Home » Northwestern area of Italy day excursion » Aosta Valley mountainous autonomous region

The highest region in Italy

Located in the extreme north-west of the Italian Alps, Aosta Valley borders Switzerland to the north, France to the west, Piedmont to the south and east. Part of the north-western Italian regions, culturally it is a very varied territory, where French, Italian, patois (a local dialect) are spoken. As well as the ancient German-like language of the Walser in the valleys at the foot of Monte Rosa massif. Although the Aosta Valley is mainly mountainous, the landscapes vary a lot with the change in altitude. The territory is divided into the main valley floor and a series of fascinating side valleys.

Aosta Valley, a historical mosaic

The historical mosaic of the Aosta Valley is characterized by the passage of the Romans, the French, and the Piedmontese nobility. Around the 4th century BC, there is a first appearance in the valley of new populations of Gallic origin. But starting from the 2nd century BC there are the first references to the presence of the Salassi, a population of Ligurian origin with Celtic connotations.

Under the Roman Empire

In 143 BC the expansion of Rome arrives in the Aosta valley establishing itself in 140 BC with a first significant victory over the Celtic people of the Salassi. The Romans began to control the valley floor and, in 100 BC, founded Eporedia (Ivrea) on the southern border. Despite their resistance, the Salassi were definitively defeated in 25 BC and the territory of the Aosta Valley was radically changed.

Aosta’s Foundation

Thousands of Roman settlers, chosen from among the veterans of the praetorian legions, divide the plots of land and found Augusta Prætoria Salassorum (Aosta) on the valley floor. Located at the junction of the two roads that led to the Little and the Great St Bernard Pass, the city is designed on the basis of the traditional concept of Roman cities. Augusta Prætoria had a square plan, marked by the intersection of a cardo and a decumanus (see centuriation), and endowed with a theater, an amphitheater, and a central forum.

The barbarian invasions

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, various dominations followed one another in the Aosta Valley region. Starting from the Ostrogothic one under Theodoric, it passed under Byzantine control (553-563), then Lombard between 568 and 575. After the defeat of the Lombards, it was part of the Merovingian kingdom of Burgundy, later unified in the kingdom of the Franks of Charlemagne. During the Carolingian Empire, the Via Francigena grows as an important road. It was a pilgrimage route from northern Europe to Rome, completed by crossing the Great St Bernard Pass.

Aosta Valley under the House of Savoy

After the death of the last Franks emperor, the Aosta valley first followed the fate of the kingdom of Italy, then towards the middle of the 10th century those of the kingdom of Burgundy. In 1032 it passed under the control of Humbert the White-Handed, founder of the House of Savoy. First as a county, and then as a duchy, the valley remained under the House of Savoy until the 20th century, except for brief periods of French conquest.

The plague

In 1630 the plague disease caused an enormous catastrophe in the valleys. Two-thirds of the total inhabitants were dead. A tragedy that interrupts a period of relative peace due to the remote position of the region on the European political scene.

The beginning of mountaineering

Between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the following century, the first travelers and tourists began to appear in the higher villages of the Aosta valley, attracted to the foot of the mountains by the romantic charm of the peaks. The era of mountaineering was about to begin with the development of the conquest of the peaks.

Aosta valley with a special statute

In 1860, at the proclamation of the Unification of Italy, the Aosta Valley was annexed to the province of Turin. During the Fascist period, the Aosta Valley traditions suffered heavy attacks from the Italian state. And at the end of the Second World War, the region was granted the Special Statute based on principles of great autonomy.

Aosta Valley map