The Walsers were peoples of ancient German descent who settled in the higher reaches of the Alps and especially in the valleys surrounding Monte Rosa at about 1200 meters of altitude where they preserved their ancient German language, customs and traditions. These protected and isolated colonies in the harsh terrain of the high mountains had to work hard for their survival: they had to cut down forest, till the land, create fields and meadows for cultivation and grazing, build houses and during the summer produce everything necessary to feed the families and animals during the long winter months.
Their ethnic and linguistic isolation and difficulties in communication and transport made them fiercely independent and proudly free, all at the price of continuous hard work. The Walser colonization was certainly pacific as the Valsesians had little to lose in granting them land which was not exploited by them. In their new lands they felt free of the ancient feudal ties of their country of origin where they had been serfs, and they became aware of their new found freedom to take decisions and plan the use of their own territory. The Walser occupation took place stealthily as the newcomers did not immediately establish relations with the locals.
Through a network of uninterrupted contacts and connections, they continued to receive from the Vallais supplies of staple commodities such as salt, metal tools, cereals and clothing. Later the colonies became practically self-sufficient and the umbilical cord connecting them to their old country fell away. Once they had acquired their right to the neighborhood, salt and equipment were obtained at the market in Varallo, in exchange for livestock and cheese.
Their integration was complete when the Walser parishes were recognized, these being, from an administrative point of view, the equivalent to self-government.
The Walser people arrived in Alagna by passing through Macugnaga and they occupied the herdsmen’s shelters in the Mud area which are now part of the present day hamlets of Pedemonte and especially Oubre Rong which at 1330 meters is the oldest settlement in existence.
Later expansion led to the tilling of land at the base of the Alagna alp now called Pedelegno. The settlement in Alpe di Otro was the work of families arriving some time later from Gressoney. The generations which followed the pioneers perfected their claims to the territory, extending colonization around the primitive nuclei.
The presence of the Walser tradition in Alagna
The presence of the Walser culture is today still strong in Alagna and you can you breeze it in the architecture of the houses, of the hamlets and also with the people, still talking the old German dialect, proud of the the Walser culture. Many historic cultural associations work today to keep and promote the Walser tradition making of Alagna an active center for the circulation of the history of the Walser people.
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