Its early February and the plane touches down in Verona; a city of some beauty in northern Italy’s Veneto Region. With a medieval core that is built around the meandering Adige River there are few Italian cities in Italy like it.
It’s no surprise that the greatest love story ever told was set here.
Despite its attractions and offering ample excuse to relax the setting for this weekend’s adventure sits some 154km to the north and is nearer Innsbruck than Milan.
The clue to our cultural anomaly of a destination lies in the former – Innsbruck, with the city of Bolzano being Italy’s most famous German habitation.
Welcome to South Tyrol
Drab and dreary surrounds are about as far away from Bolzano as you can get. This is a place where you are greeted with a sensory overload immediately on arrival – snow-capped Alpine mountains, flowing river with clear crisp water. The great outdoors is everywhere you look.
Bolzano reflects the meeting and exchange point of different cultures. Here Giotto’s paintings coexist alongside the iceman Otzi and ample examples of gothic architecture.
In Bolzano, the landscape offers the right balance between living space and green space making this one of Italy’s best places to live and work. The city has many routes for those who prefer to take a walk without straying too far from the centre; at the same time, those seeking great height can use one of the cable cars to reach the various village plateaus.
Bolzano was founded as a Roman military station in 15 B.C. under the name of ‘Pons Drusi’. This name points to Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus the Roman General known for his great imperial Germanic campaigns. Since the Roman era, it has been inhabited by the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Huns, Lombards, Saracens, Normans and Hungarians up to the Counts of Tyrol.
The big change came in 1363 when this region was handed to the Habsburgs, who ruled until 1806 when Tyrol became part of the Kingdom of Bavaria.
In 1814 the Tyrol region returned to Austria. But post WWI the southern part of the Tyrol (South Tyrol) was annexed to Italy by the Treaty of Saint Germain. A new period of Italian nationalism commenced, coming to a head during the era of Benito Mussolini.
This brand of leadership was rooted in nationalism and the desire to restore and expand Italian territories across historically significant provinces.
That history lesson briefly hints at why the resident club are currently known as Fußball Club Südtirol and explains why they play at the Stadio Druso.
The New Club
The club was formerly known under its bilingual name F.C. Südtirol – Alto Adige but following the re-establishment of the club after bankruptcy they became known as F.C. Südtirol. The Germanic club name rather than the Italian Trentino-Alto Adige Calcio was chosen largely because the club were legally incorporated in German speaking Brixen some 25 km north of Bolzano.
Bolzano is a strange place although in a good way of course.
It’s hard to feel you are in Italy or Austria or Germany and its like this from when you first arrive at the stazione as even that is also known as the hauptbanhof. It’s the same at the stadium – you hear German and more often Italian and those who are Italian often look more Austrian in terms of how they dress and look.
In one shop in Bolzano you can feel like you are in Rome while in another this could easily be Munich or Innsbruck.
This diversity has caused many of Bolzano’s inhabitants to not feel Italian, Austrian, or German and it’s the same for visitors to the stadium where goals are announced in German and Italian.
Even the match programme is printed in both languages.
But there is no identity crisis in Bolzano more Sud Tirol are a unity of those of a Trentini and Sudtirolesi persuasion with the club being symbolic of the cultural complexity of the region.
On a crisp Saturday afternoon in February I adventured to Bolzano – stopping off at nearby Trento – and watched the home side draw 1-1 with Como in a Serie B fixture – matchday 24 (Giornata 24). After a mass of yellow cards and a red card ‘espulsi’ for one of the the coaches of Tirol, a late penalty award would give Como a deserved shared of the spoils.
After the game much of the criticism was for the referee whom both teams claimed wanted to be the main ‘protagonista’. It was hard to discount the criticism given he cautioned about nine players and managed to flash the red card in the final seconds of the fixture.
Founded: 1974 (as SV Milland Fussball) and in 2000 as Fußballclub Südtirol
Club: FC Südtirol currently in Serie B (2022-23 Season)