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Jagdhausalmen Alpine Pastures, Defereggen, East Tirol, Austria, Europe
Irene Heisz

Valley Life: so much life in so little space

Updated on 07.07.2020 in Arts & Culture
When you think of Tirol, you think first of the Alps. Of forbidding rock formations, towering peaks reaching defiantly skywards, razor sharp ridges, and emerging landscapes in a, geologically speaking, relatively young mountain range that finds itself in perpetual change. High mountains are always accompanied by deep valleys and a lattice of distinctive furrows intersect the face of this land.

From the Inntal Valley, Tirol’s lifeline, from which numerous incisions swathe into the mountains, where people have wrested their existence from the land under the toughest of conditions for thousands of years. Grazing land for cattle, farmland, reasonably safe places for rural houses. Not even twelve percent of Tirol is amenable to settlement. Tirol offers less habitable area than any other alpine country, leaving little room for changes in cultural and economic habits over the last few thousand years. However, around 200 years ago, foreign intellectuals from urban areas began to consider the Alps as a romantic and longed-for travel destination for summer holidays and the pursuance winter sports. This changed people’s lives here, quite radically, in the second half of the 20th Century.

What remains is the fact: that people take on the characteristics of the landscape in which they live. It is said – with some justification – that the Tiroleans, especially those from the upper reaches of the Inn and its tributary valleys in the highlands, are a breed of people that resemble their environment: austere, with a tendency for seriousness, neither affable nor loquacious, sometimes irritatingly brusque and obstinate. The dialects differ greatly from one valley to another, even from village to village within one valley.

In the so-called lowlands, however, the valleys are wider, with comparatively broader perspectives, until the next range of mountains breaks your gaze. The people too are softer, have an inherently lighter nature (without wanting to call them frivolous), and this is reflected in their speech. Different again, and this must be emphasised, are the people from the valleys of East Tirol who are happy and proud to live with the paradox that they belong, and yet not, to Tirol and talk in a mix of Carinthian and South Tirolean dialects.

Witty and sharp-tongued, Irene Heisz is a journalist and author who writes blog posts about Tirol, Tiroleans and their peculiarities – and there are many of them!

Irene Heisz
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