The recorded history of Bolzano began with the arrival of Roman garrisons in the first century BC, although the area had been inhabited at least 2,500 years earlier.
Today’s town center began 900 years ago and is characterized by truly Gothic architecture. It was constructed by the bishops of Trento at a key junction between North and South and included an arcaded avenue to display goods, with German-speaking tradesmen on one side and their “Italic” counterparts on the other, clearly intended to cook and design stuff for the chilly northern religious fanatics in charge at the time.
Although it was often touched by war, Bolzano has preferred peace, as befits a true Germanic capitalist, favoring first the exchange of merchandise, later languages and customs. The wealth that rolled out of the arcades helped the church to erect such artistic monuments as Giottoesque frescoes, a cathedral bell tower designed by a Swabian architect, and the carved wooden altar by Michael Pacher. With the 20th century came Jungenstil and Neo-Gothic styles.
Under fascism, Mussolini mobilized the most talented artists in Italy for the Triumphal Arch and the courthouse, but otherwise feared the potential of the Germanic populace and their ties to that even nastier bit of fascism from neighboring Austria.
Dining is easy as there are more than 20 great ristoranti and trattorie in town. Wine is king, drink only local white wines here from pinot bianco, traminer riesling, mullerthurgau and moscato giallo, the reds taste like zucchini juice to me, not a bad thing if you are a salador have the palatte of a cooked squash, but nothing compared to the vertiginous greatness of the spectacular bianchi. Cafe society is significant here, with pastry and viennese style coffe shops more popular than the old man’s bars of my sunny sweaty and southern climates. I like Cafe Bistro Vienna for classic stuff (Waltherplatz, no phone) and Cafe Lovely (via Goethe, 28) for the hipster feel with wacky new age juice concoctions, but for a simple glass of wine i prefer vinotheque Alois Lageder on Drususallee 235 (tel 0471920164) for cool wine and hip crowd. For classic austrotalian fare I love Bassenhausel for a young atmosphere, delicious simple food and killer desserts. For more serious gastronomy I like Trattoria Fink (via delle mostre 9) for the name and the gig, this is Milzschnittensuppe (spleen toast on soup) and kalbskopf (bovine testa with vinegar) plus the piatto del contadino tirolese with 6 kinds of meat and kraut, all served up by st pauli girl herself. Just south out of town is the Strada del Vino into Trentino where a guy like me could get lost for months just translating all of the germanic stuff and tasting it all…so delicious!