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The Fanes' saga - Short essays


The town of Contrin


The fabled town of Contrin, so rich as to ornate its walls with golden merlons, appears in the legends in two passages: as king Odolghes’s town, who breaks through the doors of Aurona in the omonymous myth, and as the town which, in the Fassan trilogy, falls first under Trusans’ possession; thirty years later its king, again named Odolghes, realizing he cannot raise a revolt, has it better destroyed than in enemies’ hands.

The name “Contrin” closely resembles that of the other mythical town of the Dolomites, i.e. the Cunturines, the “capital” of the Fanes’ kingdom. We also can mention another, autonomous myth, very little of which remains nowadays, that takes its name from a girl called Conturina, a bridge between Contrin and Cunturines, and seems to be ambiented south of the Marmolada.

As a matter of fact, in the Dolomites at least two places exist today named Contrin: one is a small hamlet above Arabba, the other is a valley that from Penia climbs up towards the Ombretta pass, just south of the Marmolada. Beyond any doubt, the Fassan storytellers had the latter in mind, more so since the bad-smelling pond (Lek Puzolent) that gushes out there, (in effect, a sulphurous spring), was told to be connected with the smoldering ruins of the ancient town destroyed by fire (see Wolff, in his “Essay about the Dolomites Road”). This is a further example of a myth used to explain an outstanding natural phenomenon, and therefore it is more probable that the valley took its name from the fabled town, better than the reverse.

Going deeper into what legends say about Contrin, we can remark that the existence of a wall curtain is far from absurd: Sotciastel also, a modest village of the middle Bronze Age near Pedraces in the Badia valley, was surrounded by a wall, consisting of a palisade reinforced by an earthwork. Then, if a way or another Contrin really exploited a mine, which was obviously identified with the archetypal Aurona, and from which copper, not gold, was extracted, we cannot rule out that a few of the most important poleheads of the walls, the corner ones, or the gate posts, really had been plated with copper leaves to protect them from weathering.

Where and when did Contrin exist, then?

Almost certainly, this is an archetypical town, linked with both the Aurona and the Cunturines, that as such cannot be located or dated.

However, it is possible that the first village to fall into the Romans’ hands, which therefore was probably situated somewhere close to the eastern borders of the Fassa valley, and whose name we don’t know, was arbitrarily and fictively assigned the name of the mythical town, in order to remove and dilute into a myth the burning shame of the really suffered defeat.