History of Brixen


See guide for highlights and historic monuments

Bressanone (Brixen) was inhabited from the Neolithic era. In Roman times it was conquered by Drusus (38-9 BC), stepson of the emperor Augustus (63 BC-14 AD) in 15 BC and incorporated into the Roman province of "Rhaetia".

In 590 AD, after the fall of the Roman Empire, this land was incorporated into the Duchy of Bavaria. In 901 King Louis the Child (891-911), the last King of the Carolingians, gave the royal court "Prichsna" to the bishop Zacharias.

After 1000 AD

Around the year 1000 the 'modern' city of Brixen was born, surrounded by walls, and which became the capital of the country, after the donation of the Inn Valley Counties and of Isarco by Emperor Conrad II (990-1039) to the bishop of Brixen Artvigo in 1027.

In the 13th century, much of the territory was usurped by the Counts of Tyrol. The Ecclesiastic Principality of the Holy Roman Empire, with its three city of Bressanone, Brunico and Klausen, including some jurisdictions in nearby valleys, lasted until 1803.

Throughout the Middle Ages the town of Bressanone was an artistic and cultural centre of major importance, and in more modern times it gained its own administrative autonomy, focusing on trade and craft.

After 1803 Brixen faded to become a simple provincial town; however, with the beginning of tourism, thanks to its mild climate and the treasures of great historical and artistic heritage, the city has regained its economic development. Today Bressanone is known as a thermal baths town and a place that has a great heritage of monuments and priceless art collections.

Origins of the name Brixen - Bressanone

As regards the etymology, the interpretation of the place name was established by the 19th century, and it dates back to the Celtic word "brica", “briga” (top, hill, high ground) as also found in other areas of Celtic influence (“Bressa” in Gaul, in Spain “Brexa”, Bressanone and "Brixia", Brescia).

The name is attested for the first time in 827 as "Pressena", "Prichsna" and “Brixina”. G. Rose wrote that:

"[...] The root of Brixia is repeated in "Briscen” (Brixen) in the “Vindelici”, one of the Germanic tribes, in 'Brescello' in the area of Modena, in 'Brissa' in Ticino, 'Bresega' in Padua, 'Bressa'in the area of Udine, in 'Brix' and 'Brixem' in France (...) for which it is said that the root was shared by several people, perhaps indicating a “very high place”, that the Celts called 'brig' [...]" [1].

The hypothesis by G. Rosa was confirmed by contemporary studies, because:

"[...] The Gauls Cenomani settled between the Adda and the Mincio, and in that city that was located in a steep rise, called 'brick' from which derived the new name of 'Brixia'; they made it the capital of their territory, "Caput Cenomanorum '[' Capital of Cenomani '] [...]"[2].

Some scholars incline to a pre-Celtic name, albeit with the same meaning ("high ground"):

"[...] Many scholars, including especially Alessio (1948), tend to relate the root ['briga'] of the place name to the sense of 'rock', 'high ground', a pre-Indoeuropen and pre-Celtic name [...]" [3].

G. Semerano moves away from the common interpretation, and explains the etymology of Bressanone in a particular way. For Prof. Semerano, Brixen would mean simply "the act of foundation or organization of a city":

"[...] The etymology of 'Brixia', like 'Brixina' (Brixen) has its base within the Akkadian term 'Pirku' ... the second component of 'Brixia' corresponds to the Neo-Assyrian 'issu' and  Akkadian 'Isdu' (foundation: of a building, wall, organization of country or city'): as for' Brixina', on the Inn River [...]" [4].

See also the Brixen travel and visitors guide.

References

1. See G. Rosa, in“Dei Reti e dei Cenomani Antichi”, “Archivio Storico Italiano”, Reprinted from Bibliobazaar, 2009: 245

2. See, “Italia Romana”, Istituto di studi Romani, 1938, Vol. 4: 260

3. See E. Campanile, "The Celts of Italy”, Giardini, 1981: 48

4. See G. Semerano, "The Origins of European Culture", Olschki, 1984: 630