The Tirol line of the Habsburgs died out in 1665, but Maria Theresa helped the city retain its glory
by building more fabulous buildings. Tirol was ceded to Bavaria after Napoleon's conquest in 1805
and it remained so until 1814, when it was given back to Austria at the Congress of Vienna. After the
railway came through the Brenner pass in 1884, Innsbruck, shown at left in 1685, became a vital,
prosperous crossroads linking north and south as well as east and west.
Typical of how the results of the fallout from First World War still affect modern day is the story of
Tirol. Associated with music, flowers and happy peasants, the victorious Allies vindictively severed
South Tirol from her ancient Austrian cultural roots. There was no historical excuse for the spiteful
action, only the motive that Tirol was part of Austria's heart and sole since the days of the Romans.
The year 1248 is known as 'the year of Tirol's birth' because it was then that the counties around the
Brenner pass unified. Duke Friedrich IV built the castle Schloss Tirol at Meran, and Innsbruck
became the capital of all Tirol in 1429. Emperor Maximilian I turned the city into a vibrant, thriving
cultural and financial center in the 15th and 16th centuries. He built das Goldene Dachl, a
magnificent Renaissance building which is Innsbruck's most famous landmark.
As part of their move to prevent any future German or Austrian power, the Allies at Versailles
severed German speaking South Tirol from its historic and cultural roots in Austria. At the Treaty of
Saint-Germain of September 10, 1919, Italy was given the ethnic German territories south of the
Alpine watershed, including the southern part of the Austro-Hungarian County of Tirol. Some
150,000-200,000 Tirolese German citizens were therefore given to Italy to do with as she saw fit. At
the time of the annexation in 1919, the overwhelming majority of the population spoke German.
Italy formally annexed the territories on October 10, 1920 and one of the first orders of the Italian
military regime was to seal the border between South Tirol and Austria, the people forbidden to cross
the new frontier. This move tore family, friends, businesses and even church parishes in two. The
postal service and traditional trade were interrupted and censorship was introduced. On May 15,
1921 the Italian government, although retaining military and police control of the newly created
provincial council of the "Provincia di Venezia Tridentina", did allow the first free democratic
elections (the last the people would see until April 18, 1948!). The result was a resounding victory for
the Deutscher Verband (German Association), which won close to 90% of the votes and thus sent 4
deputies to Rome. The German-speaking population was largely able to go about their normal
business as usual during this short time, however.
However, on Sunday April 24, 1921, as the German population of Bozen participated in a traditional
parade honoring spring events, 280 out-of-province Italian fascists arrived by train and, joining forces
with 120 local fascists, proceeded to attack the procession with clubs, guns and grenades, injuring 50
people and killing a local artist. Nobody was ever brought to justice for the attack. This was an omen
of worse things to come. In October 1922, the Italian government rescinded all protection of
linguistic minorities and began an Italianization program which demanded the exclusive use of Italian
language in the public offices and the closure of most German schools. It also offered incentives for
immigrants from other Italian regions to relocate with the intention of diluting the German majority,
and with this goal in mind, a large industrial zone was soon opened in Bolzano to lure workers and
their families to the area from other parts of Italy. Public service jobs became an exclusive domain of
Italian speakers. As in other areas where the Allies artificially created new populations, the Italian
speaking population grew from 3% in 1910 to over 34%. There would be trouble in days to come.