Alto Adige (in French Haute Adige) is the name of an alpine region that was first created by the Napoleonic French in order to distinguish this Italian-speaking area (at the start of the XIX century) from the Austrian empire's Tyrol (located directly north).
The name "Alto Adige" was coined (created) in the late eighteenth century by Napoleon, when he occupied the territory of northern Italy near the Alps. Indeed this was the name of the French administrative division known as the "Department of Alto Adige" (Dipartimento dell'Alto Adige), created during Napoleon's "Kingdom of Italy" in 1810, which is related to the name of the river Adige born in this province.
In Italian etymology, the name "Alto Adige" currently is related to the full name of the "Provincia autonoma di Bolzano - Alto Adige", while usually the simple name "Alto Adige" is used for this alpine region around Bolzano (since academic Ettore Tolomei made it official in Italy after the Great War).
Napoleon's Alto Adige
The District of Alto Adige was initially created by Napoleon as part of the Dipartamento del Benaco in his Cisalpine Republic, and was near Verona. This Benaco department, created in 1797, was gotten rid of in 1798 as a result of administrative changes to the Cisalpine Republic.
So, it was created this Department of Alto Adige with the division of the Austrian Tyrol between French Bavaria and the Kingdom of Italy, and included the southern part of the "Germanized" Tyrol with the city of Bolzano with surroundings (along with the Trentino).
The boundaries were made by Austrian and German commissioners, saying that a territory would belong to the Kingdom of Italy if it is inhabited by Italians, according to the principle: "belonging to the Kingdom of Italy because inhabited by Italians" (da appartenersi al Regno d'Italia perché paese italiano ).
This shows that Bolzano was a mostly Italian town in Napoleonic times, and that in the following century was "Germanized" (as in the 1911 Austrian census, Bolzano was mostly German-speaking, at almost 91%).
Indeed between the Renaissance and the 19th century, the whole area, originally populated by Latins from the time of Roman Empire, experienced a lot of Germanization. In the centuries before Napoleon, only the Dolomite's area of the western part of the present province of Bolzano (especially the Val Venosta near Merano) remained neolatin. Furthermore, just after WWII about sixty five percent of the population spoke German as their mother tongue, while about a third spoke Italian and about five percent spoke the Latin language (but in the 2011 census the percentages were: 63%, 23% and 4%, with another 10% who are immigrants from outside Italy).
- Rolf Steininger, Department of Contemporary History. University of Innsbruck
- Cisalpine Republic (1797). Raccolta delle leggi, proclami, ordini ed avvisi, Vol 4 (in Italian). Milan: Luigi Viladini. p. 201.
- Cisalpine Republic (1798). Raccolta delle leggi, proclami, ordini ed avvisi, Vol 5 (in Italian). Milan: Luigi Viladini. p. 184.
- Cfr. Reinhard Stauber, Der Zentralstaat an seinen Grenzen. Administrative Integration, Herrschaftswechsel und politische Kultur im südlichen Alpenraum 1750-1820, Göttingen 2001, pp. 317ss.
- Nuova antologia di scienze, lettere ed arti, Volume 2, 1866, pag. 431
- Ethnic history of Alto Adige (in Italian)
- Connelly, Owen. Napoleon's Satellite Kingdoms (1965)
- Gregory, Desmond. Napoleon's Italy (2001)
- Pagano, Emanuele. Enti locali e Stato in Italia sotto Napoleone Editoriale Carocci. Roma, 2007 ISBN 978-88-430-4310-1