Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol is an autonomous region in Northern Italy. Since the 1970s most legislative and administrative competencies have been transferred to the two autonomous provinces which make up the region: Trentino and South Tyrol.
The region was part of Austria-Hungary and its predecessors, the Austrian Empire and the Holy Roman Empire from the 8th century until its annexation by Italy in 1919. Together with the Austrian state of Tyrol it is represented by the Euroregion Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino. With a past of poverty, the region is today among the wealthiest and most developed in both Italy and the whole European Union.
In English, the region is also known as Trentino-South Tyrol or by its Italian name Trentino-Alto Adige.
The region was conquered by the Romans in 15 BC. After the end of the Western Roman Empire, it was divided between the invading German tribes in the Lombard Duchy of Tridentum (today's Trentino), the Alamannic Vinschgau, and the Bavarians (who took the remaining part). After the creation of the Kingdom of Italy under Charlemagne, the Marquisate of Verona included the areas south of Bolzano, while the Duchy of Bavaria received the remaining part.
From the 11th century onwards, part of the region was governed by the prince-bishops of Trent and Brixen, to whom the Holy Roman Emperors had given extensive temporal powers over their bishoprics. Soon, they were overruled by the Counts of Tyrol and Counts of Görz, who also controlled the Puster Valley: in 1363 its last titular, Margarete, Countess of Tyrol ceded the region to the House of Habsburg. The regions north of Salorno were largely Germanized in the early Middle Ages, and important German poets like Arbeo of Freising and Oswald von Wolkenstein were born and lived in the southern part of Tyrol.
The two bishoprics were secularized by the Treaty of Lunéville of 1803 and given to the Habsburgs. Two years later, following the Austrian defeat at Austerlitz, the region was given to Napoleon's ally Bavaria (Treaty of Pressburg, 1805). The new rulers provoked a popular rebellion in 1809, led by Andreas Hofer, a landlord from St. Leonhard in Passeier; this rebellion was crushed the same year. The resulting Treaty of Paris of February 1810 split the area between Austria and the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. During French control of the region, it was called officially Haut Adige (literally "High Adige", Italian: "Alto Adige"; German: "Hochetsch") in order to avoid any reference to the historical County of Tyrol. After Napoleon's defeat, in 1815, the region returned to Austria.
Under Austrian rule the territory of today's province of Bolzano was called südliches Tirol or Deutschsüdtirol, to distinguish the area from Nordtirol, but was occasionally also referred to as Mitteltirol, i.e. Middle Tyrol, due to its geographic position, while Südtirol (Italian Tirolo meridionale), i.e. South Tyrol, indicated mostly today's province of Trento, also called Welschtirol (Tirolo italiano) or Welschsüdtirol (Tirolo meridionale italiano). Sometimes Südtirol also indicated the whole of the Region Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol.
During the First World War, major battles were fought high in the Alps and Dolomites between Austro-Hungarian Kaiserjäger and Italian Alpini, for whom control of the region was a key strategic objective. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian war effort enabled Italian troops to occupy the region in 1918 and its annexation was confirmed in the post-war treaties, which awarded the region to Italy under the terms of the Treaty of Saint-Germain.
Under the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator of Italy (ruled 1922–1943), the German population was subjected to an increased forced programme of Italianization: all references to old Tyrol were banned and the region was referred to as Venezia Tridentina between 1919 and 1947, in an attempt to justify the Italian claims to the area by historically linking the region to one of the Roman Regions of Italy (Regio X Venetia et Histria). Hitler and Mussolini agreed in 1938 that the German-speaking population would be transferred to German-ruled territory or dispersed around Italy, but the outbreak of the Second World War prevented them from fully carrying out the relocation. Nevertheless thousands of people were relocated to the Third Reich and only with great difficulties managed to return to their ancestral land after the end of the war.
In 1943, when the Italian government signed an armistice with the Allies, the region was occupied by Germany, which reorganised it as the Operation Zone of the Alpine Foothills and put it under the administration of Gauleiter Franz Hofer. The region was de facto annexed to the German Reich (with the addition of the province of Belluno) until the end of the war. This status ended along with the Nazi regime and Italian rule was restored in 1945.
Italy and Austria negotiated the Gruber-De Gasperi Agreement in 1946, put into effect in 1947 when the new republican Italian constitution was promulgated, that the region would be granted considerable autonomy. German and Italian were both made official languages, and German-language education was permitted once more. The region was called Trentino-Alto Adige/Tiroler Etschland between 1947 and 1972.
However, the implementation of the agreement was seen as satisfactory by neither the German-speaking population nor the Austrian government. The issue became the cause of significant friction between the two countries and was taken up by the United Nations in 1960. A fresh round of negotiations took place in 1961 but proved unsuccessful, partly because of popular discontent and a campaign of sabotage and bombings by German-speaking autonomists and separatists led by the South Tyrolean Liberation Committee.
The issue was resolved in 1971, when a new Austro-Italian treaty was signed and ratified. It stipulated that disputes in South Tyrol would be submitted for settlement to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, that the province would receive greater autonomy within Italy, and that Austria would not interfere in South Tyrol's internal affairs. The new agreement proved broadly satisfactory to the parties involved and the separatist tensions soon eased. Matters were helped further by Austria's accession to the European Union in 1995, which has helped to improve cross-border cooperation.
In May 2006, senator-for-life Francesco Cossiga introduced a bill that would allow the region to hold a referendum, in which the local electorate could decide whether to stay within the Italian Republic, become fully independent or return to Austria. All parties, including the separatists, rejected this measure as potentially causing a revival of ethnic tensions.