Development

Roman modelRoman modelThe intention of this paragraph is to set out concisely the main factors which brought the Dolomite quadrant to its present economic structure, beginning with the basic economy which existed in the area until the XVIIth century up to the economy of tourism today. The economy in the Dolomite valleys was principally based on two available resources: on one hand rural activity dependant on local resources and on the other activities linked to commercial traffic, due to the network of communications between north and south of the Alps, existing since antiquity. Moreover, the local resources were never favourable to the development of the population, being poor and limited, leading to a simple subsistence economy. Rural activity was organised according to two main cultural models: in the German-speaking area the so-called Germanic model prevailed, based on an organisation of single family nuclei with a prevalence of animal breeding over agriculture, therefore characterised by extensive, generally undivided pastureland. In the Romance area the Roman model was developed, with a social organisation of small communities, regulated by Roman law, dedicated mainly to agriculture and forestry. The signs of these different cultural backgrounds are still visible today in the landscape and the organisation of the territory: in fact collective properties are still numerous, administered by public bodies called Comunità - Communities (Agordo, Cadore, Val di Fiemme) or Regole - Orders (Val di Fassa, Ampezzano, etc.), or are still subject to the so-called Uso Civico (common law regulating the use of public areas). By the mid XVIIIth century, at the time the area was visited by Dolomieu, the economy was therefore prominently based on agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry, very seasonal and with characteristics of mere subsistence, Germanic modelGermanic modelwhich Germanic model  caused mass emigration of the male work force during the winter. Alternative activities were minimal: some wood carving (particularly in Val Gardena/Grödental), and a little mining (Agordo area and the Val di Zoldo). The prevailing commercial activity was timber from collective woodlands, mostly for the Repubblica Serenissima of Venice. There was also a modest activity of merchandise in transit, favoured by the contact between the Venetian-Paduan areas to the south and the Austrian-German zones to the north. A limited network of accommodation grew up linked to this passing traffic (taverns, inns, guides and staging posts), on which the future tourist trade was later to be built. Until the discovery of the Dolomites spread through the scientific world, between 1800 and 1850, the Dolomites had only been visited by a few scholars exclusively interested in geology. However, after 1850, with the diffusion of pictures of some of the mountain groups (Sassolungo/Langkofel, Latemar, Sciliar/Schlern, Catinaccio/Rosengarten, Marmolada, Civetta, Pelmo, etc.), already universally known as the Dolomite mountains, a flow of travellers began, curious to see the “baluginare delle pallide guglie dolomitiche” (the glimmering of the pallid dolomitic peaks) and explorers in search of adventure on the untrodden peaks and in the unfrequented valleys. After the first alpine climb (Pelmo 19.09.1857, John Ball), exploits and ascents increased using both local guides and foreign mountaineers (German, Austrian and English). As a result many refuges and shelters were built at high altitudes by most of the European Alpine Clubs to assist the ever increasing number of excursionists and climbers. Between 1870 and 1910 the mountaineering frenzy reached its peak, accompanied by a growing development of tourism and accommodation, indiscriminately pervading most of the region. Hotels were progressively transformed from the pioneer phase to a true economic activity on European level, comparable in some localities (i.e. Cortina d’Ampezzo, Sesto/Sexten ) to the best known tourist resorts in the Swiss Alps (St. Moritz, Davos). The First World War brusquely interrupted this flourishing moment and had a negative impact on economic development for two reasons: firstly it caused general impoverishment regarding both local resources and the general European context, secondly it moved international traffic towards the new, faster means of communication outside the mountain area and modified the geopolitical structure of the local communities again with newly inflexible borders. 1920 to 1950 marked an insignificant interval from the economic point of view, in that the advantages brought by tourism only touched the better organised localities, with their efficient legacy of infrastructures and services inherited from the previous period. Even so, it is in this period that Alpine skiing and Nordic skiing began to take hold, doubling the opportunities for economic improvement and the possibilities of social well-being. After 1950 contemporary mass tourism was certainly the most relevant economic development for the whole area historically, in that it radically changed the productive system from rural to “industrial”, as well as the settlement and cultural systems. These transformations undoubtedly influenced the landscape of the Dolomite valleys, but also guaranteed the local populations an opportunity of social renewal, rediscovery of their cultural roots, and general investment in the territory. However, the substitution of the rural/local economic model by the tourist/global economic model has only sporadically concerned the area of the Dolomites, mainly involving the areas nearest the main arteries of communication and only in the valley bottoms, amply illustrated in paragraph 4.b.iv.