The Groeden Valley: A Glance Back
There is no doubt that there were pre-Roman settlements in Groeden. This is confirmed by prehistoric findings of the La Ten period at Col de Flam above St. Ulrich. The evidence includes a double tomb which has been found at Stufan at St. Ulrich a beautiful bronze knife which has been found on the Troi Paian track close to Balest and the Troi Paian itself, an enigmatic ancient track linking the heart of the Dolomites with the Eisack valley.
Further confirmation is made by the most recent finding of ancient tools made 8000 years ago. These tools are thought to have been used to prepare hunting weapons.
The oldest document in the history of Groeden dates back to 999. It tells about the Bavarian count Otto von Andechs presenting the bishop Gottschalk von Freisingen with various properties, one of them being a forest described as “Forestum ad Gredine”. This is the first time that the name Groeden, at that period “Greden”, is being mentioned. Scientists today agree that this name, which in rhaeto-romanic language reads “Gherdeina” comes down from pre-roman and Indo-Germanic origins and means “enclosure”.
Until the early years of the 20th century, the Groeden Valley, nestled in the towering mountains of the Dolomite range, remained relatively aloof from the stormy social and political winds which periodically swept across the European continent.
The inhabitants of these rocky slopes, Tyrolean mountaineers, are almost a race unto themselves, fiercely proud of their own customs and traditions, which they frequently have defended on the field of battle. They even speak their own language, a version of the Romansch tongue found in three distinct geographic regions along the Southern Alpine range. The geographic situation and insular life of the Groedners have made them at once strong and resilient, friendly yet wary, and stubborn. After decades, the Tyroleans in the Groeden Valley and the neighbouring Gader Valley have been granted a measure of cultural and administrative recognition by the central government of Italy.
For hundred of years, the chief occupation of the men of the region was raising cattle, sheep and goats, and though the growing season was short, the lush sweet grass of the Alpine meadows made for ideal grazing. From the milk came pungent Alpine cheese; from sheep’s wool, the Loden cloth and Groeden shag famous throughout the Tyrol.
Because the world rarely beat a path to the Groeden Valley, the inhabitants became wide-ranging travellers. It was the only way to introduce their handiwork to the rest of the world, and the by the 16th century, many hundreds of Groedeners were moving about the continent during the warm spring and summer month, selling or bartering their wares for foreign goods which were scarce back in the valley.
Back home, other members of the family would tend the herds and cut the hay and lay up the family’s supply of food for the long winter. Then reunited, the entire family would turn to a second trade – weaving, or tatting lace.