The History of the Primiero Valley

Walking through the streets of the villages of Primiero will let you discover its beauty, soul, and above all, history. 

Among charming views, ancient paintings, churches, and historical buildings, you can take a journey through time and step into the shoes of the characters who lived in these places in the past: from the travellers who were welcomed by the Benedictine monks in the ancient Hospice dedicated to Saints Martino and Giuliano, to the first explorers who in the mid-19th century were enchanted by the charm of these Dolomite peaks, from the scions of the Central European bourgeoisie who loved to stay in the most exclusive hotels of San Martino di Castrozza, to the illustrious guests of this alpine citadel, such as Schnitzler, Freud, the King of Belgium, and Dino Buzzati

At Fiera di Primiero, leaving the ‘contrada’ (district), with its colourful buildings, you can reach the Archpriest Church and the ancient Palazzo delle Miniere and breathe the atmosphere linked to the mining era. Between the 15th and 16th centuries here you could have met the Bergknappen, industrious miners who came from Tyrol and the Germanic world to extract the abundant precious metals throughout the valley, while a few centuries later you would probably have come across a young Luigi Negrelli, originally from Primiero and famous all over the world for having designed the Suez Canal. 

Have we intrigued you? Join us on this journey through history!

Brief historical overview of San Martino di Castrozza

Alpe di Castrozza (Castrozza Alp): this large grassland hollow at the foot of high inaccessible peaks was referred to with this name in old documents.
The name Castrozza is thought to derive from castrum, a Roman military outpost on a secondary road (the Via Claudia Augusta ran about 50 km from here) which served as a support base for the armies engaged in conquering the Alpine territories.
Later a spontaneous religious community, adopting a Benedictine-type order, established a Hospice in the area. Documents attest that the Hospice of Castrozza was established to assist and give hospitality to pilgrims, wayfarers and traders who from the early Middle Ages often needed to embark on the difficult challenge of crossing the Alps. The monks disappeared mysteriously from the area in the mid-fifteenth century and the monastery was replaced by a simple benefice with no obligation to look after souls, but which continued to give hospitality to wayfarers.
A new era started for San Martino di Castrozza around the mid-nineteenth century: English explorers, inspired by a romantic and decadent spirit driving them to face long and adventurous tours of the uncharted Dolomites, "discovered" the Pale di San Martino. The mountains first sparked the ambitions and interests of hiking enthusiasts, geologists and botanists. Later, intrepid mountain climbers, in this case not only British, faced the towering dolomitic pinnacles. Some names: Francis Fox Tuckett, John Ball, Leslie Stephen, Edward Whitwell, Theodor von Wundt, and last but not least the ladies, Mrs. Imminck and Mrs. Thomasson.
To accomplish these historic ascents, the climbers were helped by local hunters or shepherds. As time went by, these stalwart escorts became excellent and sought-after professional guides, the legendary Aquile di San Martino (San Martino Eagles). Before long, the Hospice inn was inappropriate to give adequate hospitality to these first explorers and mountain climbers; thus, the first hotels were built by local and foreign entrepreneurs. Shortly, San Martino di Castrozza became a first-class resort on the international tourist scene. Burnt down during the First World War by the retreating Austrian troops, San Martino, with its glamorous hotels, by now an Italian town, rose back to its previous renown after the First World War. In the 1920s, the resort’s tourist offer was completed by the rise of winter tourist facilities.



It all begins in 1861 when the English travellers Gilbert and Churchill publish their guide The Dolomite Mountains, which piques the curiosity of mountaineers including Leslie Stephen, one of the founders of the Alpine Club of London, Edward Whitwell, who will conquer the Cimon della Pala in 1870, Francis Fox Tuckett, the Earl of Lovelace, Beatrice Tomasson, but also the Dutch Jeanne Immink. The British then give way to others, including Norman Neruda, Georg Winkler, Günther Langes, who is the first to climb the Spigolo del Velo in 1920 with Erwin Merlet, Otto Herzog, Emil Solleder, Hermann Buhl, Bruno Detassis, and Ettore Castiglioni, who in 1934 builds thirty new routes on the Pale and reaches the sixth degree on the south-east edge of Sass Maor. The climbs of Reinhold Messner and Samuele Scalet in the 60s are famous, while the 70s feature those of Manolo, who opens new frontiers of climbing. Worthy of note are the local Alpine Guides, who have been able to stand out for their knowledge of the places and technical experience since the beginning of mountaineering.


The oldest historical documents about the Primiero Valley date back to shortly after the year 1000, and they tell us that the territory belonged to the Feltre church. However, we think that the first settlements are at least six centuries older.Indeed, during the restoration works of the Archpriest Church of Fiera, the foundations of some previous churches were found, the first of which dates back to around the 5th or 6th century AD. The size was only slightly smaller than the current one, meaning that there was already a stable and relatively large community in the Valley at the time.After a series of historical events and changes of power, in 1373 Primiero enters the Tyrol-Habsburg period. On 22 March 1401, Duke Leopoldo, Count of Tyrol, grants the Primiero Valley as a perpetual fiefdom to Giorgio Welsperg, from Val Pusteria, for 4000 gold florins. With the Welspergs, mining operations are reinforced with the extraction of metals including silver, iron, and copper, employing German-speaking workers. In the 15th century, Primiero becomes one of the most important and productive mining basins of the House of Austria. In that period the village of Fiera develops as the main trade hub, centre of a bilingual culture. During the Napoleonic events, the valley passes under the Bavarian domination, to then get re-annexed to the Austrian territories.After the Congress of Vienna, it gets annexed to Trentino and definitively passes to Italy with the end of the First World War. The special autonomy of the Trentino-Alto Adige region is sanctioned by the Gruber-De Gasperi Agreement after the Second World War, and since 1972 the territory has been divided into the two autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano.