The Pitztal is an approximately 40 km long side valley of the Inn Valley, which branches off at Imst. It is located in the district of Imst in the Austrian state of Tyrol. The river Pitze, also called Pitzbach, flows through the valley.
The Pitztal flows between Imst and Roppen, opposite the Tschirgant mountain, into the Inn valley, which forms an approximately 100 m deep gorge. The Pitze forms a rocky ravine in its lower course. The beginning of the Pitztal Valley creates a low mountain range landscape with the towns of Arzl, Wald, Wenns and Jerzens.
South of Jerzens, the valley narrows and is counted as part of the Innerpitztal, the inner Pitztal. The valley is sandwiched between the Kaunergrat in the west and the Geigenkamm in the east; two mountain ranges belonging to the Ötztal Alps. The valley here rises evenly to the foot of the Wildspitze, which is counted among the Ötztal Alps. At Mittelberg, the valley splits into the Mittelbergtal and the Taschachtal.
Until the last ice age, the beginning of the Pitztal was part of the Inn Valley. The Inn continued to flow from Prutz over today’s Piller Heights. Only after the Ice Age did the Inn break through the Pontlatz narrow at Landeck to form a new basin.
The Pitztal bisects the mountain range of the Ötztal Alps, consisting mainly of gneissic rocks, which were converted from other stones to form the Alps. At the end of the valley, the Mittelbergferner and the Taschachferner include vast glacial plains on the Wildspitze.
The name Pitztal probably comes from the Latin puts, meaning source. Another name explanation could be that it comes from the Rhaeto-Romanic concept of Piz, meaning high mountain peak. The valley was first mentioned in 1265 as Puzzental in the Starkenberg charter, the oldest German-language charter in the Tyrolean area.
In 1992 a prehistoric sanctuary was discovered on the Pillerhöhe, indicating an earlier colonization of the Pitztal during the Bronze Age. The first known tribe were the Breons, counted among the Reten. With the Romans’ conquest of the Alpine region in 15 BC., the Pitztal was added to the province of Raetia. The final population of the area was formed by the Bajuwaren and perhaps, to a lesser extent, the Alemanni, who joined the then population around 600.
By the ending of the 6th century, the Inn Valley and the Pitztal were under the rule of the Duchy of Bavaria; in the 9th century, it came under the Frankish Empire, then under the Holy Roman Empire. From 1363, the Pitztal fell, together with the rest of Tyrol, under the rule of the House of Habsburg.
Pastures and arable land were created between the 11th and 14th centuries by burning down primaeval forests. Significant landowners during the Middle Ages included the nobles from Tarasp in the Swiss Unterengadin, the family of Starkenberger and the foundation Stams. Until the 14th century was held by the feudal lords in the higher areas between 1200 and 2000 m altitude, which were only suitable for cattle breeding, and several alpine farms were built.
Interest had to be paid in kind. Later the alpine farms were converted into alpine huts. As a result of inheritance, where each child inherited a part of the farm, the courts were divided into many farms over the centuries so that more and more families could no longer live on the farm. From the 17th century, residents were forced to look for work in the immediate vicinity. In the 19th century, many residents went abroad as seasonal workers, including the so-called Swabian children. The rise of tourism in the second half of the 19th century provided a substantial economic boost to the area.
During the late 1930s, it took a lot of work for farmers to sell their cattle on the markets in Imst and Landeck. In addition, the German government made every German citizen pay 1000 Reichsmarks to enter Austria, which had disastrous consequences for tourism. Shortly after the German occupation of Austria (1938), the economy picked up slightly, but this ended with the outbreak of the Second World War. After the war, tourism in the Pitztal, unlike other Tyrolean valleys, started after some time. The construction of the Pitztaler Gletscherbahn and the opening of the Pitztal Bridge, which opened in 1983 and ensured a better connection to the Inn Valley, changed this.
The economy in the valley differs substantially between the different municipalities. In the northernmost part, in the cities of Arzl and Wenns, handicrafts, trade and services are mainly found, while tourism is flourishing in the municipalities of Jerzens and St. Leonhard. The Pitztal has approximately 8,000 beds and an average of 1.2 million overnight stays annually. The Pitztaler Gletscherbahnen are the largest employer in the area. Arzl and Wenns aim at both summer and winter tourism, while Jerzens and St. Leonhard focus more on winter tourism. Part of the population finds work in the area between Imst and Innsbruck.