DISCOVER

The Dolomites

Cover of the book An cunta che... (1985)

Myths, legends and folk tales

 

" 'An cunta che...' is the title of a schoolbook for children in elementary school that all of us remember because it tells stories and tales of people who lived many years ago; it is precisely this aspect that kindles the imagination of readers of all ages." (Igor Tavella)

 

Numerous tales and legends that tell the tale of the far-away Kingdom of Fanes, of princes and princesses and their allegiance to the marmot population (large ground squirrels) are endemic to the Dolomite mountains. Luianta, Dolasìla, Ey de Net and Spina de Mul are just some of the characters in Dolomite legends that stand out above the more common salvàns or the ganes – men who lived in the wild forest (sometimes identified with gnomes) and female water divinities (also called aguane) that lived outside town boundaries – but that mingled shyly with inhabitants in the Ladin valleys. Both salvàns and ganes are positive heroes of Ladin folk tales as opposed to the ogres and witches who are the convenient scapegoats of all evil.

 

Some of the folk tales passed on from generation to generation have protagonists who were true, living historical figures such as the Gran Bracun (the Great Bracun) – a nickname for nobleman Wilhelm Brach who rose to fame because of his remarkable and extraordinary actions.

Ladin myths, legends and folk tales have survived in the Dolomite valleys because of a strong oral tradition. They reflect an unwritten chapter in the history of the Dolomite population and open a Dolasiladoor to discovering the socio-cultural nature of the past; they also provide an incentive to searching for the places that are also key players in the legends.

 

One of the most well known legends tells the tale of an ancient kingdom where the mountains were as dark and dismal as the Alps. The young prince had married the Moon King’s daughter – a kindhearted maiden of refined beauty who they feared would die of longing for the brilliant silver light of her home on the moon. The troubled prince was desperate and determined to save his beloved wife at all costs, so he made a deal with the salvàns – the wise primordial gnomes that know all of nature’s secrets: he would give their lineage everlasting shelter in the woods and mountains of his kingdom in exchange for a spell to cover the mountain peaks with a pale, lunar light that provided an adequate landscape for his princess. And so it was. The salvàns spun moon rays, wove a thick web of light and silver thread, and covered the entire realm with the soft, pale light of the moon in a single night. The ancient kingdom no longer exists. Nevertheless, the mysterious presence of the salvàns can still be felt today in the forests and mountain pastures, and the mountain summits shine with silvery white moonlight: people call them “The Pale Mountains”.

 

Etiological tales similar to this unusual legend do not exist in neighboring areas. Yet, the princess’ sadness seems to have been engraved on the mountains and haunting magic seems to emanate from their shimmering Re del Fanespeaks. The lunar landscape is dreamlike – a landscape of the soul that encloses the echoes of faraway times when creation myths generated the Kingdom of Fanes. Founded by a marmot-maiden, it reached its highest splendor under the reign of princess Dolasìla: the enigmatic female warrior clothed in silver and snow white fur, holding a deadly silver arch that shot arrows made from the silver lacustrine reeds of an enchanted lake that infallibly hit the mark. The legends are imbued in dreams, symbols, mysterious destiny and silent fate. (U. Kindl, Miti ladini delle Dolomiti)

Just these few lines reveal the fascinating nature of the myths and legends of the Dolomites. They are wonders to be read and listened to that take us to the imaginary traditions of the Ladin people.

 

The Holimites team doesn’t intend to provide a collection of legends and stories that beautifully describe the Dolomites – that is something that can easily be found in a good bookshop. But, it does offer you expert guides that will take you to the places that originated these legends while you’re here and tell you about the main characters in the pantheon of this ancient poem – the Dolomite’s truest cultural treasure.

 

 

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