The Dolomites
and their Legends

by Karl Felix Wolff

Translated by Lea Rukavina


Reprint of the 1930 edition published by Vogelweider Verlag.

Potential rightholders are requested to direct any legitimate claims to the publisher.

Bozen, First Edition 2013

English text revisions translations of afterword and editorial note:
Cassandra Han & Lorenzo Viti
Graphic concept for jacket: Arnold Dall’O & Freunde
Cover photo: Rosegarden with Vajolet towers
Original drawing by Hellmut Bachrach
© Historisches Alpenarchiv Innsbruck

Print ISBN: 978-88-7283-436-7

Epub ISBN: 978-88-7283-452-7


The Dolomites are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the popular narrative tradition, they are described as the Pale Mountains, as enchanted mountains. They are the symbol of the Alps — better said, of mountains in general. Legends have contributed to this idyllic image more than any other factor, and have not lost their charm or significance right up to the present day: they speak of Tanna, Albolina, Melisana and the spirits of Dolomites.

The Dolomites and their Legends first appeared in 1930, a publication of Vogelweider Verlag. Amazingly, there are only a few copies of this English edition to be found although there were 37,000 books printed that year.

We’d like to thank Ursula A. Schneider for her research into the history of the edition. Our thanks also go to Cassandra Han and Lorenzo Viti, who translated the afterword and did the English text revisions.

We also send out heartfelt thanks to THE expert in all matters related to Dolomite legends: Ulrike Kindl, who wrote the afterword to this edition.

Edition Raetia


Once upon a time there lived the son of a King. His father’s kingdom lay in the southern territory of the Alps, with its green pastures and shady forests and steep mountains with black rocks. The inhabitants lived as hunters and shepherds, loved their country, and considered themselves happy. One alone was not content with his life and the world about him — the King’s son. He felt tormented by a desire which no one could grant him — he wanted to visit the Moon. He had already consulted all the wise men of the kingdom as to what he should do in order to reach the Moon, but nobody knew how to advise him. Therefore, the Prince was discontented and sad. In vain his companions endeavoured to distract him and to turn his thoughts to other things — he talked and dreamed only of the Moon. At the time of full moon he always became very mad. From evening until morning he wandered restlessly around on the rocks and meadows, gazing all the time at the Moon. The most expert physicians came to the Court but no one was able to cure the strange malady of the Prince. And it continued to become worse.

One day, while hunting, the Prince left his companions and lost his way in the forests. When evening came and the sun had set he found himself in a lonely, high valley, all covered with Alproses, and surrounded on three sides by steep ridges and mighty rock towers. No longer hoping to meet again with his hunting companions that day, the King’s son decided to spend the night there. So he lay down on a green lawn in the midst of Alprose-bushes and looked thoughtfully at the red clouds and mountaintops which were just fading away in the distance. As he felt very tired, however, he soon fell asleep and had a curious dream. … He stood in a meadow all covered with strange flowers, and spoke to a wonderful girl whom he had never seen before. All around, as far as the Prince could see, it was white, but he himself held some red Alproses in his hand and gave them to the beautiful stranger. Smiling, she accepted the flowers, asking him what his country was like, and after a while she told him that she was the daughter of the Moon King. On hearing these words the King’s son felt an indescribable joy and awoke.

It was already past midnight; the Moon stood high, and its silver light shone into the deserted clefts and on the pointed rocks of the lonely high valley: the Prince looked up and his joy changed, becoming deep sorrow. The usual ardent longing took possession of him, and for a long time he gave free play to his sad thoughts. Finally a gentle breeze passed through the Alproses, and the King’s son thought of what would happen if he really should meet the Moon Princess. So he began to gather the beautiful Alproses and to make a bouquet, and he was occupied with it for a long time. All at once he thought he heard someone speaking high up in the rocks. He listened, but a great silence ruled, except that in the distance a waterfall murmured. The Prince gathered some more flowers, but for the second time he heard words, and now very clearly. The sound came down from the highest rock tower, and the top of this tower was wrapped up in a thick white cloud. Up there mountain demons must dwell, so the King’s son thought, and he grasped the hilt of his sword. Without putting away the Alprose bouquet he slowly strode to the tower, went around the foot of the mountain walls and began to climb up on the back wall, which was not so steep. The speaking became clearer, but it was not yet possible to distinguish words. Soon the King’s son came into a cloud, the moonlight could no longer get through, and he only groped his way forward. Finally he struck something hard, a door was opened, and the Prince stood before a brightly illuminated little space where two very, very old men were sitting. They rose, frightened; but he calmed them, excusing himself by saying that he was a hunter who had lost his way in the mountain wildness. On hearing these words both went to meet him, asking him to come in, and they became very friendly. They talked of one thing and another, and the Prince asked them if they were old men of the mountains. But the two old men replied they were inhabitants of the Moon who had made a long journey all around the world and that they were on the point of returning to their own country. Hearing this, the King’s son became quite pale with excitement and he told them that for years and years he felt an ardent desire to make a journey to the Moon. The two old men laughed, saying that if he wanted to join them they were quite content, and that they were starting immediately. The Prince was very happy, thanking the good old men with endless words. Meanwhile the cloud had drifted from the rock summit and began to sail towards the Moon with increasing speed. During the long journey the Prince told the two old men many things concerning his father’s kingdom, and they told him how things were on the Moon, and how one had to live there. Thus they informed him that an inhabitant of the earth could not stay for a long time on the Moon because everything there was white — plains and mountains, plants and cities — all shining in silver sheen, and an inhabitant of the earth would become blind, after a time, from this dazzling brightness. So also, said they, a Moon dweller could not remain for a long time on the earth because of the dark colours of the forests and rocks, which are saddening, and if such a one could not return soon, very soon, to the Moon he would surely die from too much pining for the white fields of his country.

With such conversation and considerations did the three Moon-travellers beguile their time. At last the cloud on which they were, came down upon one of the mountains of the Moon and rested there. The first part of their journey was over; now they had to proceed on foot. The two old men explained to the Prince that they had to turn westwards, and they advised him to travel towards the east in order to reach the Capital as soon as possible. The Prince said goodbye and went down the mountain in an easterly direction. All the country round about was white, especially because of the countless little white flowers which covered the surface of the Moon. But, in addition, the ground, which in some places was bare, appeared white. After a while the King’s son saw the houses and tower-tops of the Capital. All these buildings, however, were made, from their foundations to their battlements, of white marble. With quick steps the Prince hastened to meet this white splendour until he was stopped by a fence which barred the way. This hedge was made, with great skill, of sparkling metal, and its pickets bore strange decorations. Beyond the hedge a gardener was working. As soon as he noticed the stranger he advanced slowly, saluted, and inquired, in an astonished manner, as to the origin of the red flowers which the Prince was holding in his hands. These were the Alproses which he had gathered during the night. The Prince explained that he had come from the earth, and that the flowers grew there. Then the gardener told him, in the castle, which stood in the background, lived the Moon King and his daughter. The Princess was very fond of rare and beautiful flowers, and she would surely reward the stranger in a royal manner if he would leave the red bouquet for her. The Prince laughed and said that he would give his Alproses to the Princess with great pleasure, but that he would seek no reward for them as he himself was the son of a King. At this the astonished gardener opened the gate and invited the stranger to enter the garden. Then he ran up to the castle. After a while he returned, breathless, begging the Prince to go with him to the castle. The King’s son followed his guide through many, many halls and corridors, looking amazed at the walls of white alabaster, and at the bright arms which adorned them.

The Prince was received by the Moon King and his daughter in a large illuminated hall, and was welcomed in a very friendly way. The Moon King was a very old man with a long silvery beard; but, on seeing the Princess, the Prince recognised that wonderful girl whom he had met in his dream. She accepted the Alproses gratefully, praising their glorious colour, and asked the Prince if there were many such flowers in his country, what kind of people lived there, and how large was his father’s kingdom. It was only after a long conversation that they parted, the Moon King telling the Prince that he was to consider himself as his guest.

The Prince remained then for a time at the royal castle, taking long walks through its surroundings, and became well acquainted with the Moon to which he had so often looked up with longing. After some weeks the Moon King asked his foreign guest, at lunch, how he liked the Moon. The Prince replied that the white, shining landscape of the Moon was the most beautiful he ever had seen, but its unaccustomed brightness was so affecting his eyes that he feared he would go blind if he did not return soon to his own country. The Princess interjected that she did not share the apprehension of the earth-Prince, and that with the time he could accustom himself to the splendour of the landscape. A wise old courtier, however, ventured to contradict the Princess, saying that it was not really advisable for an inhabitant of the earth to remain too long on the Moon. After that the Princess spoke no more.

At the time that the King’s son lost his way while hunting, his companions searched for him everywhere in the gloomy forests and among the pathless rocks but though their quest lasted for many days they were unable to find him. They were obliged, then, to return to the royal castle and to inform the old King of what had happened, but he sent them away, warning them that they should not dare to appear before him again without his son. At the same time the whole kingdom was informed that anyone who would bring any tidings of the Prince might expect a great reward. But it was all to no purpose. No one knew anything, and the Prince was not heard of again. Everyone believed that he had perished at night on the mountains, when suddenly, it was reported through the country that the Prince had come back, bringing the Moon King’s daughter with him as his wife. The simple people of the Alps were very glad, and they all went to the palace to try to see the Princess as they could not imagine what an inhabitant of the Moon should look like, but she differed from the women of the earth only because she seemed to emanate a bright light, and the shadow of each tree in the meadow vanished as soon as she appeared. The people were astonished at the white flower which grows everywhere on the Moon and which the Princess had brought with her. This flower spread with time over the whole Alps, and even to-day the bright stars salute us from the rockwalls — they are called Edelweiss.

The Princess for her part was enchanted by the coloured meadows and pastures of the Alps, never getting tired of admiring the variegated flowers and the green lawns. She also loved the blue mountain lakes, and, ever and always, she praised the variety of the earth surface, comparing with the monotony of the Moon landscape, where everything was white. A proud satisfaction came over the Prince when he saw that the Moon daughter was so well and happy, and he delighted to show her everything, the valleys of the kingdom and their different curiosities, and all the beauties of the country. Both of them felt very glad and cheerful, and had no other thought but to remain like that.

Once, however, when the King’s son returned late one evening from hunting he saw his wife standing on the balcony and looking up at the Moon. He thought it was strange. He went up softly, surprising the dreamer, and asked her why she was looking up so thoughtfully at the Moon. She smiled and was silent, but on being asked again she confessed that she had been pining for the white Moon-fields. The meadows and valleys of the Alps are beautiful, she said, but the confusion of dark mountain tops which extend themselves threatening towards the sky, like the black fists of gigantic demons, give the landscape a gloomly closeness, and this sometime oppressed like deep sorrow the soul. On hearing this complaint the Prince grew afraid, for it recalled to his mind what the two old men had said to him when he went up to the Moon: they said that a Moon dweller would soon miss the white beauty of his country and die, languishing for light…

At present, of course, there was no cause for a serious fear, and the Prince hoped to be able to release his wife from her dangerous home-sickness by amusement and all kinds of diversion. He was mistaken, however, for her condition became worse little by little. Just like the Prince before his journey to the Moon, she now gazed at the Moon for hours and hours, becoming finally so pale and weak that there were grave fears for her life, and always she lamented about the black rocks which threatened down in such a ghostly way, just as if they would darken the valleys. And as once no one was able to help the Prince, so nobody could bring deliverance now. In the meantime the suffering of the Princess was becoming worse, and the words of the two old Moon dwellers seemed to be terribly true. The Prince felt desolate, and those about him were helpless.

As soon as the Moon King heard that his daughter was in danger of death, he left the Moon and came down to the earth to visit his son-in-law, who told him about her terrible homesickness, which grew worse and worse and was now about to kill her. The Moon King said he could not let his daughter die and therefore he wished to bring her back to the Moon. At the same time he invited the Prince in a very friendly way to accompany them if he wished to do so, but said that in case the Prince should be obliged to stay on earth he would be very sorry, without, however, being able to change his resolution to take the Princess back to her country.

Now people from all parts besieged the Prince, begging him to think of the kingdom he was appointed to rule, to remain among his native mountains and to renounce his wife. They praised the great future he had before him, advising him to undertake a campaign in the beautiful south, but the Prince would listen to no such speeches, and went to the Moon with his father-in-law and his sick wife.

Here she recovered her health very soon, but long before she was perfectly healthy the Prince perceived with horror that he was seeing less from day to day and that he would be blind after a short time. The old Moon King now advised him to leave the Moon before it was too late. The Prince struggled against it, but seeing the danger growing more and more apparent he finally gave it up and returned, wretched, to the earth.

Now the Moon-homesickness took hold of him more strongly than ever. At full-Moon time he was never to be seen in the castle, but was wandering restlessly around on the mountains. During the days he slept in caverns and under trees, and at night he climbed high peaks, looking steadfastly up at the Moon. With the new Moon, then, the Prince would return but so changed that scarcely anyone could recognise him. Eventually it wearied him to see people at all, and he no longer went down to the valleys, so completely wild he did become. Ceaselessly he traversed the large forests and rock deserts of his kingdom, climbing every mountain. No where could he find consolation and peace.

Many weeks had passed since the King’s son had last seen or spoken to anyone. One evening, in a rubbled valley-end, he was surprised by a thunderstorm and obliged to flee into a cavern. There he met a strange little man, hardly three foot tall but with a long beard and a serious face and a golden crown upon his head. The Prince spoke to the little man and soon realised that he had found a fellow-sufferer, for what the little man with the golden crown had to tell about his fate was very pitiful and sad. The little man was the king of the “Salwáns”*). From olden times they had inhabited a beautiful kingdom in the far east. This kingdom, having reached the height of its glory, and possessing as many inhabitants as a large forest has leaves, was subjected to an invasion of hostile foreign forces, who devastated the country by fire and sword and killed so many Salwans in protracted battles that the survivors had to flee from their own country. Then the king, with the remainder of his people, marched from one neighbouring kingdom to another, begging for a mountain or a marsh or some other piece of ground so that his people could settle there. No sovereign would listen to him, however, and everywhere the Salwans were ejected with scorn. At last they found shelter in a distant country, but they were obliged to work so hard that many of them died and others escaped in order that they might not witness any longer the misery of their brothers. Thus it was with the king.

Having related this, the little man sighed and said that no creature could be unhappier than a sovereign whose people had entirely perished and he was unable to prevent it. The Prince then sympathised with the dwarf king on the hard fate which had befallen him but he said his own destiny was no less cruel and he, too, related his distressing history. At first the dwarf king listened with a gloomy look but, little by little, his face began to brighten, and at last he smiled, quite pleased, and when the Prince, who did not notice this, had finished, the little man jumped up, clapped his hands and cried out joyously: Prince, be happy, we are now both saved. On hearing such an unexpected exclamation the Prince was almost afraid to look at the dwarf, for he thought that the little man had surely lost his reason and gone crazy. But the dwarf king had not spoken without reason, and he now began to explain his opinion quite clearly. He pointed out that the Princess was only obliged to return to her own country because a Moon child, accustomed to light, could not bear the look of the black rocks for long. If the mountains of the Alp kingdom were of the same clear colour as those on the Moon, the Princess would never have been attacked by such a homesickness. The little Salwans, he said, are a clever and skilled people and they would be willing to cover the innumerable dark mountain tops from head to foot with the whiteness of the Moon-landscape if only the King of the Alp-kingdom would give them permission to live there for ever without being molested. This would give a help to both, to the Prince as well as to the dwarf-people.

The Prince listened to this promising speech, half astonished, half unbelieving, and then he said he did not think it would be difficult to obtain permission for the Salwans to remain in his kingdom but that he did not understand how they could make white a dark rock-wall. The dwarf-king smiled in a superior way and said the Prince could be sure about that because the dwarfs had already done things which were more difficult. The Prince then hesitated no longer, inviting the little man to come with him to the court. The Salwan agreed, and as, in addition, the storm had ceased, they immediately left the cavern, walking on together. They had to wander for two days through desert solitudes before they reached the principal valley and the castle.