San Martino Di Castrozza / Passo Rolle

The History of San Martino di Castrozza

The history of tourism told through vintage postcards

Cultura Wild peaks, unexplored worlds, an ancient hospice, and a brotherhood of monks...
Wild peaks, unexplored worlds, an ancient hospice, and a brotherhood of monks...

This is not the plot of a newly released compelling book, but the story of San Martino di Castrozza. I was walking through the streets of the historical centre with my grandchildren, when, in the very central La Crodaroi square, I noticed some panels that immediately caught my attention. This is how I discovered the new exhibition itinerary created by Marco Toffol, a great enthusiast of local history, who decided to tell the history of this Alpine citadel through his collection of vintage postcards.

The Pale di San Martino are the widest group of the Dolomites with an area of more than 200 square km


The route winds along Via Fontanelle, a very quiet street, away from traffic, which I always take when I bring Greta and Pietro for a walk in the Prati Col area, one of our favourite places. Despite the good-natured protests of the children, eager to reach the playground along the way, I was able to discover some fun facts about the history of the town. At the foot of the Pale already in the 11th century there were a small church and a hospice dedicated to Saints Martino and Giuliano. The ancient monastery was managed by a community of friars, who did their utmost to give hospitality to the travellers who crossed Passo Rolle, especially in the coldest periods of the year. At the beginning of the 1400s, the hospice became a secular priory and passed under the authority of Duke Sigismund of Austria, Count of Tyrol, and subsequently entered the sphere of influence of the Welsperg Counts, the first feudal lords of the Primiero Valley.

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The hospitality and assistance activity, managed from that moment by a prior, continued over the centuries, and around the second half of the 19th century, part of the hospice was transformed into an inn, renamed La Rosetta. However, the true turning point for the venue came in 1871, when the Austrian government opened the military road that linked the nearby Val di Fiemme to Primiero and then continued toward the plain. The valley, which until that moment was not very frequented, became an increasingly popular destination for wealthy English and Central European mountaineering enthusiasts.

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The new tourist flows quickly led to the foundation of numerous hotel structures, starting with the Alpine Hotel, which was built by Leopoldo Ben next to the hospice, right where the Dolomiti Hotel stands today. In 1915, due to the First World War, the Austrian troops decided to fix the defensive line on the Lagorai, and because of this they abandoned Primiero, setting the entire village on fire. All the buildings and hotels were set on fire and of that distant world today only the bell tower of the church in the town centre remains, a silent witness to the many facts that over the centuries transformed San Martino di Castrozza into a citadel of Alpine tourism.

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