Felix Fabri describes his Botzen, now modern-day Bolzano, Italy, in the accounts of each of his pilgrimages to Jerusalem. His second account, however, describes the town in much more detail. Fabri focuses his second description on the people and culture of Bolzano, mainly on their tendency to be “sinful, given to drunkenness, luxury, and pride beyond measure” and so often overcome with fever symptoms that it ceases to be considered an illness (13). Interested in the ethnic composition of the town as well, Fabri notes that the majority of its citizens, as of a few years prior, were Italian, making the common language Italian, but that Botzen is now a German town. Commenting on the relationship of the people to their buildings, Fabri highlights that the town had recently almost entirely burned, a recurring incident that left many displaced, with more expensive buildings being constructed in the ruins.
Fabri’s group only stayed in Botzen for one night, the 20th of April , before continuing on their journey. They arrived after dinner on the 20th and left after dinner on the 21st. Fabri mentions that Botzen’s wine is “especially good” and “all fruits are sweet” there, but does not mention what they ate at the monastery or elsewhere (13).
To explain the cause of the widespread fever symptoms, Fabri explains that mountains on one side of the town block the “fresh wholesome air” so that the wind only comes from the nearby “pestilent marshes,” thus briefly describing the terrain of Botzen (13).
The climate of Botzen is described through Fabri’s telling of his previous visit with a friend. The friend jokes that the town must be the coldest town in the world to cause such widespread fever symptoms, but Fabri replies that it may be one of the warmest in actuality. A dry and hot climate would explain the widespread fires, too.
Some of the most interesting details of this account are revealed when Fabri describes the religious buildings, such as the monasteries and churches that were not touched by the flames, “as though by a miracle” (12). It is slightly confusing as to why Fabri refrains from directly calling the event a miracle, even though he readily tells the story of how the convent dormitory roof was saved from being devoured by flames when the Prior “called upon the Blessed Virgin for help” and accepts that the fire was caused by the “vengeance of Heaven” on the sinful town (13). Obviously, he fully believes in the interference of divine power in the town, so his reaction is a bit out of character.
It’s interesting to think that the constantly changing ethnic composition of Botzen and how it seems to directly influence which district and nation the town is considered part of. Fabri says that it was initially Italian, then switched to a German town. That shift caused the Botzen’s convent to switch from belonging to the province of St. Dominic to belonging to Fabri’s province. Since Botzen is now part of Italy again, it would be interesting to revisit the religious affiliations of the town.