The province of Verona is like a casket full of hidden gems: sites, monuments, villas. Frequently, the Veronese don’t know about them either, let alone the foreign visitors. One of these small jewels is actually a village that lies in the eastern part of the province, at the end of the Illasi Valley and the beginning of the Revolto Valley, at the confluence of two streams, the Revolto and Fraselle, which form the Illasi Torrent. Not far from here, the Trentino region begins. The village is called Ljetzan by the inhabitants, and Giazza by the Italians.
You can figure out the reason: the people there speak a different language. Not a local dialect, but a very old language that’s incomprehensible to outsiders: the Taucias Gareida, or Cimbra language. If it sounds vaguely like a word in German, it’s because the Taucias is a very old form of German language, a kind of dialect from Bavaria.
Giazza is indeed the last linguistic oasis of Taucias Gareida among the “XIII Comuni Cimbri” (Tauch municipalities), a group of villages on the Lessinia mountains. Today, that community is officially one of the 12 linguistic minorities in Italy. According to a poetic hypothesis, the Taucias Gareida name “Ljetzan” derives from the German word “licht” (light), but the linguists disagree. “Giazza” more likely comes from a word in the local Veronese dialect: giasso, which means ice, since here winter is really freezing. In Tautsch, the name became Ljetzan.
Ancient Cimbrian Origins
Groups of Bavarian and Tyrolean settlers brought this language to the Lessinia mountains in the Middle Ages. Although possibly there had been seasonal movements of people and livestock in the Veronese mountains back to Roman times. In the past, the Ljetzan people with their weird language and culture that was quite different from the rest of Veronese province were believed to be the last descendants of the famous Cimbri. That is the enemies of the Romans, defeated by Gaius Marius in 101 BC. in the Campi Raudii battle. The truth is somewhat different. The Cimbri of Lessinia mountains are the descendants of the old tzimbar, as the Germans called the lumberjacks. Cutting timber, working with coal and rearing livestock was the main work of the Ljetzan/Giazza inhabitants though, obviously, things are different now.
Nowadays, only a handful of people still know the ancient language. Many houses, however, have a sign saying ‘Haus’, followed by the surname of the family living there. There is even a special ethnographic museum, the Cimbrian Museum, where documents, photographs and handicrafts tell the story of the Cimbrians. One of those traditional items is the Trombino, a blank firearm that’s similar to a large rifle which, because of its bulky structure and weight, makes it impossible to aim at the target. It’s a sort of “feast weapon”; it has never been used to shoot but to accompany religious occasions and other celebrations. Today there are groups of shooters, called Pistonieri, who perform with these weapons during popular festivals. Their shots are the loudest you can imagine.
Although most of the Cimbrian culture got lost over the centuries, the locals are proud to celebrate the village’s Cimbrian origins. Every year they organize popular and attractive street festivals, one of which is the ‘Waur Ljetzan’, or the ‘Fires Party’. In the sole, tiny square in Giazza, people gather on 23 June to celebrate the summer solstice with songs, dances, popular tales of Lessini mountains, and the lighting of 13 fires, to represent the 13 Cimbrian villages of Lessinia. In the past, the ritual meant to chase away the darkness and, with it, the evil spirits. Today it’s a show that never fails to captivate locals and foreigners.
Every year, many choose to spend their summer vacations on the Veronese mountains surrounded by forests, meadows, and rocky areas. People who start hiking from the square of Giazza and follow the Fraselle stream will reach the Saigan springs. It’s a spectacular springs whose water does not gush out from the ground but spouts from above, like a fountain. These spectacular springs are the Saigan of Val Fraselle. A magic environment indeed.
If you visit these places, turn around and take a look at Giazza when you leave. The sun reflected on the bell tower makes it shine like a star. That is why we love to think that this is the meaning of the name Ljetzan: “the shining one”.
Photos by Elisabetta Tosi & Shutterstock