In the Middle Ages Sauze was owned by the Benedictine monastery Novalesa Abbey. From 1000AD, it was part of the Dauphiné and then of the Escartons Republic then, with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, France gave it to the House of Savoy. In 1747 the area was the scene of the Battle of Assietta between France and Savoy’s Kingdom of Sardinia.
Numerous votive vessels from the Roman period dedicated to Albiorige Celtic god were found at the foot of Monte Genevris in 1933 . The finds suggest that it was an important place of worship, perhaps consisting of a large altar placed in a sacred wood.
BIRTH AND DEVELOPMENT OF TOURISM
The high Susa valley and Sauze d’Oulx in particular were the cradle of skiing in Italy. The Swiss engineer Adolfo Kind introduced the sport in 1896. As the sport became established, Placido Eydallin – a well-known and talented amateur photographer – opened the first ski hotel in 1919 called the Miravalle. Tourism soon became the main source of local wealth – especially in winter.
During the Fascist era, in 1928, the village’s name was changed to Salice d’Ulzio, according to a wrong etymological interpretation of “Sauze” as “salice” (Italian for willow). After World War II, the town became an autonomous commune and the previous name, Sauze d’Oulx, was restored.
In the 1960’s, with the gradual reduction in farming, Sauze began to take on the face and identity of a modern and fully equipped tourist resort.
San Giovanni Celebrations
June the 24th is the Feast of San Giovanni and is one of the big local religious celebrations.
To this day, on the evening of June 23rd, the eve of St. John, it’s customary to light bonfires and party, as in the ancient festivals. The celebrations are reminiscent of the fires lit by the ancient Celts who worshiped the sun god in an attempt to extend the hours of light just when, near the summer solstice, the days begin to shorten heralding the return of winter.
In the not too distant past, the fires of St. John lit all the villages, alpine meadows and hills of the high Susa valley.
The next day, at dawn, it was customary to go in damp meadows to wet your eyes with the dew to purify. Small bouquets of field flowers, arranged in a cross, were placed on the door of the house of its inhabitants granting protection. Meanwhile livestock grazed over the ashes of the fires in the hope of preserving paws and hooves from disease.
During the Roman age, Augustus formed an alliance to link Italy and France by building a road through the Susa Valley and over the Col de Montgenevre.
During the Middle Ages, the road was called Via Francigena and pilgrims passed through Mont Cenis and the Susa Valley on their way to Rome. It was one of the most used Alpine passes from the Middle Ages to the Nineteenth Century. Several abbeys were built to accommodate pilgrims, such as Novalesa Abbey founded in 726AD and the monumental Sacra di San Michele.
Sauze d’Oulx in the 1920s
Below is a wonderfully evocative film from the 1920s, the early days of Sauze d’Oulx as a ski resort. The film’s in Italian but the pictures should be enough to entertain you throughout. Sauze’s referred to as ‘Salice d’Ulzio’ – for an explanation of that see the history section of this Wikipedia page.