Fanes' saga - short essays
The Pre-Roman Fassa valley
main source for the legends about the Pre-Roman Fassa valley is
H. de Rossi’s
collection, who dedicates a couple of chapters to what he obtained
from an aged informant who remained anonymous. I’m summarizing
here the Ladinian texts and their Italian translations, usually
less developped. However, the remarkably detailed informations
we can derive from them don’t easily match with the archaeological
data available today. We can observe that some doubts can be cast
on the validity of the single source from which de Rossi seems
to have collected his witnesses.
text in short
the place where now St. Juliana’s church stands, there
once was a majestic castle with three towers, that were
the symbol of the three allied valleys: Fassa, Ega, Livinallongo
and St.Nicholas (!). The walls were massive, and several
war implements were preserved in their tunnels. Loopholes
were the only thing that could be perceived from outside.
The biggest tower, that of Fassa, was painted yellow and
green, Vigo’s colours. Under a cover (kuert)
rising on four stone pillars, the sacred fire burned perennially.
Several circular walls had been erected for defense. Within
them, farming was forbidden, as well as planting or removing
trees: it was a sacred place, where the dead were buried.
church rises on a magnificent terrace,
15 minutes of walk above Vigo di Fassa. The church dates
to the XVth century, but is was erected over much older
buildings. The first church appears as having been mostly
built of wood and can be dated to about the Xth century.
Remains dating to the Iron Age, (IVth century B.C.), referred
to a cultual deposit, have also been retrieved. No trace
was found (up to now?) of a castle, or better of a castelliere
[circular dry stone fortification], as well as of any
that the valleys symbolized by the three towers are actually
four, like the three musketeers; evidently, one of them
is spurious. The St.Nicholas valley (mentioned in the
Ladinian text, not in its Italian translation) seems too
small for having been able to feed a population as numerous
as the other ones, at least in the recent past; however,
it debouches into the Fassa valley pretty close to Vigo;
the Ega valley is close by too, while the well-populated
Livinallongo is geographically much farther away, and
politically it also was so until year 1027, when the bishop
of Bressanone gained control of them all. I’ve got
the feeling that in proto-historical times the three valleys
were Fassa, Ega and St.Nicholas; in the Middle Ages, having
the last of them declined since long, it was replaced
by Livinallongo, maybe on the purpose to underline their
ethnical and linguistic brotherhood and perhaps also to
help burying the bitter attritions of the past forever.
the castle, the commander had his residence. A popular assembly
assigned each freeman a red dot or a red star for every
outstanding feat he had performed; the man who had most,
was nominated commander at war and judge in time of peace.
The place where the castle should have risen is named today
passage seems to specially exhalt the absolute democraticity
of the commander’s choice. The credibility of the
legend is, however, wholly to be proven.
name of the place, that evidently means castelliere, is
repeated (in the form Castelir) at the Castelliere
of Bellamonte, in the nearby Travignolo valley, that was
inhabited during the Iron Age and perhaps in the Bronze
Age too. The castellieri, strongholds or fortified villages
built on hilltops and basically defended by a broad dry
stone wall, are typical e.g. of Istria and Venezia Giulia;
the placename is present also elsewhere in the Dolomites.
Remark that the defensive structure of a castelliere
is completely different from that evidenced at Sotciastel
in the Badia valley (a ditch and an earthwork crowned
by a palisade).
of the walls, there was a large village provided with four
water cisterns, two of which are still visible, but one
day it was buried by a landslide. Its inhabitants moved
lower, where today’s village still stands. Their homes
were single-floored huts, with no windows and no chimney
They were round, built of dry stones whose joints were plugged
with moss and earth. Their roof consisted of branches and
leaves. Their entrance was so low as to compel people creeping
in on fours. In the middle they had a stone hearth which
was never extinguished, because to light it they must rub
two pieces of wood together, until a spark was ignited.
Smoke could only get out through the door. Along the wall
there were seats built out of large stones. The village
was named Chiusil.
structure of the dwellings described here doesn’t
match at all that of the Pre-Roman hamlets in the Fassa
valley of which we still have a few remains (Doss dei
Pigui, Pian dei Crepei), where huts were wooden,
square-shaped and built with the block-bau technique (beams
in a rectangular layout, with extremities fitted into each
other, in overlying layers). If we apply the dry stone technique
recounted by de Rossi to the fortress and its towers, the
picture that appears to our mind is that… of a nuragic
village! There is a second legendary hint to a circular
dry stone fortress in the Fassa valley (Kindl,
1997): it refers to the upper Mortic valley, where a military
leader known as Molares is told as having long fought against
a foreign army commanded by… Dolasilla (!): obviously
just another case of homologation of different characters
over the same archetype. I never heard anything about the
actual existence of the remains of such a fortress. Of course,
it may happen that natural stone heap structures are mistaken
for the ruins of ancient buildings.
Why does the witness recounted by de Rossi, be it or not
the echo of a really popular tradition, tell of something
that in Fassa seems never having existed? Maybe someone,
in a relatively remote past, had seen the still standing
remains of Bellamonte (or other places) and mentally applied
the same building concepts to the then legendary village?
Sure he couldn’t invent them out of his own mind,
since all those details are absolutely realistic. Is the
village just buried where nobody tried digging it out yet?
Were both techniques in use in the valley, maybe at different
times? There’s still a lot of room for new researches,
both archaeological and upon folklore.
and somewhat aside of the Ciaslier,
the Col de Me was located, where every year a great
festival was hold in May. In the middle there was a stone
altar, around which the Fassans danced in circle, adorned
with flowers. From the nearby “Col de Sas de
la Vea” a priest intoned an ancient song:
doben bibe vu
A nom de Numa l sas
A nos l ton e pabol asà
Pos mort l Elis a du
Peppe tor pikol coà
N barat les bot
Taf e slap garà."
festival was hold under a large pitch tree during a “regola”,
a general assembly of the people, which lasted eight days,
together with the allies (Fodom [=Livinallongo], Ega, St.Nicholas).
Every day at sunrise men assembled to deliberate about justice
and common defense; the military leaders of each valley
were nominated and dots and stars were painted on the warriors’
shields. After midday they blowed a horn and at this signal
people were allowed to climb up. Everyone hurried to be
able seeing the sacrifice. Two or three veals were killed,
then they danced and sang and prayed; competitions and games
were held. A straw puppet was burnt; this tradition went
on after Christianization also, but with the puppet only
and with no altar. Now a procession is hold in St. Vito’s
honour, but in Carnival the straw puppet is still burnt.
They say that on the Col de Me a Christian preacher was
description of the pagan festival, certainly a rite for
the beginning of the agricultural year of extremely old
tradition, is basically credible, as more so as it seems
having lasted very long (probably it was only banished
by the Counter-Reform).
language of the song, that can be compared with other
fragments remembered by the Fassan legends, is a very
interesting proto-Ladinian, where several words seem to
be in a very corrupted Latin. De Rossi himself was in
great trouble transcribing it (several versions exist,
all of which differing for some small details; see U.
Kindl’s notes in H.
de Rossi, 1984).
first strophe might perhaps be (tentatively) translated
must drink wine [debemus bibere vinum?];
“In the name of the Gods the stone jug (l sas),
“To us health (ton) and food (pabulum)
“After death the Elysium to all.”
second strophe leaves me even more doubtful. “Tinarez”
seems to be an invocation to two distinct deities, Tina
and Rez; for the former an assonance with the
Etruscan god Tinia has been invoked, for the
second with the Venetic-Rhaetian Reitia, who
was venerated at Este (again U.Kindl).
“Peppe” (or “pepe”)
sounds quite mysterious to me. “Tor pikol coà”,
maybe literally “take a small brood”, might
be a reference to a sacrifice of young animals to the
gods, also because “n barat” should
mean “in exchange”; les bot is unclear
in itself, but in other versions it is replaced by bez
or tos, that should both mean “boys”
and so “children” (??), while “taf
e slap” should be something alike to “food
and drink” and “garà”
certainly means “available”.
translating at sense, and not without gaps:
front of Tina and Rez (…) we offer a sacrifice of
In exchange [we receive] children,
Food and drink available for us”.
Notice that both strophes appear as having more or less
the same meaning; the former shows a majority of words
derived from Latin, while those of the latter appear to
be of mostly Rhaetian origin. May it be the repetition
of two invocations having the same general meaning, but
Romans arrived, Fassans opposed a stubborn resistance. Many
preferred suicide to defeat; women, who resisted longer
than men, when other projectiles were over, threw their
children into their enemies’ face. Before fleeing
into the mountains, the Fassans burned everything, so that
“Munez”, the infamous Roman leader,
was only left with smoldering ruins.
Kindl remarks that this “legend” is really
taken from the recount of the Roman annalist Anneus Florus,
who didn’t refer it to the Fassa valley, but to
peoples of the Noricus in general) and therefore it is
of learned derivation and no authentic popular tradition.
“Munez” might be intended to be Lucius
Munatius Plancus, a great general and illustrious Roman
politician, a faithful follower of Caesar first and of
Octavianus later, who, among other honours, was governor
of the Galliae, where he founded Lyon. Munatius in 44
B.C. defeated the Rhaetians of the upper Rhine, but it
is rather doubtful that he personally took care of conquering
the Fassa valley. This too might only be a learned tradition.
By the way, history confirms however the presence of other
minor representatives of the Munatii family in the Roman
armies engaged in the Alps.
For the Roman conquest of the Fassa valley, see also what
said in > Analysis >The
Fassan trilogy and in > Essays>