Bolzano is a fascinating stop on our Grand Tour. It’s located in the Italian Alps, but German speaking. Along with its outstanding natural beauty it houses one of Europe’s most interesting archeological finds: Ötzi, the mummified remains of a prehistoric man found in 1991 by hikers in the nearby mountains. In the following post Tim Pozzi of BBC Travel highlights some of Bolzano’s many charms.
Bolzano is the gateway to the Dolomites. It sits in a valley, and it’s quite something to gaze up from the main square, pretty Piazza Walther, at the forest-clad slopes and ridges of jagged limestone that surround it.
The centre is traffic-free, so as you meander away from Piazza Walther you hear sparrows cheeping, coffee machines whirring, old women gossiping, cups and saucers clinking.
The colourful medieval, Gothic and Belle Époque buildings, with their stepped gables, turrets and attractively faded frescoes, have a north European feel. Yet the porticoed main commercial street, Via Portici, feels Mediterranean. At Piazza delle Erbe, described with pleasure by Goethe in his Italian Journey, the two flavours meet. Some of the cosiest bars and cafés are hidden behind the stalls of fruit and flowers, spices and cheeses. And speaking of fruit – did you know that South Tyrol produces 12 per cent of Europe’s apples?
Bolzano’s churches; its Franciscan cloisters with 15th-century frescoes of monks from Scotland and Newcastle; its Mercantile Museum; and Museion, a spectacular, glass-clad collection of modern art on the banks of the River Talvera, are all rewarding places to visit. But Bolzano’s biggest attraction is Ötzi, a mummy discovered by chance in 1991 after spending the previous 5,300 years frozen in mountain ice. Most intriguingly, he was murdered.
You can see Ötzi in his fridge, kept at 21F (-6C), at the Museum of Archaeology, alongside a thrillingly vast quantity of artefacts found with him, from bear-fur hat to bow and arrows, and fascinating footage of the police, not realising how old he was, extracting his body.
This being the 20th anniversary of his discovery [in 2011], there is also a stunning new reconstruction of how tattooed, muscly Ötzi would have looked on the last day of his life.
The chance to come face to face with a man who lived some 500 years before the building of the Pyramids makes the journey to Bolzano worthwhile on its own.