Legends and sagas of the Val d’Ega
Mysteries of the Dolomites
The echoes of the Dolomite legends seem to resonate even today in the traditional homesteads of the area. A centuries-old oral tradition, the legends of the Dolomites attempt to explain the inexplicable in this wild yet picturesque landscape. Scary, exciting – and unforgettable.
In ancient times, when there were still giants and dwarves in the Alpine valleys, Laurin the dwarf king ruled over the interior of the mountain that we today call the “Rosengarten [rose garden]” or Catinaccio. He possessed immense treasures, but the greatest of these was a magic cap that could render him invisible. Laurin’s pride and joy was a beautiful garden outside the gates of his stronghold. There, surrounded by a golden thread of silk, bloomed countless red roses throughout the year. Woe to anyone who dared tear the thread and pick even one of the roses! Laurin would threaten to chop off his left hand and right foot.
One day Laurin espied the beautiful blonde Princess Simhild at a neighbouring castle. He fell in love with the girl and seized her with the aid of his magic cap. Henceforth Simhild lived in the mountain realm of the dwarf king, surrounded by gold, silver and jewels, served and watched over by graceful noblewomen and dwarf knights. But Simhild was sad and pined for the flower meadows of her homeland.
In that place, at the castle of her brother Dietleib, grief and horror held sway. While searching for his sister, Dietleib encountered Dietrich of Bern, King of the Goths. Accompanied by him and other knights, Dietleib set off for the kingdom of King Laurin. Dietrich was amazed by the magnificence of the roses and their enclosure of gold thread, but his companions broke the thread and trampled on the roses. Furious, Laurin charged them on his white horse and demanded a hand and foot from the wrongdoer. It was an unequal struggle: at first Laurin managed to hide under his cap of invisibility but, once this was torn from him, he could only lie helpless upon the ground and plead for his life. Securely bound, he was obliged to lead the victors into his kingdom, where Simhild was freed. Laurin’s evil plan, namely to see one thousand dwarves overpower the victors at a banquet, failed. It was the end of the realm of the dwarves. Pronouncing a curse, the captive king caused his rose garden to disappear forever. The glory of the roses should never again be seen, neither by day nor by night: only bare, pale rocks should remain in their place. But, when making his curse, Laurin had forgotten to mention the dusk between day and night. And so it came to pass that at sunset the pale mountains glow and gleam in beautiful shades of red.
Location: Catinaccio [Rosengarten]
The Venetians live in a cavern on the Pampeago Pass that was created from the ancient mining galleries in the mountain, where they stored vast quantities of gold and precious stones. On Midsummer Night, from 23 to 24 June, the entrance to the cavern can be seen glowing brightly.
Once two peasants from Nova Levante dared to climb up and did indeed find the entrance. They fearlessly entered and, after a few steps, saw a death’s head lying in the middle of the tunnel. One of the two peasants removed his hat from his head and put it on the skull. That was their good fortune, because from within the mountain the Venetians fired a volley of shots that only hit the skull.
When the shooting stopped, the peasants ventured deeper into the tunnel and there discovered a gigantic hall where everything sparkled in silver and gold. The ceiling, walls and floor were made of pure gold, while treas-ures of gold and silver lay scattered about in large quantities. On one wall, however, they saw something very special: a set of golden skittles. They would have gladly taken the skittles and balls with them had they not been guarded by two black dogs with fiery eyes.
But they dared not take another step. And when a dreadful storm arose, with thunder and lightning and a ter-rible roaring as if the mountain were about to collapse, the two men were seized with such terror that they ran straight out of the cavern. Out there, however, the most glorious night sky awaited them as the moon serenely ran its course.
Location: Pampeago Pass
Source (revised): Heyl, Johann Adolf, Volkssagen, Bräuche und Meinungen aus Tirol, Brixen 1897, p. 381
The Witches’ Stone stands close to the Lago del Colle at Aldino, tall and domed with a recess on its edge. A strange story is told of this stone.
All the witches of the area would gather round this stone on Walpurgis night. The witches, with their long hooked noses and four long teeth, wore brightly coloured skirts and would fly through the air on their fiery broomsticks. As they danced around a large bonfire, they would murmur their spells and confer over their plans for the coming year. If anyone was caught listening, they were torn apart by the witches and eaten by birds of prey.
Once a shepherd in a nearby forest was caught in a violent thunderstorm and decided to spend the night under a bush. Suddenly he awoke, hearing a loud rumbling and screaming. He looked to where the Witches’ Stone stood and saw a coven of witches, first arguing, then peaceful. He also heard the witches agreeing to meet again the next night. The curious shepherd thus returned the following evening to the Witches’ Stone. For safety he took with him a consecrated cross and kept his distance from the witches. They however saw him and immediately decided to capture him. Unabashed, he took the blessed cross from his pocket and ran towards the witches. Frightened, they disappeared into the clouds, from which immediately came a heavy downpour that ravaged the whole area. The shepherd fled and sought refuge in a barn.
The sacristan and curate of Redagno were at that moment on their way to the church to sound the weather bell. They could not however get there on account of the violence of the storm. The local people were horrified as the storm wreaked great damage. The following morning the two men were found sitting exhausted on the cemetery wall, surrounded by devastation: the nightmare was however over.
Here a larch tree of unusual circumference once stood, upon which the image of Our Lady of Piné had grown. At that time people would bring their needs and concerns to lay at the feet of the “Kaserer Mother” as the image was named, because the larch tree stood next to the Kasererhof farm. Over the generations, many a man from the Kaserer farm tried to chop the tree down, but in vain: the tree was enchanted and no axe could cut it down. It happened that one day two women, possessed by an evil spirit, were brought from Castelrotto to our Lady of Piné for healing. As they passed by the image of the Kaserer Mother they threw themselves down and cried with all their might: “Oh, Kaserer Mother, you are not one jot less worthy than Our Lady of Piné!” Praising the image, they could not be moved from the spot. Even the evil spirit offered a tribute to the image. The reputation of the image grew and huge crowds came to visit: only when the owner of the Kaserer farm promised to build a little church in place of the tree was the spell broken and the larch tree could then be felled. Its wood was used to build the little Church of Our Lady, which became a place of pilgrimage for many people.
Some shepherd boys and girls were one day sitting near the Costalunga Pass when an old man came by and told them that he had lost his knife. The children assured him they had found nothing and immediately began to look for it. Meanwhile the bells rang to proclaim the evening blessing. Now the children had to round up the cattle, and the old man set off towards the Latemar. As the children were on their way home with the cattle, they noticed something shiny in the grass: the oldest child, twelve-year old Minega, ran to see what it was, and there between the flowers saw a beautiful knife with a golden handle. Minega ran as fast as she could after the old man and handed him the knife. He was very pleased and promised her a wish as a reward for her honesty. Minega, embarrassed, said she wanted a doll. “Fine”, said the old man, “come back tomorrow with the other children who were with you here today, and I will show you a whole set of dolls. You can choose the most beautiful for yourself. But there is no more time for that today. Go home now, because the sun is setting and it is the time when the wicked witch of the rocks comes down from the Mugoni.” The little girl, frightened, bid the old man good evening and hurried back home. Above Tamion the path led across a stream and, on the bridge, was a woman the girl had never seen before. They greeted each other and Minega told her what had happened. “Oh, you lucky child”, said the woman. “You have met the old Venetian with lots of money. He lives in the Latemar mountains and owns great treasures such as goldmines. He also has two kinds of doll: one has white, yellow and red silk clothes, the other has garments of brocade, pearl jewellery and golden crowns. If he comes tomorrow with dolls dressed in silk, do not be content, but say: ‘Dolls of stone with silken rags, stay where you are and behold the Latemar!’ Then the old miser will fetch the precious dolls with golden crowns.” Thereupon the woman disappeared into the dark forest. The next day, Minega and the others made for the Latemar. When they reached the same place as the day before, they heard a strange noise from on high. They looked up and in the skies opened a heavy gate, from which came an endless procession of dolls with white, yellow and red silk clothes. The children watched the strange spectacle in amazement. Finally Minega uttered the phrase the woman had told her, at which came a whistling and whooshing through the mountain. Then a malicious cackle echoed through the forest and the dolls turned to stone. To this day you can see the magnificently silken clothes of the petrified dolls gleaming in the sun.
There was once a beautiful water nymph who lived in the Lago di Carezza. She often sat at the water’s edge, braiding her blond hair and quietly singing a sweet melody. The sorcerer of Masaré heard her singing and fell in love with her. He used all of his magic powers to try and capture the maid, but she always escaped his grasp. Finally the sorcerer asked his friend, the witch Langwerda, for help. Langwerda advised him to disguise himself as a jeweller, to stretch a rainbow between the Catinaccio and the Latemar massifs, then to go to the Lago di Carezza to lure the maiden ashore and capture her. The sorcerer followed the witch’s advice, but forgot to put on his disguise. The nymph was overawed by the glittering rainbow and the many precious stones, but spotted the wizard who had hidden himself on the shore. As quickly as she had appeared, she slipped back under the surface of the lake and from that day on was never seen again. The sorcerer was so angry with the failure of his plan that he tore the rainbow from the sky and in a rage hurled it together with all the jewels into the lake. To this day the Lago di Carezza still shimmers with the most gorgeous rainbow colours, such that the local Ladin people call it the “Lec de ergobando” (rainbow lake) in their language.
Location: Lago di Carezza