It's early summer high in the alps of Bronze Age Italy. A man is travelling alone and on foot; he's of average height and build, about 45 years old and looks like he's a long way from home. He's suffered injury, hunger, infection, disease and his body is covered in scars and mysterious tattoos, but he's well equipped for his journey. He carries a cloak, bearskin cap, tough leather insulated shoes, leggings, a backpack, first aid kit and assorted tools. He is also well armed with a longbow, arrows and quiver, a flint dagger and an expensive copper axe.
At some point on his journey he's involved in a fight and is seriously wounded. He manages to escape his attackers and flee further into the mountains where a fews days later, whilst traversing a glacier he is ambushed and wounded by an arrow in the left shoulder. He crawls into a rocky hollow to seek shelter and soon bleeds to death. A little later snow begins to fall and his body quickly freezes. For the next 5000 years the man's body lies undisturbed and perfectly preserved in the ice until one day in Sept 1991 two middle aged German hikers stumble upon his remains protruding from the melting ice.
Today the man, nicknamed 'Ötzi' after the valley where he was found lies preserved in a special museum in Bozen, South Tirol. Many questions remain as to his identity, his life and his death but his discovery has revealed in unprecedented detail evidence of a highly developed pre historic culture in this mountainous region.
The territory of Tirol appears in the written historical record for the first time as part of Rhaetia, a province conquered by the armies of the Roman Emperor Augustus in 15BC. It is quickly settled and the local tribes become loyal subjects of the empire as well as famous fighters in the imperial Roman army's auxiliary corps. Over the next few centuries as the Roman Empire declines assorted Ostrogoths, Franks, Lombards and Slavs invade and the local inhabitants move into the mountains to scratch a living from subsistence farming.
Things improve with the rise of Charlemagne in the 8th century as the region becomes an important bridgehead between the southern and northern parts of his new empire. In the 9th century the area comes under the influence and then control of the Dukes of Bavaria, who establish a germanic culture and language in the region for the first time. Bavaria is part of the flourishing Holy Roman Empire and living conditions begin to improve for the local inhabitants who establish new towns and trading centres in the valleys. In the 11th century the Holy Roman Emperor hands most of the region to the newly created Prince Bishops of Brixen and Trent, in order to exert more control over what has become a very prosperous and strategic part of the empire.
In the mid 12th century the lords of Tirol Castle near Meran begin to rise to prominence through a series of clever marriages, alliances and occasional acts of skullduggery. Despite nominally still being vassals of the Prince Bishops of Brixen & Trent, they become increasingly powerful and by the beginning of the 14th century they have become Counts of the Imperial Estate of Tirol and Kings of Bohemia. They lose the Bohemian crown almost immediately and after a series of unfortunate family fatalities also run out of heirs so cede the territory of Tirol to the Habsburgs in 1363. Because of it's strategic position straddling the Alps the County of Tirol changes hands numerous times over the next 800 years but the name sticks. Following partition at the end of World War 1, ancient Tirol is split between the Austrian state of Tirol in the north and the Italian autonomous region of Süd Tirol/Alto Adige in the south.
South Tyrol is today a highly diverse, peaceful Italian province at the heart of Europe. It is blessed with spectacular scenery, an excellent climate, a thriving economy and consistently ranks as one of the wealthiest and happiest regions in Europe. Ötzi would be proud.