The South Tyrol (Südtirol) was Italy’s reward for cooperating with the Allies during World War I. But when Mussolini’s Fascists came to power in 1923 the region was renamed Alto Adige after the upper reaches of the Adige River, and despite the fact that German speakers outnumbered Italian speakers by around ten to one, a process of sometimes brutal Italianization was imposed on the area. Cartographers remade maps, substituting Italian place names (often made up) for German; people were forced to adopt Italian names; the teaching of German in schools was banned and stonemasons even chipped away German inscriptions from tombstones. World War II then intervened, and by 1946, Austria and Italy came to an agreement ratified under the Paris Peace Treaty that Austria would give up its claim to the region on condition that Italy took steps to redress some of the cultural damage perpetrated under Fascism.

Successive governments have channelled funds into the area allowing the region more independence than ever before and much greater say in local law. Over the last few years, Italy has moved closer into the European Union, and its central and regional governments have become more tolerant of ethnic diversity and, increasingly, German is the language of preference in Südtirol.

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