The settlement of Samnaun

Samnaun is first mentioned in in 1089 in a document of the Lords of Tarasp who donated a number of estates and pastures to the Marienberg monastery in Vinschgau (South Tyrol). The owners of the monastery worked on the listed goods. This suggests that the soil here was probably cultivated before the turn of the millennium. These donations are recorded in two papal deeds of Honorius III (1220) and Innocent IV (1249).

It is therefore likely that people started settling in Samnaun before the year 1000. The name Samnaun itself tells you where these people came from: They reached the pristine and unspoiled valley from Ramosch and Vnà in the Lower Engadine via a crossing, the Fuorcla Maisas, which is almost 3000 metres above sea level. The Urbare (a medieval register of goods and duties of large estates) of Ulrich von Matsch from 1369, mentions estates in Summnaun. Mnaun refers to the village of Vnà. The word sum indicates that there are other estates beyond Vnà, that is, beyond the watershed. What may have motivated the farmers of the Lower Engadine region to move to this remote high valley?

The 11th century is regarded as the heyday of the Lower Engadine, a time of dense settlement and of large-scale grain cultivation in the area. The land was mainly used for growing grain. The farmers were therefore forced to look for new pastures. This may well have been the main reason why they took their cattle to the Samnaun valley. For practical reasons, the valley, initially used only as a grazing area, was soon inhabited all year round. It is very likely that the possibility of growing grain was the driving force behind people settling in the area. The favourable climate provided further encouragement. In the inner part of the Samnaun valley, in today's Samnaun-Dorf and Ravaisch, was then settled in the 13th and 14th centuries as a typical development area of Ramosch and Sent. Later, of course, the settlement pressure also worked its way from Samnaun towards the lower part of the valley. The outer section of the valley with the villages of Plan, Laret and Compatsch was probably settled at the same time starting from Tschlin via the also very difficult path across the Fuorcla Salet. Here, too, the search for new pastures was initially the main factor. There is still a plot of land today above Compatsch that is called Pezza da Tschlin and likely refers to where the original settlers came from.

In the Middle Ages, as feudal serfs the now sedentary people of Samnaun cultivated church estates of the diocese of Chur and some were tenants of the monasteries Marienberg in Vinschgau and St. Johann in Müstair.

Around 1539 the abbot of Marienberg monastery sold his possessions in Samnaun. The tenants had the choice of buying their freedom or being sold together with their property.

Because the path to the Lower Engadine over mountain passes was only free in the summer, the rest of the time the people of Samnaun were closed off from their fellow countrymen. This encouraged them to establish relations with their nearest neighbours in the Tyrolean Inn valley. Over time, these relationships became family ties, which meant that German-speaking families also settled in the valley early on. In this context, migrants from South Tyrol and the Paznaun valley should be mentioned.

Although Samnaun-Dorf was once the main village in the Samnaun valley, today it is Samnaun-Compatsch, where you find the parish church, the school building, the local authority and the new old people's and nursing home. However, this shift must have started quite early. The house statistics of 1905 already showed a clear emphasis even then: there were 26 houses in Compatsch, 22 in Laret, 5 in Plan 5, 9 in Ravaisch 9 and 5 in Samnaun.