Besides their inestimable beauty, which has earned them the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dolomites are also known for countless legends and sagas that are part of their cultural wealth. That's why this year mythological characters such as the Aguane, dwarfs, giants and a king are the focus of Dolomiti Superski's communication campaigns. If you want to immerse yourself in this fascinating world of legends, we have just the thing for you.
King Laurin and the Enrosadira
The Dolomites look like they are on fire at dawn and dusk, when they paint themselves in shades of red, yellow and orange. This is the alpenglow, also called enrosadira. This natural phenomenon is caused by the unique structure of the rock faces, which reflects diffracted sunlight in the early morning and towards the evening. Well, that is how the scientists explain this phenomenon so unique to the Dolomites, the world’s most beautiful mountain range and UNESCO World Heritage site.
But over the years, grandparents in the mountain valleys have handed down a completely different — and perhaps more interesting — version to their grandchildren. Laurin, the King of the Dwarves, lived among the summits of the Rosengarten group, whose name literally means “rose garden”. The roses, which bloomed in a sea of red, orange and yellow hues, were his pride and joy and legendary across the land. When Theodoric the Great, the King of the River Etsch, decided to marry off his beautiful daughter Similde, he invited all the noblemen from across the land... all of them except King Laurin. Laurin became enraged and decided to avenge himself for this humiliation, using his magical invisibility hat to sneak into the festivities. But as soon as he saw Similde, he fell deeply in love with her and kidnapped her.
The other noblemen, who were also determined to win the heart of the beautiful princess, immediately set off after the kidnapper, in a bid to bring the poor girl back home. King Laurin’s magical hat and enchanted belt made him both invisible and invincible, and he thought he had won the battle. But then his enemies managed to pull off his belt and defeat him. Similde was freed and taken back to her father. King Laurin, on the other hand, furious at the defeat, cursed his delightful rose garden, transforming it into a rocky expanse so no one could admire its unique beauty day or night. Luckily for us, grouchy old King Laurin forgot to include dawn and dusk within his curse. And so, for a few moments, at sunrise and sunset, the splendour of King Laurin’s extraordinarily colourful roses can be seen by us mountain lovers who look forward to the Dolomites’ next natural performance — the enroasdira.
Witches all around
The legends that abound in the Dolomites are some of our most treasured cultural legacies. Rare is a valley, town or village without legends of yesteryear which tell of mythological creatures or adventures full of heroes, monsters and... witches. Witches, in particular, have always been at the centre of tales which try to make sense of unexplained meteorological, agricultural or natural phenomenon.
Witches are not always old ladies who ride broomsticks, Harry Potter-style. Some cast good spells, while others are as wicked as they come. Wicked witches who gather to dance and cast spells and curses on the inhabitants of the mountain valleys have often been accused of causing inclement weather, floods, avalanches and drought. Sometimes their rivals, ‘white’ witches, reversed evil spells or helped people get rid of a curse.
The Dolomite valleys are home to countless legends about witches. Some of the best known include the Schlern witch, who lives on the imposing, unmistakeably Alpine mountain in the Seiser Alm, as well as Zicùta and Spina de Mul, sorcerer siblings who descended from the epic Fanes lineage, and witches from the Trentino, Belluno and Friulian Dolomite valleys. This fear of demons and witches has given rise to many place names which have survived to this day including the Piana delle Streghe (the witches’ plain) and the Banco delle Streghe (the witches’ bench), among others. Places which valley dwellers still hold their breath as they pass by even today.
The water nymphs
Another famous mythological creature which is very common within most of the Dolomite valleys is the “aguana”. Aguanas are usually represented as spirits similar to the nymphs of Roman mythology. According to some traditions, aguanas were women who lived in the woods and practised a pagan religion. These stories were inspired by communities who settled in the Alpine valleys throughout the centuries and millennia. Aguanas are generally considered to be non-human creatures which belong to the spirit world.
They are often described as young women and are usually very attractive and seductive to men. However, sometimes they appear as half-girl, half-reptile or -fish, and they like to scream loudly (in the Veneto there was, until recently, the expression “Sigàr come n’anguana”, which means to shout like an aguana). In other stories, they appear as skinny, ghostly old ladies, or nocturnal figures who disappear before the person who sees them manages to look them in the face.
All of the legendary aguanas possess at least one non-human trait: chicken or duck feet or goats’ hooves, scaly legs or a ‘sunken’ back (which they hide with moss or bark). Can you picture them? All legends agree that aguanas live in springs and streams and protect the water, testament to their closeness — their harmony — with nature. Legends tell of aguanas teaching humans traditional crafts such as spinning or cheese making. These tales always end badly, because the humans turn out to be greedy, ungrateful, disloyal and treacherous. Offended, the aguana disappears without teaching one last vital craft — often how to make salt, sugar, glass or something else that was sparse in the villages. Hands up who wouldn’t want to meet an aguana!
Where do dwarves come from?
In everyone's imagination, dwarves are small, good-natured men with long beards and often a red, pointed cap, dressed in a tunic, with a large belt and hiking boots. Long braids knotted with colourful bows are typical of the female version of the dwarves. The mythological figure of the dwarves comes from the imagination of Paracelsus, an alchemist of the Middle Ages. It was he who first spoke of "gnomes" at the end of the 14th century, deriving the name from the Greek etymon "gnosis", which means knowledge. For Paracelsus, gnomes were chthonic beings, i.e. mythological creatures that lived underground and were somehow connected to earthly or subterranean life. The physical representation of gnomes, often referred to as elves, as small, bearded, sometimes funny or, on the contrary, gruff human beings, dates back to the development in Northern European literature and fantasy literature. Elves, dwarves, fairies, goblins, trolls: these are similar characters that are often mistakenly confused with each other and evoke a strong connection to nature, the earth and the forest. They are usually industrious, resourceful, particularly intelligent and capable. They care for the animals of the forest, know the uses and functions of the herbs that nature provides, and know how to make marvellous ointments and medicines from them. Depending on the geographical origin of the author talking about them, they are described with positive and sometimes negative characteristics. Dwarves with exactly the characteristics described above are also "at home" in the Dolomites. You don't believe it? Then read on:
The good dwarf and the curious farmer's wife
Once upon a time, there was a young peasant girl who lived in a small hut at the foot of the rocky giants known as the Dolomites. The place was idyllic, like Heidi's cottage in the famous animated film. Unfortunately, the young woman had become a widow and had to look after her animals, mow the meadows, harvest the potatoes and chop the wood for the winter alone. In short, it was a drama, and almost every day the young woman cried in despair. She didn't know it, but a dwarf who lived in a cave near her house had seen her in all her sadness as he wandered through the forest in search of berries, mushrooms and perhaps some sweet fruit. The dwarf, who was a good soul, felt challenged and it activated what is in the DNA of good dwarves. At night, but always in secret, he began to do the hard labour in place of the young farm girl. She was surprised when she found herself in front of a huge pile of beautiful, split wood, ready to burn in the stove during the cold winter days. And when she wanted to feed and milk the cows and goats that she kept in the barn, the milk buckets were already full and the animals were lying on the floor full to bursting. And it was the same in summer when it was time to sow, harvest and mow. Everything was done before the farmer's wife could start. Naturally, the woman was overjoyed and gradually began to suspect that a dwarf might have had a hand in it. One evening, the woman hid in the barn and waited for someone to turn up. It wasn't long before the gnome came into the stable and did all the work. The farmer's wife peeked out from behind a large bale of hay and... suddenly she sneezed! The gnome was startled and wanted to flee, but the woman stopped him at the door. With a smile on her face, the woman began to thank him and cry with happiness. The gnome, delighted at the praise, reassured the woman by telling her that he would be happy to help her as long as she needed him. But on one condition: The young woman must never ask him his name. The years passed and the dwarf was still the farmer's wife's faithful helper, who now led a much quieter and less strenuous life than before. From time to time, the woman baked a cake in the oven and gave it to the dwarf as a thank-you gift. Once, when she handed him the cake, her curiosity got the better of her and she could no longer contain herself: "Come on, tell me your name - we've been friends for so long!" If only she had never said that! The dwarf suddenly changed his expression, scowled, began to rumble, ran quickly out of the door and disappeared into the forest. And that was the last time the woman saw him. From then on, the farmer's wife had to do all the work on the farm herself again.
When you admire the jagged peaks and towers of the Dolomites and some of their most imposing peaks, the human imagination quickly recognises them as giants. A natural consequence of this is the creation of stories, tales and legends that are passed on to descendants and become part of the cultural heritage of the mountain valleys. In many areas of the Dolomites, giants are part of these stories, which often differ in plot but are basically very similar. And this is where the names of the giants Sassolungo and Grimm appear.
Sassolungo, the evil one
A family of gentle giants is said to have lived between Val di Fassa and Val Gardena. The farmers sold them potatoes and cheese, which the giants paid for with gold collected in the river. Only one of them was evil: the giant Langkofel, a thief and liar of the highest order. Langkofel was so quick and cunning that not even the other giants realised how mean and malicious he was. The badger and the mole were blamed for the destroyed harvest, the magpie for the stolen gold, the little mice for the stolen grain. And Langkofel was the first to shout: "Death to the fox, death to the marten, death to the hawk, the badger, the mole, the mice and the magpie!" So it was decided that the fox, magpie, badger and marten would guard the valley during the day, while the hawk, mole and mice would keep watch at night to understand what was happening. They soon discovered that the giant Langkofel was the culprit and condemned him to sink into the earth until he confessed his misdeeds. The giant was so dishonest and stubborn that he did not even admit his mistakes when his whole body was under the ground and only one hand was sticking out. This hand with the five open fingers remained fossilised in the Fassa Dolomites and is now known as the "Five Fingers of the Sassolungo".
Grimm, the lover
Closely linked to the morphology of the territory is the legend of the giant Grimm, who lived on the Jochgrimm Pass between the Weisshorn and Schwarzhorn. According to the story, the giant kidnapped the beautiful daughter of a nobleman from the Val d'Ega, took her to his palace on the Weisshorn and married her. To get his daughter back, the girl's father called for help from the famous hero Dietrich von Bern, who managed to defeat the giant in a duel in the Salurner Klause. Enraged, Grimm retreated to his mountain and from there began to throw huge stones at the knights who followed him. The stones were the foundations of the Weißhorn, which suddenly collapsed, burying not only the knights but also the giant and his bride: the blood of those killed coloured the valley below red. Even today, the Bletterbach gorge stands out against the white of the summit: it is the chromatic contrast between the white dolomite of the Contrin formation, which forms the summit of the Weißhorn, and the red Val Gardena strata below, in which the gorge is engraved. The collapsed foundations of the Corno Bianco can be recognised by the landslide blocks that fall from the summit towards Radein and Aldein.
How the stars became Alpine flowers
When God created the earth, he decided to cover it in flowers and plants. He made flowers of every colour and scent, fruits of every flavour and herbs with wonderful properties, which he scattered here and there. Meadows and hills transformed into delightful colourful carpets and lush woodland teeming with life.
Only the Alpine mountain peaks remained bare and quiet. Nothing could grow among the cold and stones so high up. The mountains felt sad and asked the sky for help.
One night under the full moon, the angels collected the stars which shone in the darkness, and scattered them in between the rocks and crevices. The mountains happily wrapped them up straight away in a soft fuzz to protect them from the cold and offered them some earth so their fragile roots could cling to the stones. The moon looked down from the sky, and, enchanted by the spectacle of stars in the mountains, shone its beam down onto them, turning the flowers white. When the sun rose, the mountains were finally full of joyfully glittering flowers: the first edelweiss flowers.
Where knights fight dragons
Once upon a time, a mean dragon lived at the foot of Sas dla Crusc mountain in Val Badia. He had the body of a snake, long claws and enormous wings.
The monster ate animals and, occasionally, people. His favourite food was grazing sheep, so he often invaded the local sheep pens, panicking and killing the animals, and stirring up hate among the people. Desperate, the farmers turned to Sir Wilhelm von Prack, also known as Gran Bracun, for help. He lived in a castle in Marebbe and had just returned from war.
The knight, who was renowned for his extreme bravery and prowess, put on his armour, jumped on his horse, and set off towards the dragon’s lair at Sas dla Crusc. All of a sudden, the dragon came out from his lair and pounced on the knight. Unshaken, the knight struck the monster in the heart and it dropped stone-dead off the rock. For a long time, no one dared approach the dragon’s body. Gran Bracun, who is based on a real person, went down in history as a hero, and people still tell stories about his brave deeds to this day. And the dragon? They say that a long time after it was killed, a shepherd came across what might have been its skeleton. Eek!
Where the mountains sing
The story of Conturina is a classic — an enchanting princess who lived in a palace with her stepmother and two stepsisters. Her stepmother envied her beauty, which captivated all the young men in the kingdom. In particular, Conturina’s beauty prevented her sisters, who were nothing to write home about, from finding husbands.
The stepmother forced her to pretend to be mute and dumb (as wicked stepmothers do...). She spread the word around, hoping that the young men would stop paying attention to Conturina, but her plan failed. The awful woman then cast a spell to trap the young girl on the highest cliff over the Ombretta Pass. The girl would remain trapped forever between the rocks, unless she was saved by a besotted young man within seven years. She was unlucky, as no one was bold enough to pass those parts in time. Conturina remained a rock forever, despite her sweet singing voice. Wayfarers can still hear her singing on the quietest nights as they travel along the paths at the foot of the Marmolada. Listen, can you hear it...?
In the Dolomites every mountain is a legend
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