The Ladins (Ladini in Italian, Ladinisch in German) are a community of around thirty thousand people living in the Gardena, Badia, Fassa, Livinallongo and Ampezzo valleys around the Sella massif. They’re united by their ancient language – Ladin – which was once spoken over a wide area, from Austria down to the River Po (in what’s now Emilia-Romagna). The Dolomitic Ladin language, preserved by the relative remoteness of the territory, is linked to Swiss Romansch (there are 40,000 speakers in the Swiss Engadine) and Friulano (more than forty thousand speakers in the Friuli region of Italy).

The history of the Ladins is recorded in their epics, which recount tales of battles, treachery and reversals of fortune. Around 400 AD, the Ladins were constantly threatened with invasion by Germanic tribes from the north and others from the Po Valley. Christianity later emerged as a major threat, but the Ladins absorbed and transformed the new religion, investing the new saints with the powers of more ancient female divinities.

The Museo Ladin de Fascia, Strada la Pieif 7 (wistladin.net), between San Giovanni and Vigo di Fassa, is devoted to traditional Ladin working life and provides a fascinating introduction to Ladin culture, with intriguing exhibits on the language and history. It also has exhibits scattered throughout the territory, including a restored nineteenth-century cooperage (Botega da Pinter) at Via Dolomiti 3 in Moena; a restored watermill (Molin de Pezol) at Via Jumela 6 in Pera di Fassa; and a working, antique sawmill (La Sia) at Via Pian Trevisan in Penia, just outside Canazei. Tourist offices throughout the area have details of festivals, exhibitions and events.

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