Tramontane /trəˈmɒnteɪn/ 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/across the mountains", 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.
In Spain the wind is called the tramuntana [tɾəmunˈtanə] in Catalan and tramontana [tɾamonˈtana] in Spanish, Galician and Basque. The wind also lends its name to the Serra de Tramuntana in Majorca.
On the Croatian Adriatic coast it is called tramontana (tramòntāna) [tramǒnˈtaːna], with a number of local variations (termuntana, trmuntana, t(a)rmuntona and others). Like levant, it is considered a transitional wind, associated with the change of weather, which frequently transforms into bora. Like bora, it is a strong wind capable of generating large waves, but is less gusty.
The tramontane [tʁa.mɔ̃.tan] 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). 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 created by the difference of pressure between the cold air of a high pressure system over the Atlantic ocean 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 Italic people. 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."
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 coming over the mountain will drive me mad...")
In Greece, tramountána (Greek: Τραμουντάνα) [tramunˈtana] is used as a nautical term to define not only the northern wind, but also the northern direction and even the cardinal point of north on a compass.
In Italy it is called tramontana [tramonˈtaːna]. 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 14th century and named the Mediterranean winds, the tramontana made it easier for fishing vessels to take swiftly 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.
In Slovenia a word tramontana [tɾamɔnˈtáːna] is used for a strong northerly (hurricane) wind that blows from the Alps to the Venice bay over Trieste, Slovenian coast and Istria with gusts sometimes as high as 200 km/h (usually 80 km/h). It has a transitional nature (from 2 to 4 hours in Koper bay) and it often quickly turns to a bora. With its hurricane powers it can uproot trees and it often damages boats as it crashes them to the coast.