What we did on our holidays (1495 edition)

August 23, 2011

I know we promised you mountains, but this will have to wait until [m] finds the time to put together a blog post. You see, where I come from the landscape looks like this…

… so, frankly, I don’t feel competent to write about mountains. [m], on the other hand, is a regular Heidi – she grew up in the mountains of South Tyrol (or Alto Adige)* and that’s just where we went for our holiday last week. Mostly, we stayed in the area around Meran (Merano) which – as one Arnold von Harff put it – is “a fine small town situated in a beautiful valley“.

Meran and its surroundings seen from Tyrol Castle (the building in the foreground is the Brunnenburg, a neo-medieval fantasy built in 1904 on the ruins of a 13th century castle)

Arnold von Harff wrote this brief characterization of Meran way back in 1496. Even more interesting, though, is the account given by a travel companion of Count Johann Ludwig of Nassau-Saarbrücken who visited the town just one year before Arnold, in 1495:

“On Easter Saturday, His Lordship remained in Meran and, accompanied by his servants, he went to receive the Holy Sacrament in a reformed monastery of the Poor Clares order. Also, in Meran there is an exceedingly pretty church with six most beautiful altarpieces (…).

The late medieval / early modern tower of Meran's Parish Church

On Sunday, the 19th day of April, which was the holy day of Easter, His Lordship also remained in Meran and heard Mass in the parish church, and after he had eaten, our host, the local mayor, lead His Lordship to a chapel outside town dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen where there was great indulgence and mercy.

The village of Gratsch, outside of Meran, with the chapel of St. Mary Magdalen to the right

Not far from it lies Tyrol Castle (…) and it is a pretty castle to behold. Also it is said that the armour of Hildebrand, Roland and other heroes is kept in this castle.”

Tyrol Castle (see also second picture in our previous post)

Personally, I think it’s fascinating how most of the buildings mentioned in this late 15th century account are still intact, even if they have undergone slight alterations in later centuries. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about those buildings’ furnishings: Today, no late medieval altarpiece survives in Meran’s parish church, and nobody knows whatever happened to those pieces of armour in Tyrol Castle which were believed to have belonged to the great heroes of myth and legend. Today, if you want to find traces of those epic heroes, you have to go a bit further south, to Runkelstein Castle (Castel Roncolo) near Bozen (Bolzano), about half an hour’s drive from Meran. At Runkelstein, a whole gallery of heroes was painted in the castle’s courtyard around 1400/1410 [see also last picture in our previous post]:

The heroes Dietrich von Bern, Siegfried and Dietleib, and the giant Waltram. Wall painting in Runkelstein Castle, ca. 1400/1410

Granted, there is neither Roland, the famous paladin of France celebrated in the 11th century Chanson de Roland, nor is there Hildebrand, one of the key figures of Germanic legend and main protagonist of the 9th century Lay of Hildebrand. But there is Hildebrand’s boss lord, Dietrich von Bern, a mythical character based on Gothic king Theoderic the Great (see photo above), and there also is Roland’s boss lord, Charlemagne:

King Arthur and Charlemagne. Wall painting, Runkelstein Castle, ca. 1400/1410

As for Tyrol Castle, even without Hildebrand’s and Roland’s armour, there’s plenty to see and discover – but I’ll save that for another time…


* As you probably know, South Tyrol is a bilingual region where both German and Italian are spoken. Therefore, all place names in this post are given in German and in Italian (in brackets).

4 Responses to “What we did on our holidays (1495 edition)”

  1. highlyeccentric said

    *coughs* Roland’s 11th century… *sidles*

    Pwiddy photos!

    • [c] said

      *blushes* I guess that’s what happens when you take the time to look things up in the big fancy Lexikon des Mittelalters but then only skim the first paragraph of the entry – I now realize that the 12th century date given there only refers to the oldest surviving manuscript of the Chanson de Roland, not to its time of composition… Thanks for the correction!

  2. sartenada said

    Great post with awesome photos. Especially I loved the photo from “The late medieval / early modern tower of Meran’s Parish Church”.

    Happy blogging!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: