A CENTURY AND A HALF ON THE TRACKS OF HISTORY
Setting off from the border pass at an altitude of 1,475 m a.s.l, this railway is the highest in both Italy and Austria: It extends out over the Isarco valley to Bolzano (265m a.s.l), covering a distance of around 80 kilometres. It has, perhaps, made its mark on the last few centuries of the lands it runs through more than any other construction. The railway was inaugurated on 24 August 1867 after just three years of work: A historic date, not only because it marked the completion of the railway, built by emperor Franz Joseph and known as the “Suedbahn”, which covered the regions of both the Tyrol and Veneto en-route from Innsbruck to Verona, but also because it signalled the economic and cultural renaissance in South Tyrol. From the second half of the 1700s, the city began to slip into decadence after a long wave of war and Napoleonic occupation.
This culminated in 1830 with the suppression of the Magisterial Court founded by Claudia de’ Medici, antecedent of today’s Chamber of Commerce. Adieu, then, to commercial and cultural exchange, tourists, merchants and illustrious guests who had visited these lands since time immemorial and included Goethe and Mozart, Emperor Joseph II and Pope Pius VI. Fate, fortunately, stepped in to lend a helping hand on 23 March 1859 with the inauguration of the first railway track to the south of the Alps from Verona to Trento and shortly afterwards, on May 16, from Trento to Bolzano. Despite the loss of Veneto and the consequent shift of the Italian-Austrian border to Borghetto di Ala in October 1886, the last remaining stretch of track which crossed the pass between Bolzano and Innsbruck was inaugurated to great celebration on 24 August 1867. One of the first areas to benefit was the former local council of Gries, which became part of Bolzano in 1925, and had enjoyed great fame for many years due to its luxurious hotels. The train station was, in fact, named “Bozen-Gries”. In the early years of the 1900s, new means of transport including cable cars, cableways and small trains allowed tourists to ascend to one thousand metres a.s.l and on to the surrounding mountains in ease and comfort.
The Colle cable car opened the new season, and was the first cable car in the world to transport passengers. The city, which passed in Italian hands after the First World War in 1918, became the new regional capital of the province of Bolzano. It went on to experience dizzying industrial development, only to sink once more during the post-WW2 depression. The Brennero line, rebuilt and modernised, contributed once more to the subsequent revival, and remains to this day the primary link between north and south. It also remains central to pan-European development plans: In around ten years, the tunnel below the pass will be completed. And a record tunnel it is too: 54 kilometres of high-speed tunnel which can be traversed in just half an hour, bringing Bolzano one step closer to Europe and the Mediterranean.
(by Giancarlo Ansaloni - Translated into English)