The wine and salt route

an old and safe transit route to the areas beyond the Alps

The Franks were probably the first to create a road network to allow safe transit from the Valtellina over the Alps via the Bormiese area, but it was the Dukes of Milan in particular who granted privileges to Bormio merchants for the practice of their profession. The two main roads connecting Bormio with Tyrol (called “royal” roads because they were under sovereign law) were those of Fraele and Umbrail. The first was safer in the winter months, with a smaller difference in height, while the second offered faster travel and was therefore generally preferred by drovers. In the Middle Ages they were respectively called the “via Longa” and the “via Curta de Venusta”. The most frequently traded goods were wine and salt. The first, purchased tax-free in Italy, was resold in transalpine regions at a substantial profit; the second was bought in Tyrol from the salt flats near the town of Hall near Innsbruck and sold in Lombardy. The caravans crossing into the German regions might consist of a few dozen animals, loaded with two barrels on each side of the packsaddle with a third, smaller, barrel on the back; the average quantity of wine transported on a horse was around 126 litres, equivalent to one “soma”, the unit of measurement for all kinds of goods carried in this way. In winter the mountains were crossed using horse-drawn sleighs; in fact the road had to be open all year round, as evidenced by the contracts of the rotteri or breakers, the brave men dressed in heavy protective clothing who, at risk of their lives, broke the crust so as to prevent the risk of snow slides. The “Hala” route, as related by the documentation, departed Bormio and led up to the Umbrail or Fraele passes, descended to Santa Maria in the Val Müstair, then from Taufers ran over the Resia Pass then down via Nauders, Landeck, Innsbruck and Hall. The round trip, according to one drover, was sixteen days: along the way willing women were available to comfort such men, even if they were sometimes accused of having sown “bastards along the way to Hala”. The Fraele road was not only used for trade, but was also remembered for the pilgrims who used it on their way to Rome, as well as for the especially fierce soldiery, above all during the Thirty Years War.


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