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The Winds of the Mediterranean

Tramontane (Tramuntana, Tramontana) is a classical name for a northern wind. The exact form of the name and precise direction varies from country to country. The word came to English from Italian tramontana, which developed from Latin trānsmontānus (trāns- + montānus), "beyond the mountains/across the mountains",[1] referring to the alps in the North of Italy. The word has other non-wind-related senses: it can refer to anything that comes from, or anyone who lives on, the other side of mountains, or even more generally, anything seen as foreign, strange, or even barbarous.


Tramontane traditions in various countries and regions



In Catalonia the wind is called the Tramuntana. The wind also lends its name to the Serra de Tramuntana in Majorca.


In Croatia it is called Tramontana.


Tramontane clouds, Port-Leucate (Aude), south-central France

The tramontane in France is a strong, dry cold wind from the north (on the Mediterranean) or from the northwest (in lower Languedoc, Roussillon, Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. ). [2] It is similar to the mistral in its causes and effects, but it follows a different corridor; the tramontane accelerates as it passes between the Pyrenees and the Massif central, while the Mistral flows down the Rhone Valley between the Alps and the Massif central.

The tramontane is an example of a katabatic wind, which is created by the difference of pressure between the cold air of a high pressure system over the Atlantic or northwest Europe and a low pressure system over the Gulf of Lion in the Mediterranean. The high-pressure air flows south, gathering speed as moves downhill and is funnelled between the Pyrenees and the Massif central.

According to French sources, The name was used in its present form at the end of the 13th century by Marco Polo, in 1298. It was borrowed from the Latin "transmontanus" and the Italian "tramontana," meaning not just "across the mountains" but also "The North Star" (literally the star "above the mountains,") since the Alps marked the north for the Italians. The French term 'Tresmontaine,' cited as early as 1209 and still used in the 15th century, was borrowed directly from the Latin.

The word moved from Latin into French with the meanings "North Star" and also "the guide" In 1636 the French expression "perdre la tramontane" meant "to be disoriented." [3] It was used in this sense by Moliere in his play "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme," where one character says "Je perds la tramontane" (I have lost my way.)[4]

The continuous howling noise of the tramontane is said to have a disturbing effect upon the psyche. In his poem Gastibelza, Victor Hugo has the main character say: "Le vent qui vient à travers la montagne me rendra fou.." ("the wind which comes across the mountains would drive me mad.")


In Italy it is called tramontana or sometimes garigliano. Interestingly, in Italy its etymology is still very much debated, and varies from region to region: on the Sorrento coast, for instance, reputedly, the name derives from the village Tramonti, from where, to an observer on the shore, the wind appears to blow after gathering pace down a narrow valley and, at the time when Flavio Gioia - believed by some historians to have perfected the sailors' compass - lived there in the XIV century and named the Mediterranean winds, the tramontana made it easier for fishing vessels to swiftly take to the sea and readily start their fishing campaigns. It is a northeasterly or northerly winter wind that blows from the Alps and Apennines (South of the Alps) to the Italian coast. It is very prevalent on the west coast of Italy and Northern Corsica. It is caused by a weather system from the west following a depression on the Mediterranean. It is strongest before sunrise, when it can reach speeds of 70 km/h (45 mph). It is a fresh wind of the fine weather mistral type.

References and notes

  1. ^ Houghton Mifflin (2000). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed ed.). Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin. p. 1831. ISBN 978-0-395-82517-4.  
  2. ^ defined in the article Tramontane (vent) in the French-language Wikipedia (see external links).
  3. ^ Dictionnaire historique de la langue française" (Dictionnaires Le Robert 1998, tome 3 Pr-Z, page 3886)
  4. ^ It was used the same way in the 20th century by the poet/songwriter Georges Brassens, who in his song "Je suis un voyou" wrote "J'ai perdu la tramontane en perdant Margot..." (I lost my guiding star when I lost Magot...)

See also

External links


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