This is an excerpt from the book “Aosta Valley Itineraries”.
Valle d’Aosta – Aosta Valley: A great deep furrow between the highest mountains in Europe, the Valle d’Aosta (Aosta Valley) is watered by the Dora Baltea River whose tributaries form picturesque lateral valleys: the Valtournenche, Val di Gressoney, Val d’Ayas, Valgrisenche.
Valle d’Aosta is a vertical region, you might say, and not just in the physical sense, for the many high peaks that surround it (including Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe at 4,807 meters), but also for the surprising concentration, in a region of such reduced dimensions, of so many natural splendors, of so many monuments, of so much precious historic and artistic heritage, of a density which evokes, in its vertical aspect, the crowding of skyscrapers in a metropolis where horizontal urban space is scarce and precious.
Aosta, the regional capital and the only province of the Valley, is a city rich in history. Traces of the ancient Augusta Pretoria (the Latin name of Aosta) can easily be seen, such as the great Arch of Augustus (25 B.C.) and the remains of the Roman Theatre.
For Aosta the Middle Ages were anything but dark: as an important center of commercial traffic with France and Switzerland, the city enjoyed a long period of prosperity. It is no coincidence that the Cathedral and Cathedral Church of S. Orso, two churches of great beauty, date back to the Middle Ages.
Aosta, well situated in the center of the valley, is the capital of this region which has enjoyed a certain degree of administrative authority since 1947. In addition to the pastoral activities of the mountain people and the iron mines at Cogne, the valley’s economy depends primarily on tourism which has developed as a result of the winter snow and the summer activities in the mountains.
Valle d’Aosta – Aosta Valley Castles
Other medieval monuments lie at the feet of the city: the castle of Fenis and, in the vicinity of Saint-Vincent, the location of a famous casino, the castle of Issogne, whose unusually rich frescoes and architecture confirm the prosperity of that time.
The natural landscapes of the Valley are fabulous: from the imposing peaks of Mont Blanc to the fascinating harshness of Cervino (4,478 meters), from the spectacular Monte Rosa, so-called due to color assumed by its great glaciers at certain times, to the Gran Paradiso, the high mountain at the center of the huge Natural Park of the same name with over 200,000 hectares.
From Pont-St-Martin to Courmayeur the local population – essentially mountain people and shepherds – remain attached to their traditions and have retained their French family names. Many still speak French and other varied dialects.