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Italian Alpine town ditches Mussolini-era name

Le Breuil-Cervinia alps
Cervinia has reverted back to its original name of Le Breuil - FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP

A small town in the Italian Alps has ditched its Mussolini-era name and reverted to its original one.

Cervinia, a well-known ski resort in the Valle d’Aosta region, was for centuries known as Le Breuil.

It was given its modern name in 1934 as part of an effort by Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator, to Italianise names in regions where dialects and other languages were used.

The name Cervinia was derived from the nearby towering peak of Monte Cervino – known to the rest of the world as the Matterhorn.

The town’s council has now voted to revert to Le Breuil, a name that means “the marshy place” and which comes from Valdôtain, a dialect of Franco-Provençal that is still spoken in Valle d’Aosta, Italy’s smallest region.

Jean-Antoine Maquignaz, a hotel owner and former mayor who pushed the name change, said: “It’s the original Franco-Provençal name. We need to take into account the culture of the region. Names with a long history should be preserved.”

But the decision has angered some of the 700 inhabitants of the town, which derives much of its income from skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer.

They say it will confuse tourists and undermine the town’s branding. They worry about the cost of producing new signage, maps and official documents.

Daniela Santanche, Italy’s tourism minister, appealed to the town to reconsider.

“Cervinia has changed its name and I don’t understand the reason,” she said.

Brothers of Italy, the party led by the prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, also objected to the name change.

Alessandro Urzi, an MP for the party, said: “It’s an ideological frenzy that is equalled only by the eradication of historical identity that was carried out by the Taliban.”

Elements of the Brothers of Italy party still have a nostalgic, rose-tinted view of the Fascist era and Mussolini’s regime.

Mussolini gave many places new Italianised names during his 20 year rule
Mussolini gave many places new Italianised names during his 20 year rule - Culture Club/Getty Images

Local representatives, however, said they were more worried about the impact of the change on the town’s recognisability.

Alberto Zucchi and Matteo Rosso, regional co-ordinator and deputy for the Aosta Valley, said they were “bewildered” and “astonished” that the council had decided to revert to Le Breuil.

“The Cervinia brand is known in Italy and around the world and a drastic change like this will damage the tourism sector and the image of the whole Valle d’Aosta region,” they said.

Le Breuil was one of many places in Valle d’Aosta that was given a new, Italianised name under Mussolini’s 20-year rule.

Chatillon became Castiglion Dora, Morgex became Valdigna d’Aosta and La Thuile was transformed into Porta Littoria, much to the resentment of local inhabitants.

The dictator launched his campaign to eliminate “foreign” words from everyday use in Italian in 1923, just a year after coming to power.

He decreed that Italians should stop using the universally accepted “sandwich” and replace it with “tramezzino” - a change that persists to this day.

When going to the cinema, they should not watch a “film” but a “pellicola”.

The warm pastry consumed by millions of Italians for breakfast with a cappuccino should be called a “cornetto” rather than the dangerously French “croissant”, Mussolini ordered.