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The mysterious creatures of the woods

Some with a friendly face and heart too, others instead very wicked and dangerous!

If you walk in the Trentino woods today, if you are lucky you may meet a squirrel, a fox or even a deer, but centuries ago you could have more unpleasant encounters ... at least according to the legends that grandparents tell their grandchildren during the long winter evenings.

Salváns, Salvanels, Vivanas and Bregostane: are just some of the strange creatures that populated the Trentino woods and valleys, when the nights were lit up only by the faint light of a candle or the fire in the fireplace, on winter nights.

According to legend, the Salván was a stout man with a long beard, dressed in a thick fur that protects him from the cold weather in the mountains. Surly and a bit wild, the Salván was an expert of the secrets of the woods and the creatures that inhabit it. He once lived in the mountains of Val di Fassa, finding refuge in the darkness of caves, but sometimes he went down to the village, perhaps to ask for a little food, when ice-cold winters covered the woods in snow.

Legends of the Dolomites: Salváns, Vivanas and Bregostane

"They were sweet, friendly, graceful creatures who lived in the woods near streams"

While the Salván was corpulent, the Salvanel was a small, mischievous elf. Dressed in red from head to toe, he enjoyed teasing travellers who ventured into the woods. He was greedy for milk and some nights he went into the shepherds’ stables to steal all the milk he could find. Woe betide those who entered a wood to pluck flowers, cut down trees or even light a fire without paying attention: the Salvanel was very jealous of his woods and was prepared to make anyone pay for not treating them with respect!

With any luck you could meet the beautiful Vivanas, perhaps near a stream. They were sweet, friendly, graceful creatures who lived in the woods near streams. Vivanas, who were just as good as fairies, in the past helped travellers who had got lost in the woods or they would go down to the village to help the villagers with their chores. To thank them, the people who lived in the village used to have wooden windows made with a small aperture, in order to leave some food for them on the windowsill. Still today, these small apertures, which you can see in the window shutters of the more traditional houses, are called “Portelle delle Vivane” (“Small doors for the Vivanas”).

Legends of the Dolomites: Salváns, Vivanas and Bregostane

"... legends that grandparents tell their grandchildren during the long winter evenings"

If the Vivanas were sweet and kind, the Bregostane were the exact opposite! They were ugly, wicked and covered in hair. Many, many years ago they lived in caves and kidnapped children who had the courage to venture into the woods alone. Strongly built and evil, when they were hungry, they would leave their shelters and attack whoever had the misfortune to meet them. There was nothing to do but shut oneself in one’s home with tightly closed doors and windows. Luckily, these violent creatures had a weak point: they were scared stiff of dogs. That is why there was always a large dog, with a nice collar studded with nails, hooks and blades, guarding over each village so that even the boldest Bregostane would not dare enter them!

Published on 19/10/2021