Local History

Savognin. Photo/Bild: TES.

Oberhalbstein or Surses

This region in the canton of Grisons (Graubünden) not only houses numerous art treasures of national importance (the Carolingian church of St. Peter in St. Mistail, for example) but is also an old transit route from North to South and vice versa. The Julier Pass was already in use in Roman times and on the pass (2284 m.) two Roman columns are the silent witnesses. However, the Septimer Pass has always been a competitor, even in the time of the Romans. The Septimer Pass leads directly to Bergell and Italy, while after the Julier pass the Maloya pass is still on the road to Bergell. After the inauguration of the Splügen Pass and the Gotthard Pass in the thirteenth century, the Julier Pass and the Septimer Pass were used less and less. With the rise of tourism and the widening of the Julier road (Julierstrasse) in the nineteenth century, the Julier Pass and thus Oberhalbstein were again gaining in importance. From Chur, numerous stagecoaches went over this pass to Oberengadin. The Posthotel Löwen in Mulegns was an important resting place. However, the opening of the first Gotthard tunnel in 1882 and the Albula railway in 1903 made the Julierroad less relevant. Added to this was the fact that in Graubünden there was a driving ban on cars until 1925. It was not until 1925 that this ban was lifted by a referendum. However, it was too late for the region, and it was outside the mainstream of trade and tourism.

Until the rise of mass tourism, Oberhalbstein or Surses in Romansh had fallen into a deep sleep. This situation changed from the 1960s onwards. From Tiefencastel (near the Carolingian monastery of St. Mistail) it goes via the canyon Crap Ses (or the tunnel) to the valley and the beautiful nature park Ela. Romansh (Surmeirisch or Surmiran) is the original language, although German is increasingly gaining the upper hand. The Julierroad goes via Savognin and Rona to Mulegns and the Marmorera reservoir. The town of Marmorera disappeared into the waves in 1954 and was rebuilt elsewhere (after a referendum, of course).  Bivio is the last town for the Julier pass. In the Middle Ages Bivio was called Stabulum Bivio, the stable at the junction (bi via). With good reason, because here there is a choice between the Septimer Pass, the Julier Pass or the Stallerberg. Bivio is a junction of three cultures and languages: the German-speaking Walser of Avers, the Italian-speaking inhabitants of Bergell and the Romansh population. German and Romansh are the dominant languages in  Bivio, although Italian is also spoken, even after the merger with other (Romansh-speaking) municipalities in the valley (Cunter, Marmorera, Mulegns, Riom, Salouf, Savognin, Parsonz, Sur and Tinizong-Rona). This municipality is called Surses and has about 2 500 inhabitants.  After the crossing of the Julierpass one reaches Oberengadin, allegra.