Venice Map
Sette Comuni
Dr Barrett


The tableland of the Sette Comuni in the province of Vicenza as described by John Davies Mereweather in his Semele; or the Spirit of Beauty: A Venetian Tale (London, 1867), pages 146-152.

The author’s short footnotes have been inserted into the text within square brackets; two long footnotes are placed at the end. Paragraph breaks have been added. (The Cimbri are probably of Bavarian, rather than Scandinavian, origin.)

The map, c. 1885, shows the Sette Comuni, north of the city of Vicenza. Distances by train: Venice-Padua 37 km, Padua-Vicenza 30 km (Vicenza-Thiene 22 km, but this line was opened after the publication of Semele).

For more information, see Marco Pezzo, Dei cimbri veronesi e vicentini, 3rd edition, Verona, 1763, 106 pp.; the second half of the book consists of a vocabulary. See also Giuseppe Aliprandi Asiago e l'Altipiano dei Sette Comuni, 5th edition, Padua, 1942.

... Thence by way of Caltran she ascended to the table-land of the Sette Comuni, inhabited by descendants of a remnant of those northern Cimbri or Jutlanders, whom Marius, about a hundred years before our era, defeated on the banks of the Athesis or Adige. After five hours of steep ascent, she arrived on a vast undulating plateau of poor, badly watered land encircled by hills partly clothed with pine forests. Proceeding onward, and passing in her way curious porous rocks, she came to Asiago, the small capital of this colony of 24,000 Scandinavians. And there she stayed for two or three days visiting the other six Comuni — Gallio, Roana, S. Giacomo di Lusiana, Enego, Foza, Rotzo.

Among these poor neglected people did the good English lady go, entering their chimneyless dilapidated dwellings, ministering to their many wants, and holding with them conversation as well as she could in the pure German tongue. She found them possessing all the physical characteristics of a northern people; and they insisted that they were not Italians, but Cimbri, evidently considering themselves a superior race. They were very poor, they said, and had no rich amongst them; the terrible winter went very hard with them; their sterile land produced scarce any wheat [three of the Comuni grow a little wheat] and no wine; and firewood was dear; but yet they were strong and healthy; and during the long inclement winter evenings they held reunions in their cow-houses, thus gathering heat from the animals, which, together with sheep, were the only staple production of their country.

They told her also that of old the Visconti, Scaligeri, and later, the Venetian Republic, were kinder to them than the present Government; that, besides other privileges, they were allowed to sell their live stock in Vicenza market free of all imposts; and not only that, but they enjoyed the Pensionatico, or the right of quartering their sheep during the winter on the farmers in the plains below; but that now all distinctive privileges were cancelled.

Then Semele, accompanied by a group of flaxen-haired, ruddy, plump children, went to see the great church which these pious people were building; and in a school-house near she found a priest catechising a circle of youthful catechumens from a catechism compiled by a Bishop of Padua in the Cimbrian tongue, which seemed to be a mixture of Scandinavian and old German. The title-page of this curious book ran thus:— "Dar kloane Catechismo vor de Síben Kaméün mit Halghen Gasang." When the priest asked about the capital sins, how many they were, and their names, he spoke thus:— "Bibel saint de sünte, da rüfentsich Capitali?" and he received for answer, "Sibene: Superbia, Scárcekot, Schántekot, Zornekot, Náidekot, Nait, Naalecekot [Pride, Avarice, Luxury, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, Sloth]."

When they were requested in these words to say the Lord's Prayer, "Köt auf z'gapét von Gotte me Herren," they altogether thus recited with uneuphonious effect — "Unzar Vater, vön me Hümmele, sai gaéart eür halzar namo! kemme dar eür Hümmel; sai gatáant allez baz ar belt iart, bia in Hümmel asň af d'earda; ghetüz heüte ünzar proat von altághe; un lácetuz naach ünzare schulle, bía bar lácense naach biar den da saint schulliküz; háltetüz gahütet von tentaciún; un hévetüz de übel. Aso saiz."

When they were told to say the Ave Maria — "Kót auf de Ave Maria" — they repeated in unison "Ich grüzach, Maria, volla grázíen, Gott dar Herre ist mit eüch; séelik iart übar de baibar; un séelik z'Kint von éürme laibe, Jesus. Halga Maria, Muter von Gotte me Herren, pittet vor üz süntar, hemmest, un af an stunt von ünzarme tóada. Asň saiz."*

And the priest told her that this was the second catechism published in the Cimbrian tongue; that the first was compiled by the order or recommendation of Cardinal Bellarmine [born in 1542], but that the language had become so changed since his time, that a fresh translation became indispensable. The priest then introduced her to an old man learned in Cimbrian antiquities, cognizant of the past history of his race, and an enthusiast regarding the beauties of his language; who lamented the modernizing modifications which his beloved mother tongue was gradually undergoing.

In the evening the sound of a full orchestral band playing operatic music came across the incredulous ears of Semele. She went out of the inn in the direction of the music, and in a small open space quite near, she saw by the light of many torches the good priest, her morning's acquaintance, standing in the midst of forty or fifty young men, all provided with musical instruments with music-stands before them, and conducting them without the score through the intricacies of the overture of Mozart's Flauto Magico. In the morning he told her that he had wished to give her a glad surprise; he did not wish her to leave with the impression that, because they were poor and of Teuton origin, they were barbarians.

He told her that he was a Cimbrian himself, and was sent by his poor parents to obtain his education, and ultimately his ordination at Padua; that when he began his work as a clergyman, he was grieved at the drunkenness which prevailed amongst the Asiago people during the long, dreary and snowy winter evenings; and that, having carefully studied the science of music himself, he prevailed on the young men of the place to follow his example, and choose each one his instrument. "For many years," he continued, "I worked very hard amid many difficulties to carry out my scheme; but at last I have succeeded tolerably well; and Handel, Mozart, and Rossini have been substituted in Asiago for wine, cards, and quarrelsome language." **

Leaving Asiago, Semele reached Vicenza, the monumental city of Palladio, surely the most beautiful city in Northern Italy, after Venice, as she thought, and then returned to her beloved City of the Waters, there to await the glad fulfilment of her wishes.


* I give a translation of this old Teutonic language into modern German, so that the reader may institute a comparison.

Catechist. How many are the sins which are called Capital? (Wie viel sind die Sünden die rufen sich [heissen] Capitali [Hauptsünden]?)
Answer. Seven.: Pride, Avarice, Luxury, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, Sloth. (Sieben: Hoffart, Geiz, Unkeuschheit, Zorn, Völlerei, Neid, Faulheit.)

Catechist. Say the Lord's Prayer. (Saget auf das Gebet von Gott dem Herrn.)
Answer. Vater unser, der Du bist im Himmel, geheiliget werde dein Name; dein Reich komme; dein Wille geschehe, wie im Himmel also auch auf Erden. Unser tägliches Brod gib uns heute. Und vergib uns unsere Schulden, wie wir vergeben unsern Schuldigern. Führe uns nicht in Versuchung; sondern erlöse uns von dem Übel. Amen.

For the sake of those who are interested in the gradual modification of languages, I give the Lord's Prayer in the Teolistica-Alemanna tongue, a Teuton dialect of the ninth century.

Fater unser, thu in himilon bist,
Giwihit si namo thin,
Quoeme richi thin,
Werdhe wille thin, sama so in himile endi in erthu.
Broot unseraz emezzigan gib uns hintu.
Endi farlaz unz schuldi unsero, samo sourr farlazzar scolom unserem.
Endi ni giledi unsih in costunga.
Auz arlosi unsih fona ubile.

Catechist. Say the Ave Maria. (Saget auf das Ave Maria.)
Answer. Gegrüsset seiest du, Maria, du bist voll der Gnaden; der Herr ist mit dir. Du bist gebenedeiet unter den Weibern, und gebenedeiet ist die Frucht deines Leibes, Jesus. Heilige Maria, Mutter Gottes, bitte für uns jetzt und in der Stunde unseres Absterbens. Amen.


** The state of these poor people is worthy of our deepest commiseration, now that the peculiar privileges which they enjoyed for so many years have been taken away. The whole district embraces a large extent of table-land, elevated above the adjacent Italian plains at least four thousand feet. What the weather is in winter may be imagined from the fact, that on the Easter day preceding the author's visit, the clergyman went to church from his house through a lane of snow, the banks of which were ten feet high. In such a climate scarce any wheat will ripen; the growth of the vine is out of the question. Oats, rye, barley, and potatoes, the last not very good, are all they can make their sterile soil produce.

Such a state of things surely deserves exclusive privileges; and exclusive privileges, such as I have already recounted, were given to them, and continued under the Visconti, Scaligeri, and the Venetian Republic. By Francis II of Austria these privileges were confirmed on the 15th of February, 1798; but they were all abolished by Sovereign Resolution in 1856. Consequently, the 200,000 sheep which they possessed in 1763, have dwindled down to a comparatively small number; and there is no doubt that these poor people are reduced to a state of great misery and destitution. They have no resident gentry amongst them to initiate useful enterprises, and teach them that their moral and religious tendencies are very incomplete if accompanied by obstinacy and stagnation, and a determination not to improve upon their fathers.

It is to be hoped that the present Italian Government, which proclaims itself the Regenerator of Italy, will vigorously take in hand the sad case of the 24,000 poor Cimbri inhabiting the bleak downs of the Sette Comuni.

Two small-size postcards from Asiago (Slege) and Gallio (Gelle), postally used in August 1900, with text in Italian and Cimbrian:

Stazione climatica estiva ed invernale
Hoga ebene vun Slege tausong meter – Altipiano di Asiago 1000 metri
       An grűz von Slege
       Von disar schônar hôge
       Gakrenzt mit starchen bęldarn
       Gamischit mit perg’ un téldarn
       Min grűz din herze slage.
                              Un saluto da Asiago

Da questa bella altura – coronata da
folte selve – mista di monti e valli – il
mio saluto ti tocchi il cuore.

  An gruz vun gelle
(Un saluto da Gallio)

Two small-size postcards from Roana and Foza, c. 1905:

Three postcards from Enego, Lusiana and Rotzo, c. 1910:


Brixen / Bressanone:


I take the opportunity to show here a watercolour dated "Brixen, Tirol, 1904" by the Swedish artist Gunnar Widforss. Brixen (Italian: Bressanone) in South Tyrol is situated some 150 km north of the Sette Comuni. The painting shows the castle of Hahnberg dating from the 16th century, rebuilt around 1890; the castle is situated to the north of the city centre, across the river Eisack, in Weinbergstrasse.