The German word Alp or Alm which means seasonal pasture comes from the ancient, also German, word alba, which was a Pre Roman term which had the meaning of the mountain.
Geography - History
The mountain range system of the Alps is stretching approximately 1200 km in 8 countries: France, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Slovenia.
It was created tens of millions of years ago from the collision of the African and the Eurasian tectonic plates.
At the North part of the Alps, at the Wild kirchi caves, we have the first traces of some kind of Neanderthal habitation.
In the Bronze Age, Alps formed the boundary of the Urnfield and Terramare cultures.
During the 6th century BC, there are settlements of Celtic tribes, who start developing agriculture and animal husbandry and so they stop being hunters and food searchers.
During the Roman period, the tribes settled at the alpine area, which was under the Roman occupation, revolted and followed Hannibal and the Carthaginians in the battles against the Romans. After Hannibal’s defeat, the Romans conquered them for good in 190 BC. During this historical period, the excellent roads which were constructed, crossing the Alpine passes, allowed the communication in between the habitants of the Alpine settlements, being under Roman Occupation.
A little later, when Christianity was spread, monasteries were constructed in the Alpine valleys and Pagan religions disappeared, since most of the habitants became Christians. The heart of the political and religious community was situated at the North Alps, during the era of the Carolingian Empire and continued to be there even after the separation of France from the Holy Roman Empire.
The German Emperors, who took the titles of governing the Alpine areas from the Pope, had to cross the Alps with their armies in order to lead to submission the various tribes which were living there and to strengthen their power.
During the 7nth century, at the Eastern Alpine areas Slavic tribes were settled.
As a result of the perplex history of the Alpine area, the homogeny, as far as language and national identity, was not always in pace with the temporary borders of the European states and many times tensions were created among the habitants of those particular areas. Moreover, the Alpine Passes had always been of extreme significance not only during the wars, but also during periods of peace. Alps, were a crossroads of linguistic idioms too, coming from France, Germany, Italy and the Slavic countries.
The majority of the habitants in South Tyrol speak the German language. The German language is spoken also by the habitants of North Italy’s Alpine area, near the borders with Switzerland. Moreover, in Aosta’s valley, there are areas where the habitants speak French. In Resia Valley, the area which is known as the Venetian Slovenia, the habitants speak the Slovenic dialect.
After the World War II, the Alpine area entered a new era in its history and at the same time a common Alpine identity started taking shape.
With the Alpine Convention which was signed in 1991, between the habitants of the Alpine area and the EU countries, and is in full force since 1995, the particularity of the specific areas was recognised, beyond the national borders of the various states. With several protocols, it had been decided the support of the Alpine areas, so as the exceptional culture of the Alps to be promoted. It had also been decided the efforts for the preservation of the unique natural beauty of the Alps, which is a precious heritage of the whole Europe, to be more intensified.
The significant historic role of the East Alps.
Since High Middle Ages and up to modern Era, the political history of the East Alps was clearly defined by the dynasty of the Habsburgs. Their home was situated in the valley of the river Aar (Habsburg Castle). The Empire of the Habsburgs defeated other smaller dynasties, although in 1415 it lost some Alpine territories, which were occupied by Switzerland.
The area of the East Alps was richer and was characterized by the presence of the noble ones who had developed greatly the cattle husbanding in comparison with the West and Central Alps, where the habitants were having small farms with much less quantities of animals.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was the first of the many European intellectuals who discovered the magic beauty and serenity of the Alps and glorified it.
The way that Rousseau had conceived the uniqueness of the Alpine beauty inspired later on Goethe, Turner, Byron and Shelley, who glorified the Alpine beauty in their immortal poetry.
Hikers, explorers and Naturalists
Conrad Gessner was the first naturalist who visited the mountains so as to study their flora and fauna. Bewitched by their beauty he claimed that he had discovered a divine place. Many others soon followed his tracks. Horace- Benedict de Saussure was the first man who set foot on the peak of Monte Blanc in 1787. There is a monument in Chamonix (France) devoted to his great, at the time, achievement.
Fauna and Flora
There are almost 30.000 species of fauna living in the Alpine areas. Some of them are the Alpine ibex (when fully grown its horns are about one meter wide), the Alpine Butterfly Apollo, which has adapted itself to the Alpine climate, the marmot, the Golden Eagle and the Alpine salamander.
There are 13.000 species of flora at the Alpine areas and two of the most famous flowers there, are the Edelweiss and the gentiana acaulis.
Winter sports and infrastructure
The British were those who discovered at first the possibilities for the new winter sports of the 20th century offered by the Alpine areas and they were followed enthusiastically by many sport lovers from all over the world.
Infrastructure was developed and a whole brand new touristic industry was based upon the adoration for winter sports. Railway companies, funiculars, great hotels, tourist agencies, all united their powers and the Alpine areas were transferred from commercial passages to touristic poles of attraction.
The excellent infrastructure led to the taking up of the Winter Olympic Games in Alpine areas for 3 times, during the first half of the 20th century.
1924 Chamonix, France
1928 St.Moritz Switzerland
1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Germany
They have their roots to the pagan adoration of the Nature and take place very often in many towns of the Alpine area. The habitants celebrate with local dances and traditional clothes, (dirndi and trachten), any time new cattle are coming to the world or because they are thankful for the coming of the spring. Many local festivals are organised, in which bands from nearby villages participate, while they compete between them for a prize usually.
It is joyous, reflects the good mood of the mountains’ habitants and the characteristic musical instrument is the Alpine Horn, while the famous yodeling is the trademark of their songs.
A typical Swiss chalet often faces the South or downhill and its roof, made of Alpine rocks or slate, is inclined, allowing this way the snow to stay on top and to create a bed of protection from the cold. The stairs leading to the upper floor are usually external and sometimes there are also enclosed balconies.
The music of the Alpine Areas
The music of the Alpine areas appeared, first, during the 15nth century and got its final form, which still lasts till our days, during the 19th century.
In the beginning, it was a kind of music which was expressing the joy of life at the Alpine areas and the habitants of the mountains were enjoying it at family and friendly gatherings and also in local festivities.
Although the Alpine zone spreads in five countries (France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Germany), in fact the pure Alpine music has significant and strong influences from Switzerland and Austria.
In Switzerland, the famous Alphorn was, firstly, used as a way of communication between the shepherds of the mountain areas that were neighboring with each other. Later on, though, it was embodied into the folk musical tradition, along with the Jewish harp, the accordion and the harmonica.
The famous yodeling, in the beginning, was nothing but a way, for someone who had forgotten the words of the song, to accompany the rest of the people who were singing it. The extremely entertaining sound though, in combination with the joy and the atmosphere of the euphoria, which used to characterise the friendly gatherings, made the yodeling predominant element of this so very exceptional and particular Alpine music. Eventually, it characterised it and was practically identified with it.
At Austria’s Tyrol and at Germany’s Bavaria too, wind music instruments were added during the 19nth century, while the dances were mainly the polkas and the famous Schuhplatter (a joyful dance which is characterised by the rhythmical tapping of the legs and the clapping of the hands).
Many festivals, usually during summer, take place at the Alpine Area and they are extremely popular both to the locals and to the many tourists of the particular mountain area.
Since 1974, and every two years, at Innsbruck is held the “Alpine Folk music Competition”, in which participate many bands and folk dancing groups with colorful, traditional, impressive costumes from the whole Alpine area (it is quite well known that almost every single village in the Alps has its own band and its own traditional folk dancers). The festival in Innsbruck is considered to be a huge art event while at the same time is a major touristic pole of attraction.
The Alpine areas are famous for their excellent varieties of cheeses, like: Emmental, Gruyere, Vacherin, Appenzeller. Delicious are also the sausages stuffed with cabbage and seasonings (papet vaudois).
It is mainly based on cheese and veal. Nevertheless, they also prepare homemade pasta, potatoes cooked in cheesy sauces and many different kinds of bread.
Traditional characteristic dishes
It is traditional dish based on cheese. It has its roots to the mountains’ cuisine of 1290. The cheese is warmed up, either in front of the fire or by some electric cooking pot. The melted cheese is scrubbed and then put into the plate. It is accompanied by potatoes, pickles and dry meat like smoked ham or viande des Grisons, while one may drink with it warm beverages or some good wine, like Savoy wine και Pinot gris.
Small round potatoes, cooked into a mixture of fresh cream and cheese.
The most famous dish of the Alpine areas was firstly appeared in 1875 and it has many lovers all over the world. Gruyere is the cheese that is usually used for its preparation, while seasonings, garlic and wine are added to it. It is served melted and warm into a large special cooking pot for many people, with a candle beneath it or a spirit lamp. There are special long forks, so as for the small pieces of bread to be dipped into the mixture. When they are well covered with the cheese everyone can put them in their plates. It is considered as comfy food for companies, world wide.
Hot oil is put into a fondue pot. Small cubes of meat are fried there and are served with the long forks used for the cheese fondue. This particular dish is accompanied with various dips sauces.