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Political history and modern state of the inhabitants of the Alps

We know practically nothing of the early dwellers in the Alps, save from the scanty accounts preserved for us by Roman and Greek historians and geographers. A few details have come down to us of the conquest of many of the Alpine tribes by Augustus, though not much more than their names. The successive emigrations and occupation of the Alpine region by divers Teutonic tribes from the 5th to the 6th centuries are, too, known to us only in outline, while to them, as to the Frankish kings and emperors, the Alps offered a route from one place to another rather than a permanent residence. It is not till the final break up of the Carolingian Empire in the 10th and 11th centuries that it becomes possible to trace out the local history of different parts of the Alps.

In the case of the Western Alps (minus the bit from the chain of Mont Blanc to the Simplon[?], which followed the fortunes of the Valais), a prolonged struggle for the Alpine region took place between the feudal lords of Savoy, the Dauphine and Provence. In 1349 the Dauphine fell to France, while in 1388 the country of Nice passed from Provence to the house of Savoy, which too held Piedmont as well as other lands on the Italian side of the Alps. The struggle henceforth was limited to France and the house of Savoy, but little by France succeeded in pushing back the house of Savoy across the Alps, thus forcing it to become a purely Italian power. One turning-point in the rivalry was the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), by which France gave up to Savoy the districts (all forming part of the Dauphine, and lying on the Italian slope of the Alps) of Exilles[?], Bardonneche (Bardonecchia[?]), Oulx[?], U.enestrelles, and Chatean Dauphin, while Savoy handed over to France the valley of Barcelonnette, situated on the western slope of the Alps and forming part of the county of Nice. The final act in the long-continued struggle took place in 1860, when France obtained by cession the rest of the county of Nice and also Savoy, thus remaining sole mistress on the western slope of the Alps.

In the Central Alps the chief event, on the northern side of the chain, is the gradual formation from 1291 to 1815 of the Swiss Confederation, at least so far as regards the mountain Cantons, and with especial reference to the independent confederations of the Grisons and the Valais, which only became full members of the Confederation in 1803 and 1815 respectively. The attraction of the south was too strong for both the Forest Cantons and the Grisons, so that both tried to secure, and actually did secure, various bits of the Milanese. The former, in the 15th century, won the Val Leventina (down which the St Gotthard train now thunders) as well as Bellinzona and the Val Blenio (though the Ossola Valley was held for a time only), while the latter added to the Val Bregaglia (which had been given to the bishop of Coire in 960 by the emperor Otto I.) the valleys of Mesocco and of Poschiavo. Further, in 1512, the Swiss Confederation as a whole won the valleys of Locarno with Lugano, which, combined with the 15th century conquests by the Forest Cantons, were formed in 1803 into the new Canton of Ticino or Tessin. On the other hand, the Grisons won in 1512 the Valtellina, with Bormio and Chiavenna, but in 1797 these regions were finally lost to it as well as to the Swiss Confederation, though the Grisons retained the valleys of Mesocco, Bregaglia and Poschiavo, while in 1762 it had bought the upper bit of the valley of Munster that lies on the southern slope of the Alps.

In the Eastern Alps the political history is almost monotonous, for it relates simply to the advance or retreat of the house of Habsburg, which still holds all but the whole of the northern portion (the exception is the small bit in the north-west that belongs to Bavaria) of that region. The Habsburgers, whose original home was in the lower valley of the Aar, where still stand the ruins of their ancestral castle, lost that district to the Swiss in 1415, as they had previously lost various other bits of what is now Switzerland. But they received a rich compensation in the Eastern Alps (not to speak of the imperial crown), for they there gathered in the harvest that numerous minor dynasties had prepared for them, albeit unconsciously. Thus they won the duchy of Austria with Styria in 1282, Carinthia and Carniola in 1335, Tirol in 1363, and the Vorarlberg in bits from 1375 to 1523, not to speak of minor "rectifications" of frontiers on the northern slope of the Alps. But on the other slope their progress was slower, and finally less successful. It is true that they early won Primiero (1373), as well as (1517) the Ampezzo Valley and several towns to the south of Trent. In 1797 they obtained Venetia proper, in 1803 the secularized bishoprics of Trent and Briken (as well as that of Salzburg, more to the north), besides the Valtellina region, and in 1815 the Bergamasque valleys, while the Milanese had belonged to them since 1535. But, as is well known, in 1859 they lost to the house of Savoy both the Milanese and the Bergamasca, and in 1866 Venetia proper also, so that the Trentino is now their chief possession on the southern slope of the Alps. The gain of the Milanese in 1859 by the future king of Italy (1861) meant that Italy then won the valley of Livigno (between the Upper Engadine and Bormio), which is the only important bit it holds on the non-Italian slope of the Alps, besides the county of Tenda (obtained in 1575, and not lost in 1860), with the heads of certain glens in the Maritime Alps, reserved in 1860 for reasons connected with hunting. Thus the Alpine states (Italy, Switzerland and Austria), other than France and Bavaria, hold bits of territory on the slope of the Alps where one would not expect to find them Roughly speaking, in each of these five lands the Alpine population speaks the tongue of the country, though in Italy there are a few French-speaking districts (the Waldensian valleys as well as the Aosta and Oulx valleys) as well as some German-speaking and Ladin-speaking settlements. In Switzerland there are Italian-speaking regions, as well as some spots (in the Grisons) where the old Romance dialect of Romansch or Ladin survives; while in Austria, besides German, Italian and Ladin, we have a Slovenian-speaking population in the South-Eastern Alps. The highest permanently inhabited village in the Alps is Juf, 6998 feet (Grisons); while in the French Alps, L'Ecot, 6713 feet (Savoy), and St Veran, 6726 feet (Dauphine), are rivals; the Italian Alps boast of Trepalle, 6788 feet (between Livigno and Bormio), and the Tirolese Alps of Ober Gurgl, 6322 feet, and Fend, 6211 feet (both in the Oetzthal).



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