The valley of Aosta is a typical
alpine valley, cut into a V-shape by glaciers during the ice age. It runs from an upper part near Mont Blanc to lower areas like the city of Aosta.
The area has been Roman, French and Italian (House of Savoy) before the unification of Italy. All street names are in French and Italian, and dialects of French are still spoken by many.
The Romans defeated the local Salassi tribe in 25 BC. Their commander, Marcus Terentius Varro, then founded the Roman colony of Augusta Praetoria Salassorum, housing 3,000 retired veterans.
After 11 BC Aosta became the capital of the Alpes Graies ("Grey Alps") province of the Empire.
Aosta is at the join of two rivers. It is at the end of the
Great St Bernard Pass (which leads to Switzerland) and the
Little St Bernard Pass (which leads to France). Its position gave it considerable military importance, and the layout of the town was that of a Roman military camp.
The valley was a way for trade and soldiers to get from Italy to Gaul (later, France). This explains its importance to the Romans. Now it sits near the Italian entrance of the
Mont Blanc Tunnel.
At present Aosta Valley is a semi-autonomous region in northwestern Italy. It is the smallest region in Italy, and is not divided into provinces.