Simanaitis Says

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THE DOLOMITES, in northeastern Italy, are part of my favorite mountain range, the Alps, and the home of whimsical folktales. By the way, “DOH-loh-mytes” is an acceptable English pronunciation, though I much prefer the sonority of ”doh-loh-MEE-tee, their Italian Dolomiti characterization.

The Dolomites, as seen from Bolzano, Italy. Image from

The Dolomites are part of the Southern Limestone Alps. Frenchman Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu first identified the geological makeup of their sedimentary carbonate rock CaMg(CO3)2.

Dieudonné Sylvain Guy Tancrède de Gratet de Dolomieu, 1750–1801, French geologist. The dolomite mineral and rock are named after him.

Folktales from a Motoring Book. Because of their makeup, the Dolomites are also known as the Pale Mountains, part of a charming folktale related in a book about early motoring tours, Helena L. Waters’ From Dolomites to Stelvio.

From Dolomites to Stelvio, by Helena L. Waters, Methuen and Co. Ltd., 1926.

My copy of Water’s guidebook is faded from its original, though I doubt its cover was ever as vibrantly red as a Baedeker’s. The book contains 36 photos and four maps, one of which shows the Dolomites East.

The Dolomites East. This and the following image from From Dolomites to Stelvio.

The Legend of the Pale Mountains. “There once lived a King and his son the Prince in the south of the Alps,” Waters writes. “The people were hunters and shepherds, noted for love of home. The Prince, however, was an exception. Nothing satisfied him, until at last his only desire was to get to the moon.”

He achieved this goal. In fact, he and the Moon King’s daughter fell in love. Alas, though, as Waters describes, “the moon was white with a silvery sheen, causing the earth-dweller to become blind, while moon-dwellers became too depressed to stay on the earth because it was so dark and heavy.”

In bringing her to earth, the Prince had offered his love a bouquet of white moon flowers. The Princess’s bouquet spread flowers throughout the Alpine rocks. They’re called edelweiss.

For a time, these quelled the Princess’s homesickness, but eventually she longed for the moon’s sheen. The Prince then made a deal with the Dwarf King: In exchange for getting their own realm high in the mountains, the dwarfs would “spin the moonlight.” During the night, they covered the mountain peaks with bright light, and the Princess “was never again seized with home-sickness; for the Dolomites retain their shining beauty.”

The dwarfs,” Waters concludes, “may still be seen in the mountains and stony brooks.”

I am confident that Waters enjoyed her motoring of almost a century ago. This is the view from Passa di Pordoi to Arabba. Bolzano is west of there

Bolzano’s Own Tale. The town of Bolzano, also known as Bozen and Bulsan, tells its own tale of the entire region. Today, it’s the capital city of the province of South Tyrol in northern Italy, and most of its residents speak Italian. However, being an historically important trading post on the transalpine Augsburg-Venice route, the place has been ruled by Romans, Bavarians, Hapsburg Austrians, and others. It was part of Napoleon’s Kingdom of Italy, Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, and Hitler’s site of a Transit Camp for Jews and political prisoners. Finally, in 1972, the United Nations took part in formation of the Autonomous Province of South Tyrol.

Today the local university, founded in 1997, is called Libra Università di Bolzano/Freie Universität Bozen/Università Liedia de Bulsan, this last language, Ladin, similar to Swiss Romansh and Friulian.

The Spectre of Steirlhof. In a mountain farmhouse near Bolzano, a ghost’s dragging footsteps once awakened a farmer’s daughter. “The girl instantly seized the pillow,” Waters writes, “and pitched it with all her might against the door, then sprang from her bed, took the pillow again and threw it into the air, according to the instruction she had been given should a ghost appear.”

This farmer’s daughter was no naïf: “Behold a feather lay on the floor and this she seized and nailed it fast to the door. The spectre was caught.”

The spectre transformed into a woman suffering from the nail wound; the girl took pity on her and freed her. “In a trice,” Waters writes, “the spectre disappeared and ever since the Steirlhof has been exempt from nightly apparitions.”

No more ghosts, but plenty of Ladin/Italian/German-speaking moonlight-spinning dwarfs. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019


  1. jlalbrecht64
    January 9, 2019

    I understand your love of this area. In a previous life segment, I spent an enormous amount of time in the area, particularly the climbing areas north of Lago di Garda (Garda See). Simply beautiful area and really nice people.

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