biancamano received from the emperor of Germany the title of count of Aosta: thus, the rein of Savoia began. In 1191, Tomaso di Savoia gave to Valle d'Aosta the administrative autonomy from the central government.
Starting from XI century the human settlements are being spread all over the territory; construction of fortified castles by local feudalists.
Castles of Challant, Fenis, Verres
Renaissance
(XV - XVI centuries)
In 1539 France extends its power on the whole of the region, but in 1563 Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia managed to reconstruct the county.
Increasing of agricultural activity and bringing out the value of the territory; construction of castles continues
.
Modern Ages (XVII=XVIII)
From 1792 the region is governed directly from Savoia, loosing its administrative autonomy.
Intensification of the exploitation of the ice minerals. In the end of XVIII century raised the first metallurgical and textile manufactures.
.
XIX - XX centuries
Being annexed together with Piedmont to France during the Napoleonic period, after Restoration returns to be governed by Savoia to which remained faithful even after proclamation of the government of united Italy. In 1948 Valle d'Aosta obtained the status of autonomous region.
Unveiled the first railways; grew some industries thanks to hydroelectricity. In the end of XIX century the English discovered the touristic resources of the Valle. In 1922 the ex park for hunting which belonged to the house of Savoy was opened to public (Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso).
The art and architecture greatly influence by the culture of Piedmont. The opening of Valle d'Aosta to English tourists brought as a consequence increases in value of the local art. Restoration of monuments and works of art.

Valle-map.JPG (44189 bytes)

 
Position.
Valle d'Aosta is the smallest region of Italy, it is located on the extreme north-west of the country bordering on France (west), Switzerland (north), Piedmont (south and east).
Landscape. The natural landscape of Valle d'Aosta is nearly entirely composed of alpine relief (Graian Alps and Pennine Alps) dominated by the peaks and glaciers of Monte Bianco, Gran Paradiso, Monte Rosa, Cervino and Gran Combin, so Valle d'Aosta could be considered as the vastest in Europe complex of mountains and valleys.
There are numerous passageways: Piccolo San Bernandino, the hill of the Seigne, Gran Bernardino; two tunnels: of Monte Bianco (leading to France) and of Gran San Bernardo(leading to Switzerland).
The minor valleys, serving the tourism now, are: val di Cogne, Valsavarenche, val de la Thuile, valle di Gressoney, Valtournenche, val Ferret.
The region has only one real river: Dora Baltea, which goes from Monte Bianco; but there are a lot of mountain and artificial lakes.
 
 
Altitudes
 
plain: 0%
 
hill: 0%
 
mountain: 100%
Aosta
January: 1,3 C
July: 16,8 C
Climate.
The climate in Valle d'Aosta is continental of the alpine type, with very long and cold winters and short summers.
 
Communications.
Valle d'Aosta is very well supplied with the road web reaching all the frontiers of the region, as well as developed the railway system, but serving mostly for the internal transportation.
Tourism
Total: 7 000 000
Italians: 92% Foreigners:8%
Employment
Agriculture: 8%
Industry: 23%
Tourism: 69%
Agriculture and breeding.
Apart from the products of no particular interest (rye, maize, potato, apple, grape), should be noticed two natural resources of a greater importance: wood, exported in big quantities in other regions, and breeding, especially of cattle, which mean production of milk, butter, cheeses (fontina, tome, etc.) and quality meet.
Industry.
The most important industries of Valle d'Aosta are those producing hydroelectrical energy (mostly exported to Piedmont). But at the same time reduced the number of working places in the chemical industry (as a sequence of closing of the artificial fiber factory in Chatillon) and metallurgic industry (as a sequence of the decision took by the European Community to reduce the production of steel in the countries of the common market). But thanks to the development of tourism Valle d'Aosta has the lowest level of unemployment in Italy.
Hydroenergy
Italy:
44 000 000 kWh
Valle d'Aosta:
2 735 000 kWh
Births (per 1000)
Italy: 9.9
Valle d'Aosta:7.9
Deaths (per 1000)
Italy: 9.3
Valle d'Aosta: 10.5
Remnant
Italy: 0.6
Valle d'Aosta: -2.5
Population.
Being closed between the mountains, Valle d'Aosta conducted for centuries quite isolated life, so that Italian and European political events didn't influence this region much. For nearly all of its history Valle was autonomous, and on February 26, 1948 became one of five autonomous Italian regions of a special status. Inhabitants of Valle d'Aosta speak particular dialect denominated patois, and the French language is used as much as Italian.
Life.
Among the inhabitants of 20 Italian regions, those who live in Valle d'Aosta appear to be the most fortunate. It is one of the first regions from economic, welfare, civic and social-cultural points of view. It takes the second place after Lombardy in product per inhabitant. Its environmental conditions are better thanks to Alpine climate and attention of the local administrators to ecological aspects and little quantity of polluting industries.
Here also people spend more for things and services destined to satisfy their needs of entertainment, sport and recreation. Thanks to noted above special status of the region, all the financial resources are managed by the local administration without intervention of the state. And it is obvious that it is managed well, as the quality of the public service is much better in comparison with the rest of Italy.
Inhabitants per car
Italy 2.0
Valle d'Aosta: 1.2
Monthly income
per inhabitant
1 552 000 It.Liras (776 US Dollars)
Provinces and Communes.
The region Valle d'Aosta is compound of only one province Aosta, and it is divided in 74 communes. The other major centers  are Courmayeur, Gressoney, Cervinia and Saint-Vincent known as the places of winter and summer vacations; Cogne, Chatillon and Verres are the seats of mining and industrial activities.

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