Local History

Julierpass. Photo/foto: TES.

The Rhaetian Alpine passes

The Rhaetian Alpine passes played their role from Roman times, the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Since the construction of tunnels, such as the Vereina tunnel, and the beginning of the railway- and automobile era, they have lost their former significance. The area of these passes coincides with the canton of Grisons and the St. Gallen Rhine Valley, Liechtenstein, Vorarlberg, the district of Landeck, the Vinschgau, Bormio, parts of the Veltin, the Urser Valley and the Sarganserland. There are 27 passes in this area: Albula, Aprica, Arlberg, Bernhardin, Bernina, Chasschauna, Crispalt/Oberalp, Flüela, Fraele, Fuorn/Ofen, Julier, Krüzli, Kunkels, Lembra/Kisten, Lukmanier, Muretto, Reschen, Scaletta, Schlappin, Segnes, Septimer, Splügen, Strela, Valserberg, Umbrail, Veptga/Panixer, Veptga/Panixer.

The Splügen Pass and the Septimer Pass are among the earliest passes which are mentioned in Roman literary and historical sources. The Bernhardin, Julier, Albula, Ofen, Reschen and other are written down in documents from the late 13th and early 14th centuries. However, Carolingian monasteries (c. 770-c. 843) have been founded along the roads of passes and they must have been in use in this period. The best-preserved example is the Monastery St. John in Müstair, built by Charlemagne after his campaign against the Langobards in northern Italy around 774.

Hospices were initially simple inns at the foot of the passes. They are mentioned since the 11th century and were built and managed by church institutions to provide food, shelter, care, help, food and a stable. The first hospices at the pass level are mentioned since the 12th century (Septimer, Lukmanier).

Significant growth in the transport of goods between southern Germany and Lombardy in the 14th century strengthened the role of these passes. Grisons experienced an economic boom and thus the (political and military) interest of the Habsburgs. To defend themselves against the Habsburgs, municipalities in Engadine, Bergell and Chur concluded the Gotteshausbund in 1367, the Obere or Graue Bund followed in 1424, the Zehngerichtebund in 1436, following the example of the Orte Uri, Unterwalden, Glarus and Schwyz and some cities (a.o. Lucerne, Berne, Zug, Zurich).

The traditional transport system (mule traffic) lasted until the beginning of the 19th century. Napoleon modernised the roads and passes and made them suitable for more massive (military) traffic (guns, soldiers and their supplies). The Simplon Pass was his greatest achievement, the passes in Rhaetia soon followed. Coach traffic and 1850 rail- and car traffic (after 1850) increased in importance and two thousand years of history of mule transport came to an end in the nineteenth century. The passes and their historical, economic and cultural significance still determine the image and identity of this region. (Source: M. Bundi, Cr. Collenberg, Rätische Alpenpässe, Chur 2016).