Ötzi, the ‘Iceman’

The man who was buried in a glacier for over five thousand years!

Here we are, back in Europe.  Not just any place in Europe, but one of our favourite places, the ‘Süd Tyrol, or South Tyrol area of the Alps.  For Diana & I, this area, also known as the ‘Sunny Side of the Alps” is our ‘go to’ destination for an enjoyable vacation.  Location, beauty, food, wine, weather, people, history, festivals, museums, mountains, vegetation, hiking . . . it checks off all the boxes!  I don’t know another area where you can find palm trees growing near the ski-lifts and mountain hiking trails.  The weather is very Mediterranean, until you head up the mountains, the spectacular Dolomites.

We were first introduced to this area in 1991, as we travelled by Eurail Pass, heading south towards Italy and Greece.  As we cruised along on a wonderful, quiet, speedy European train through the Alps, I checked a map and saw that one of the first cities in Italy we would arrive at was called Bolzano.  We decided to get off there and stay a couple of days to get our first taste of Italy.  Little did we know, this would open up an entire new chapter in our traveling lives. 

We got off the train, and first thing we did was visit the tourist office which was very close to the train station.  Of course, they all speak English and are glad to find whatever kind of accommodation you want, at the price you want to pay.  Luckily, there was a nice little family hotel close by, which offered rooms with breakfast, and had their own restaurant, and was also close to the city’s main square.  Great!  I have checked this hotel lately and they are still in business, with all the modern amenities.  The great thing about European family run hotels is they keep going, generation after generation, sometimes for hundreds of years, so you can always count on them being there.

Hotel Feichter Restaurant - author Ian Kent
Hotel Feichter Restaurant

As we explored the city and surroundings, we noticed more German spoken than Italian, German food on the menu.  It was later that we learned that although this was Italy, the entire area was bilingual, Italian and German, as it used to part of Austria until after the second world war, when it was ceded to Italy.  This became very apparent when we saw that every sign was bilingual, German and Italian, the foods served in restaurants was mainly German or Austrian food.           

This was September 27, 28, 1991 when we passed through Bolzano (Bozen in German), and I noticed in the local Italian newspaper headlines that a couple of local hikers up in the mountains discovered what looked like an unfortunate hiker from some previous time, stuck in the ice at the edge of a glacier.  This discovery was made on September 19, almost ten days before our arrival in Bolzano.

Alto Adige newspaper for September 29, 1991 (must have been printed early) - author Ian Kent

Alto Adige newspaper for September 29, 1991 (must have been printed early)

Alto Adige’ means the upper Adige River area, the local Italian name for the area, ‘Süd Tyrol’ is the German name for the same area.

They tried to remove the poor guy, but he was frozen in solid.  I saved that newspaper and still have it, but did not understand much of the story until I could read it in English.  The officials were notified and argument ensued as to what side of the border he was found, Austria or Italy.  After he had been carefully removed from his resting place, with a lot of reports, investigations and cooperation between the two countries, they decided he was actually on the Italian side, and they started plans about where he would end up.  He was named Ötzi, after the Ötztaler Alps where he was found.  He is also referred to simply as “The Iceman”.  After years of study by many international experts and organizations, he was moved to a cozy little refrigerated bed in the new South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, specifically built for him.

Ötzi, in his prime - author Ian Kent

Ötzi, in his prime

The wonderful South Tyrol Museum of Archaelogy is a great place to visit.  A team of expert anthropologists, medical experts and artists have created an image of Ötzi as he must have looked like in his prime.  See Photo 3 for this image from the museum.

The most incredible thing about this find is that they calculate the man had been frozen in the ice for five thousand three hundred years!  Just think about that . . . the Egyptian empire built their pyramids, the Greeks, the Romans, the Hittites, and all modern history, all came and went, while he was lying there in an icy grave in the Öztaler Alps.  Scores of international experts, medical people, forensic pathologists, anthropologists and others have picked over, analyzed and studied every aspect of the body and everything found around him.  The details of their findings are amazing!  They figure he lived between 3100 and 3370 BC, and was about 46 when he died.  He was 5 feet 2 inches tall, slightly muscular build and weighed about 110 pounds.  He had brown eyes, dark hair and a dark beard.  The experts have studied him now for years and know exactly what he had for his last meals, he was lactose intolerant, and his blood type was O positive. (incredible medical/scientific detective work!)

Ötzi as he was found - author Ian Kent

Ötzi as he was found

He was passing through a mountain pass when he was shot in the back with an arrow by a Southern Alpine archer.  This arrow nicked an artery, so he bled out internally. 

Ötzi’s last moments - author Ian Kent

Ötzi’s last moments

Again, the artists associated with the museum have created this image of what his last moments were like, exhausted, injured, unaware he was bleeding internally, collapsed with one arm crossed under him in a blinding snowstorm, never to rise as he was frozen solid for the next five thousand three hundred years. (see Photo 5)  Many stories have been created from these facts, stories lost in the mists of time . . . five thousand years of time!

We have enjoyed many visits to Bolzano over the years, and have brought my sister and several other relatives and friends.  Our favourite hotel (Gasthof Kohlern) is located up on the mountain overlooking the city.  The other amazing city nearby is Merano, a beautiful Mediterranean city, full of palm trees and music,  used to be the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when ‘Sissy’, Empress Elizabeth was in charge.  Elizabeth was Empress consort of Austria, Queen consort of Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia and Croatia, and eventually added Queen consort of Lombardy-Venetia.  In the South Tyrol, she is remembered and loved everywhere, with statues and memorial plaques and the use of her name throughout the area.  Again, another great place for your bucket list!


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