Glorenza, the little city

On May 22, 1499, Val Venosta saw the armies of the Three Leagues and the Swabian League march across it, taking the Alpine valleys for their own. Following their adventures and unpicking their motives is a task for dedicated historians; most of us would get lost in the ever-shifting web of clashes and alliances, which would likely send us to sleep. All we need to know is that in the so-called Swabian War, the Swiss played a decisive role, belying their usual reputation as neutral bystanders. It was the Swiss soldiery that razed the area around Glorenza, which even at that time had developed into a fully fledged city.


So almost nothing that we see today in Glorenza (or Glurns) is more than 500 years old, even if it seems much older. Maybe it’s the stubbornness of the Glurnser that have kept their town’s rural-urban appearance intact. The town is so small that you can walk the walls right the way around, corner by corner, gate by gate.


Glorenza/Glurns’ rebirth began when the Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I decided to rebuild it, and indeed to make it even more beautiful, powerful and well-equipped. He ringed it with a circuit of defensive walls, the walls that survive today and constitute one of the town’s most precious architectural gems. Gone were the town’s traditions of sober prosperity, and in came centuries of health and wealth, thanks to new institutions, new trade and a thriving halite industry from the local mines.


Glorenza/Glurns is a town that deals in thousands, but only in thousands. It lies just under a thousand meters above sea level; it has just under a thousand inhabitants, all living within an area the size of a couple of football pitches. Entering through one of the town’s three gates, you find yourself in something of a fairytale: the houses almost seem made of marzipan, their roofs of chocolate and doors of gingerbread. Linear and rounded forms of architecture blend around little windows that are bordered by white plaster, but look as though they belong in a watercolor. And maybe you’ll see a cow crossing the road because that’s the sort of dream-place that Glurns is. But don’t forget, this town is still in Italy, so there’s no lack of frescoes, churches and beautiful views. Don’t miss the market square, the town’s chief hub, the center of business and events now as much as five hundred years ago.


The only thing worth saying to someone going to Glurns is don’t feel the need to see everything at once. Here the essence is in the detail. Leave your watch at home and tell the time by the sun, which shines on the façades of historic buildings. Just enjoy the beauty of the place.