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In the 2003 issue by Athesia of the “Dolomitensagen”, the “Kingdom of Fanes” saga is opened by two introductory chapters, written by Wolff himself, certainly after the second World War, and therefore absent in the Italian translation by Clara Ciraolo, published by Cappelli, which came quite earlier. I’m translating here (resuming a few passages) the former introduction, where several important cues for the reasearch are exposed; the latter will follow. I’m also attaching a short remark note of my own.



Mo les stóryes de Fànis,
köres è tröp piü vödles
[But the stories of the Fanes,
they are much older.]

According to a man from Marebbe



“The Dolomites are the jewels of the crown of the Alps”.

Heinrich Noé

All Dolomitic mountaintops have a characteristic, strangely pale aspect, as if mixing the mysteries of the mountains and those of light. They emanate a charm that legends have described in deeply sentimental words, stating that, whoever had seen the Dolomites just once, will always be animated by an irresistible longing for coming back in the “Pale Mountains”. This is based, not only on the beauty of the landscape, but also on the memories, the concepts, the connections between truth and poetry, that in the course of ages men wanted to interweave in them. As they are the kingdom of oddly audacious stone shapes and of the changeable lightness of colours, so they also are the land of the fables, where primeval man transferred all concepts he couldn’t understand.
These features of the Dolomitic landscape, that I might almost define as metaphysical, can nowhere else be found so strong and immediate than on the way between Dobbiaco and Cortina, specially when one comes in between the stone altars of the Cristallo and the Croda Rossa, in that sombre narrow passage where Middle-age history knits by means of the ancient fortress of Peutelstein [in It.: Podestagno, Transl.’s note]. Around these proud fortified stones, where one might think to catch a glimpse of the spikes of watchtowers, the path coils like a big snake towards the Dobbiaco area, while all around unexpected views suddenly unfold. The Boite river roars from the depths, dark shadows project on the path, odd chasms gape sideways here and there, like gates of unmeasurable labyrinths, and all of a sudden, high on imposing foundations, enigmatic and unmistakeable, a coral-red wall of rock appears rigid and stately, so neatly sculpted and indented, itself to belong for shape and colour to the Dolomitic fableland!

This sort of natural castle is named Antruiles. South, North, and West, stretches a stone area known since old ages by the name of Fanis, comprising the Antruiles, the Croda Rossa, the Sasso della Porta above the lake of Braies, the Furcia dai Fers, the peaks of the Naynores, of the Varela and of the Conturines, the three-pronged tops of the Tofane and the tight val Travenanzes, by the resounding name, narrow between overhanging walls.

With this landscape the name of Fanis, or Fanes, is connected, where with the former terms ancient Ladinians indicated the area, with the latter they designated its inhabitants. Moreover, they talked of a “Kingdom of Fanes”, that must have been prosperous and well populated. This name, that today appears meaningless, is as much enigmatic as any other element of this territory, which is the innermost and most disguised core of all Dolomites.

Mysterious and fascinating is also the poetic legend connected with the mountains of Fanes, because legends are the soul of the territory of the Dolomites. An old man from Marebbe, with whom I talked thoroughly, several years long, about the Fanis plateau and the tales of the Kingdom of Fanes, concealed his half-vanished memories behind the significant statement I put at the beginning of this text.

The Fanes plateau, witch stretches from the Ampezzo area to the Badia valley, is a largely unfrequented stone desert. According to Bertha Richter-Santifaller, an historian of the ladinian Dolomites valleys, the Fanes Alp is designated for the first time in the years 1002-1004 as “Petra Uanna” in a description of the borders between Pusteria and Norital*) . In this wilderness of desolated stone, the lamb vulture nested until few decades ago.

Everywhere in the Dolomites, when I was talking about memories and traditions with the elder, and tried to dig into the deepest of their remembrances, I used to discover, however murky, but well-rooted also, the confused image of a wonderful “Kingdom of Fanes”, of which, however, nothing more or more precisely could be known. So, a man from San Vigilio resumed all he remembered about the Fanes with just these words: “Up there at Fanes there was a castle in front of the Locia of San Cassiano, but there was a king who made war – and everything was destroyed”. But, when I moved to San Cassiano to learn more, villagers just didn’t know anything about it.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, I could slowly clarify a few concepts, that nust be considered as the core of the legend itself. The remembrance surfaced of a prosperous kingdom with a powerful royal dynasty and horse-mounted knights. This magnificent kingdom, to be dated at very remote ages, was located in the most peculiar and less accessible area of the Dolomites, i.e. on those mountains of Fanes that once must have been lushfully vegetated and wonderfully fertile; the seat of the royal house, the Fanes castle, stood on the Cunturines, the slender peaks that crown the basin of the Croda Vanna on its southern side. Not far away from the castle was located an ancient revered temple, of which however the tradition tells so little, that I guess that pronouncing its name was considered unacceptable. Marmots were unquestionably, in a way, the protector spirits of the kingdom. As the last king abandoned the marmots, the Fanes kingdom collapsed: in vain did the women of the royal house try to avert this doom: the king, his son and his grandson carried the disaster to completion**) .
The last traces of this totemistic binding with marmots can still be found in the Dolomitic area. In year 1925, at the Tre Croci pass, an old hunter told me that killing a marmot was shameful; he added that the pagan ancestors of the Ampezzo people considered marmots as sacred. Moreover, a man from the Badia valley was able to remember that marmots (“muntanyöles”, accented on ö) often used to take shelter under the shepherds’ huts; he also said that they never had been bashful. Both facts are conceivable, if you intentionally take care of them. This is contradictory, however, with the opinion, widespread in Marebbe, that marmots are responsible for the appearance of carbuncle. Many hunters are also oddly convinced that originally there were no marmots at all in the Dolomites, that they have been introduced for the first time in 1886 by the game warden Fezzi, who brought them from the Inn valley, and that later on they spread till the Sorapis group. Anyway, this might be valid for Marebbe, where they might have been exterminated, because maybe of the mentioned superstition, but certainly cannot hold true in general, because marmots can’t cross a rushing stream, and in any case they don’t like climbing down into the valleys, therefore they might not have spread to the Sorapis in a time so short. A man from Ampezzo, to whom I talked in 1925, stated that marmots were widespread in his mountains since immemorable times. More so, about year 1600, the description of the territory of Gardena by earl Marx Sittich von Wolkenstein declares that in those mountains the “promendel”, i.e. the marmot, was a stable element of the sedentary fauna.

Let’s go back to consider the Fanes legend. The people of Fassa had popular dramas with an epic content, the forewords and afterwords of which seem to come from much older ages. The song of the “Kingdom of Fanes”, even then already half-forgotten, was mentioned, and the Fassan hero Lidsanel was qualified as grandson of the king of Fanes. This should be enough to understand that in the past an ancient epic poetry, o popular drama must have existed, where the “Kingdom of Fanes” was celebrated, i.e. the land and the primeval population of the Dolomites.

To this fabulous Kingdom of Fanes, it pertains also the legend of a great treasure that lays hidden somewhere in the heart of the Dolomites. This was the Aurona, “the land of gold and of lights”. Now, legends about treasures can be generally found in minerary areas; this appears to be a reference to the age-old mine of Fursill, that opens on mount Pore (see the tale of the ”Ultima Delibana”). For this important ore area, from which ancient pathways (the “triol de la vana” and the “troi payan”, i.e. the “path of the mine” and the “pagan pathway”) bring to Sabiona, the chief town of the Isarco district, the surrounding populations must have fought hard several times in ancient times. Therefore the legend of the treasure intertwines with tales of war. At the core of everything the character of an amazon-like princess can be found, whose name is diversely attributed: Ceduja, Luyanta, Meyfalente, Dolasilla°) ecc. The doom of this heroine was sung in non-rhymed verses, with several epic repetitions. Around the twelfth century, when the art of Ladinian bards, fertilized by the performance of dramas on the barbarian invasions and of Christ’s passion, had attained its finest, Rhaetian traditions were interweaved with new concepts connected with courts’ lifestyle. This way, an epical and heroic poem arose, that consisted of thirteen parts and the performance of which must have been a whole summer day long (on this subject, an old man from the Fassa valley, if anyone narrated of fabulous topics or talked endlessly, had the habit of saying “he is thirteening”). That heroic poem told of Dolasilla’s deeds and sorrows, explained the wonders of Dolomites’ ancient ages and narrated the tragic fall of the Kingdom of Fanes! But to this upsetting ending the perspective of a “promised time” (el tyèmp impermetù) was knitting, “when everything that once was, will exist again”. Then the last remembrance sank into the sombre waters of the lake of Braies, beneath the “Sass dla Porta” (i.e. the Croda del Becco), the gates of which cannot be found any longer°°) .

The purpose of my attempt to put together the sparse fragments of this poem, was to rebuild again this great cycle of legends and songs in its epic structure. I can’t deny taking often a large freedom in organizing and filling the material in; anyway, I have always carefully tried to preserve the inner essence and tone of the legendary core, as they emerged from the territory and the people, as I was passionately longing for reconstructing the primeval structure of that ancient poetry. The Ladinian mountaineers, to whom I read my work, were very happy with it, and they expressed me several times that my reconstruction was correct; one remembered a sentence, one another, that he once had listened to.

Maria Veronica Rubatscher embarked as well on an attempt to make possibile an organic sight out of those chaotic legendary fragments (see her essay “Tscheduya” on n.° 219 of the “Dolomiten”, Bolzano, sept. 20th, 1947). Very appropriately, she defines the mountain world of the Fanes as “the mythical core of the Dolomites”. Connecting the myth of Laurino with the legendary cicle of the Fanes is an Author’s abuse (as well as in Morlang’s popular drama).
In year 1929, I published my elaboration of the Fanes saga, under the pen name Anton Allmer, on the magazine from München “Bergkamerad” (see on the subject the redactor’s note on the München magazine “Deutschen Alpenzeitung”, dec. 1929, page 564.) I widened those concepts further when I inserted into the Fanes cycle the legend “La Croda Rossa”.

As far as the name “Fanes” is concerned, it is mostly supposed to go back to the Ladinian “fana” (a frying pan), as on the Fanes Alp several pitlike ground depressions can be found. But fana is always just a frying pan; in Ladinian, a ground depression is named tjaldira, and a tight hole in the ground or in the rocks is a penya; an old wooden milking bucket is also named penya. As a name of place, “district of Fanes” is already used from year 1600 onwards, and there old Ladinians also talk about “Fanes people”, so the name should be of a different origin. By the way, the name can also be found outside of the Dolomites. Around 1412, the Patriarch of Aquileia sent troops from Tolmezzo into the Cadore: the name of one of the expedition commanders was Niccolò Fanis. It looks as if we are dealing with the name of an ancient population, that survived sporadically as a family name (see Brentari, “Guida del Cadore”). In the Aosta valley we have a castle of Fenis. In the Férsina valley near Trento a place is named Fennisberg (see Zingerle, “Legends from Tyrol”, 2nd issue, Innsbruck 1891, pag.28). “Fana” is also the name of a brook in the upper Inn valley in the commune of Serfaus (see “Publications of the Ferdinandeum”, 1928, Bk. 8th, pg. 314). But he have more: in broad areas of Germany a legend was once widespread about the people of Fenes, who were sometimes described as a very ancient people, sometimes as elflike beings. So, in Austria dwarfs were also named “Fenes people” and remarkable facts of any kind were told about them. Old Vernaleken, e.g., reports the following legend: “In northern Silesia, near the village of Heinzendorf, there is a mountain with a cave on its top, named Hole of the Fenes. There, inside the mountain, long ago the people of the Fenes lived; they weren’t higher than a child five or six years old, but their head, which they covered with a wide-brimmed hat, was disproportionately large. They liked pretty human children and used to steal them; therefore, they were chased. The king of the Fenes took a carter in service and had just ox bladders brought nearby the Hole of the Fenes. The cart stopped on the border and aboard each bladder one of the Fennes mounted with all his belongings” (Theodor Vernaleken, “Myths and customs of Austrian people”, Vienna 1859, pg. 228 foll.).
The germanist E.H. Meyer talks about “venetians, or Fenes people” and says “the kingdom of the Fenes people was later annexed to the wonderful town of Venice and to the mount of Venus” (Elard Hugo Meyer, “German Mythology”, Berlin 1891, pg. 120 and 127.

This connection with the concept of the ”mount of Venus” looks extremely important to me: the “mount of Venus”, indeed, is just a region under matriarchal domination, where a woman is in power. Now, legends about such a woman can be found in several places of southeastern Alps; we have the “Contessa di Doleda” and “Donna Chenina” (both in the upper Fassa valley), then the “Gentildonna della Fratta”, who must have lived in the area of Rocca Pietore on the “Rives del Tjastel”, the “Donna Dindia” near Cortina d’Ampezzo, “Queen Bongaya” in the Alpago, the “Contessa di Priòla” near Tolmezzo in Carnia and “Countess Hemma” in Carinthia, - just female characters as chief of a principality, of whom no evidence exists in historical times, and who therefore are pre-historical, but whom popular traditions are often dealing with. It seems they are the remembrance of primeval populations who were guided by women and lived therefore still on matriarchal bases. When in contact with nearby patriarchal communities, the matriarchal institutions were gradually overturned and eventually they were completely destroyed. This seems to me the most probable explanation of the legend of the Kingdom of Fanes, its struggle and its destruction (see the preface to the eighth issue of this work) .

While collecting and re-ordering my material, I was able to take advantage of the contributions from several other scholars, as Tita Cassan, Hugo von Rossi, Wilhelm Moroder-Lusenberg, Arthur von Wallpach and Father Staudacher. At Bolzano I got one of my best contributors in the trader Heinrich Calligari (born in 1870, deceased in 1932). He was a man from Bolzano under any aspect, but his parents came from the Fassa valley and used talking in Ladinian among themselves. So he mastered this language too, and was also acquainted with idioms that today in Fassa are not used any longer. About the legendary cycle of the Kingdom of Fanes, Calligari brought me a very special contribution. When I I showed him the manuscript and asked him whether he liked the structure I had given these tales, he judged it favourably and added: “Now write it again in good Fassan language: do tradütsioyn e ditsh vèyes metùi’m semo luré fora da K.F.W.” [according to traditions and old legends collected and elaborated by K.F.W.]. I always came back to Calligari when I had no chance to travel up to Fassa, and I owe him several useful communications.

The already mentioned Karl Staudacher (parish priest of Lappago) was a tireless researcher, who loved Dolomites extraordinarily. He was very deeply involved with the legendary cycle of the kingdom of Fanes, and composed a large epic poem out of this material, in rhythmed verses: “Das Fannes-lied^)” [The Song of the Fannes, transl.’s note], from which I excerpted several passages . Having been born in Brunico, Staudacher knew the Marebbe valley landscape in detail. On March 31th, 1930, he wrote me: “Your legends of the Dolomites open me to a few personal considerations. They don’t have as much of an historical core as the German popular legends, but they possess a poetry of their own, with fully saturated colours, and over them a reflection of the powerful nature of the mountains is stretching. Maybe I’m so much passionate with them, because our old nanny came from Marebbe, and was able to narrate such legends…



*)The Norital (=Noric Valley) was a region corresponding to the middle valley of the Inn river, together with a few side valleys, including the one climbing to the Brenner pass, and with the valley of the Isarco river. After the XIII century, it also included the Venosta valley (Translator’s note).

**)At this point, Wolff adds a hint to G.Innerebner’s findings in 1953 (see in this site “G.Innerebner’s archaeological “researches” in the Fanes piccola basin”) (Translator’s note).

°)Baron von Herzmanovsky-Orlando (Merano), a myth and naming expert, thought that Dolasilla might be a voice-guiding word built with the initial syllables of the verses of a song (do-re-mi-fa-sol…). He even was not far from guessing that this name, which maybe was even longer, could be sung with a special rhythm in order to obtain a special effect. In Ladinian. Double consonants don’t exist, but in any case the name is pre-ladinian, therefore I’m writing it with a double “l: Dolasilla. On the other hand, it may be also an emphatic gemination; see also the name “Tanna” (Author's note).

°°)According to Franz Dantone, from Gries, the Croda del Becco, known in the Marebbe area as Sass dla Porta, in ancient times had also a sacred name, that could only be known by initiates (Author's note).

^)Fannes” is the German form of the Ladinian name “Fanis” (Author's note).


My remarks

Translating this important text by Wolff, I clarified further how harmful was it to me not being fluent in the German language. As a matter of fact, had I been able to first read Wolff in his original version, and not in the Italian translation by Clara Ciraolo, I could have avoided at least one gross conceptual mistake. Not because the above mentioned translation is unfaithful, but since, having been written before 1932, it is obviously lacking some parts that Wolff added or modified in the following years: first of all, this foreword.
The main mistake I incurred into consists essentially in having believed that
Wolff could not be aware of the matriarchal backstage of his story. Since, on the contrary, from this preface it turns out clear that he had very well understood that, unfortunately it becomes possible what I had hoped to rule out: that is, that the writer might have modified what had been traditionally passed on, in order to (legitimately, from his point of view) have it fit his conceptions better on this subject. It seems that Wolff learned everything about this part of the story (the matriarchal part, I mean) from Staudacher’s memories only: it is completely missing in the issues pre-dating his encounter with the priest, but it is not exactly known what may have been reported to him. In this direction, a further research should be performed. if ever possible.
It must be observed, moreover, that Staudacher, born in 1875 in Brunico, learned about the Fanes legend from a Marebbe nanny. Alton, who published his
"Proverbi, tradizioni ed anneddoti delle valli ladine orientali" in 1880, and who shows very well informed about the Marebbe traditions, just makes no mention of the Fanes at all. This apparent contradiction, that might be explained in several ways, or no one at all, is also waiting for a final clarification.