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History of the Apple

The Eventful History of the Apple

Eastern Origin, A Long Journey, and a New Homeland

“Everyone starts out small” as an old saying goes. But with the apple tree, the opposite was actually the case: in ancient times, large trees were planted and over the years they were attended to and cared for. But anyone who assumes that we are talking about South Tyrol/Südtirol in antiquity would be mistaken. The apple does not have its origins in Europe, as many might presume, but rather in the mountainous region of Kazakhstan. Witnesses of that epoch can still be discovered there today: giant forests with so-called “wild apple trees”, and even the former capital city of Almaty, which in ancient times was known as Alma Ata, meaning “father of apples” in the Kazakh language.

And via the Silk Road, the old trade route between China and Greece, the apple found its way into Europe. First to Greece, then on to Rome, and from there to us in South Tyrol. During Roman times, approximately twenty-one apple varieties were cultivated around Rome. In the Alpine region, and consequently in South Tyrol, the apple was planted for the first time in the thirteenth century.
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The Apple Finds a New Homeland in South Tyrol

Naming, the First Apple Varieties, and Development

In South Tyrol, farmers first of all planted orchards for the supply of their own families. The first South Tyrol apple variety – the “Potzner” (or Bozner, meaning from Bozen or Bolzano) – came into existence around two hundred years after the arrival of the apple in South Tyrol. At that time, South Tyrol apples were carried with the help of horses or by foot in wooden frames borne on the back beyond the borders of the province and sold to estates of the nobility. In addition to apples, they also carried other local fruits on their backs in the heavy carriers over the Alpine passes to the north. Many family names and farm names date back to this time and indicate the farmer’s specialty. Bamlechen, Baumgartner, Pangart: these all have to do with tending trees. 

Thanks to the construction of the railway line in 1867, transport, and consequently the export of apples, was made more simple. The imperial courts in Vienna, Berlin, and St. Petersburg absolutely could not get enough of the fresh and crispy South Tyrol apples. During this time period, the first warehouses were built in South Tyrol for the storage of the fruit. At the end of the nineteenth century, the first fruit grower cooperatives were formed in the Burggrafenamt district near Meran/Merano. At that time, there were around two hundred apple varieties in circulation.

The twentieth century can be called the high-flying century of South Tyrol apple cultivation: in the 1920s, tractors, spraying machines, and mulching equipment were developed with which, among other things, it was possible to provide better protection against diseases and pests in fruit growing. Apple cultivation became an important source of income for South Tyrol fruit growers and ultimately the basis for their livelihood. Up to 1960, half of the apple orchards on average still consisted of various types – and thus numerous different varieties. But in the decades that followed, there was greater and greater concentration on just a few, such as Golden Delicious, Morgenduft, or Jonathan. And the trees got smaller and smaller.

Did you already know where the name “apple” came from? From the Bavarii, who conquered the land south of the Alps starting from the sixth century AD. In their Germanic language, “ap-a-la” was their term for apple!