The modern-day Bolzano was in ancient times a marshy region inhabited by the Raetian Isarci people, traditionally believed to be descendants of Etruscan refugees fleeing Italy from the invading Gauls. The Romans built a settlement after the area had been conquered in 15 BC by General Nero Claudius Drusus. The military settlement, Pons Drusi (Drusus Bridge), was named after this Roman General. During this time the area became part of the region Venetia et Histria (Regio X) of ancient Italy.
In 1948, excavations of the current Cathedral led to the discovery of an ancient Christian basilica from the 4th century. Also discovered was a Roman cemetery, including the tomb of “Secundus Regontius” with Latin inscriptions dating to the 3rd century, making him the oldest known inhabitant of Bolzano.
During the gradual decline of the Romans’ influence in the 7th century, Bavarian immigration took place and the first mention of a Bavarian ruler in Bolzano dates from 679. At that time, the Bavarians named the nearby villages around Bolzano Bauzanum or Bauzana. German populations have been present in the region of Tyrol since this time.
Bishopric of Trent
In 1027 the area of Bolzano and the rest of the diocese was conferred, by the emperor Conrad II from the Salian dynasty, upon the bishops of Trent. In the late-12th century, the bishop founded a market town, along the Lauben thoroughfare. The town therefore became an important trading post on the Transalpine Augsburg-Venice route over the Brenner Pass, elevation 1,371 metres (4,498 ft) above sea level, within the Holy Roman Empire.
County of Tyrol and Holy Roman Empire
In 1277 Bolzano was conquered by Meinhard II, the Count of Tyrol, leading to a struggle between the Counts of Tyrol and the bishops of Trent. In 1363, the County of Tyrol fell under the influence of Habsburg Austria and the Holy Roman Empire. In 1381, Duke Leopold granted the citizens of Bolzano the privilege of a town council. This gradually eliminated the influence and power previously held by the bishops of Trent over the next few decades. In 1462, the bishops eventually resigned all their rights of jurisdiction over the town.
From the 14th and 15th centuries onwards, a large market fair was organised four times per year to greet tradesmen and merchants en-route the Brenner Pass. The Mercantile Magistrate was therefore founded in 1635 by the Austrian duchess Claudia de’ Medici. During every market season, two Italian and two Germanic officers, who were appointed among the local tradesmen, worked in this magistrate office. The establishment of an official trade organisation strengthened Bolzano as a cultural crossroad in the Alps.