Local History

Julierpass. Photo/foto: TES.

The Rhaetian Alpine passes

The Rhaetian Alpine passes in Graubünden have always played  an important role. Since the construction of tunnels (for example the Vereina tunnel) and the beginning of the railway- and automobile era, they have lost their former significance.

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 the earliest passes. They are mentioned in Roman literary and historical sources. The Bernhardin, Julier, Albula, Ofen, Reschen and other passes are mentioned in documents in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Carolingian monasteries (c. 770-c. 843) on the way of these passes were founded much earlier. 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 simple inns at the foot of the passes. They are mentioned since the 11th century and were built and managed by church institutions providing food, shelter, care, help, food and a stables.

The significant growth of transport between southern Germany and Lombardy in the 14th century strengthened the role of these passes. Grisons experienced an economic boom.

The communes in the Engadine, Bergell and Chur concluded the Gotteshausbund in 1367, the Obere or Graue Bund in 1424 and 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 accessible for heavy (military) transport and coaches.

The Simplon Pass was his greatest achievement, the passes in Rhaetia soon followed.

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).