A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Bressanone/Brixen is another charming town in the Sudtirol/Alto-Adige region, close to Falzes. Set in a valley amidst looming mountains and at the convergence of two major Alpine rivers, the town still retains the distinct flavours of its variegated history. As a large independent bishopric in the 11th century, it was secularised under the Austrian Empire and then annexed to Italy after the First World War. Walking through the town, we see a strong influence of Hapsburg rule in the buildings with their characteristically tapering domes. The frescoes that decorate not only the church interiors, but also the outer walls of buildings, attest to the strong artistic tradition of this region from the medieval times.
The Duomo at the heart of the town most emphatically bears the marks of its past in the borderland of two cultures. This 10th century cathedral with its tall bell-tower was rebuilt in the 13th century Romanesque style and then along Baroque lines in the 18th century.
At the foot of this magnificent church, surrounded by centuries old stately homes, is the tree-lined piazza that hosts one of the many christmas markets this region is famous for. Walking through the market is to be suddenly absorbed in a colourful world of enticing aromas and flavours. The market showcases the local handicrafts traditions and typical foods, such as speck (or smoked ham) and frutti di bosco (or berries, literally fruits-of-the-forest). Stopping by to buy some bread, my Italian friend asked for pretzels and was responded to with a curt repronunciation of the word. Evidently the lady was German and wanted to make it clear that this was not Italy. Although both German and Italian are official languages, the region, which is mostly populated by people of Austro-Bavarian descent, has struggled for autonomy from both Italy and Austria and this was just one such instance from its recent secessionist past. Today with its booming tourist industry, it is one of the wealthier provinces of Italy, far from its impoverished past.