Tyrol, a historic region now part of western Austria and northern Italy. For centuries, various peoples and nations have contended for possession of this Alpine region, with its strategic Brenner Pass.
The Austrian Tyrol is a province, or Bundesland, consisting of a large western sector and a small eastern portion (known as East Tyrol). These sectors are separated from each other; both adjoin a southern section of the Tyrol that is part of Italy. The Italian Tyrol forms the administrative region of Trentino-Alto Adige, which is composed of the provinces of Bolzano and Trento.
The Raetians, a Celtic and Illyrian people, were early inhabitants of what is now the Tyrol. In 15 B.C. they were conquered by the Romans, who made the region the Roman province of Raetia (or Rhaetia). Barbarian tribes began to invade Raetia in the second century A.D. Eventually, the Bavarians settled in the north and part of the south, the Lombards occupied the rest of the south, and the Slavs moved into the east. The region became part of the Holy Roman Empire, but in the 11th century secular authority was delegated to the counts of Tyrol. In 1363 the Tyrol passed to the Hapsburgs of Austria.
Hapsburg rule was interrupted in 1805 when Napoleon forced cession of the Tyrol to Bavaria. The strongly independent Tyroleans revolted in 1809, but were subdued. In 1810 Napoleon gave the southern Tyrol to Italy. The whole Tyrol was returned to Austria by the Treaty of Paris (1814).
After Austria's defeat in World War I, the southern Tyrol was granted to Italy by the Treaty of Saint-Germain (1919). The German-speaking inhabitants of the southern Tyrol, who made up a large part of the population and a majority in Bolzano province, resented Italian rule. This became a source of great tension between Austria, which supported the rights of the German-speaking Southern Tyroleans, and Italy.
Following World War II a new Italian constitution created the Trentino-Alto Adige region and granted it limited self-government. Austria and the German-speaking inhabitants of the southern Tyrol remained dissatisfied. In 1969 an accord was reached between the Austrian and Italian governments and the German-speaking southern Tyrolians; it provided for the gradual introduction of greater autonomy in the region. In 1992 the two governments and the German speakers of the southern Tyrol formally agreed that the 1969 accord had been fully and satisfactorily implemented.