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Passo del San Gottardo

The Saint Gotthard Pass is a high mountain pass located in central Switzerland, at an elevation of 2.091m (6,860 feet) above the sea level. The first road over the pass was opened in 1830 and connects Airolo in the canton of Ticino, and Göschenen in the canton of Uri. It's one of the highest mountain passes of the Alps.

A quick glance at the map, at its sheer drops and serpentine twists and turns, confirms that this is no hype. As the road flattens out at the top of the pass, signs will direct you to the National Gotthard Museum, which will teach you the history of the pass and the efforts to make it more easily passable over the years. The old hospice beside the road now houses the engaging Museo Nazionale del San Gottardo (May–Oct daily 9am–6pm; Fr.8; SMP), which outlines the history of the pass with models, reliefs, paintings and audiovisual slide-shows. 

 

The road over the pass is open between June and October, and closed daily 18.00-08.00h. This asphalted road is very exciting and sometimes very exposed and unsecured driveway in innumerable twists and turns. It’s one of the most vital roads in Europe stretching for 64km (40 miles) between German-speaking Andermatt and the Italian-speaking village of Biasca along the route onwards to Milan. The Gotthard Pass or St. Gotthard Pass (or Passo del San Gottardo) was named for a chapel erected about 1300 in honor of Saint Gotthard, bishop of Hildesheim (near Hannover, Germany). The road is difficult and it’s a nightmare in the wet or dark (or both).

The experience of using this road is very impressive. The pass lies on the most important route between the southern canton of Ticino and Central Switzerland as well as most of the northern part of the country. It is the most direct link between Zürich and Lugano and also between some regions of Germany and Italy. The hospice (Italian: Ospizio) is located south of the pass at 2.091 metres, near the Lago della Piazza and other small lakes. Lago di Lucendro and Lago Sella are larger reservoir lakes accessible from the pass.  Traffic on the road remains clogged with summer vacationers who come for the stunning views. The landscape is mournful and bleak throughout much of this adventure, a testimony to the savage climactic conditions that exist at these high altitudes.

 

Due its unique location and the climb in elevation over thousands of feet, and passing through remote areas, it is important when driving in these conditions to be prepared. A railway tunnel under the pass was opened in 1881. The tunnel is about 9.3 miles (15.0 km) long and some 3,000 feet (900 m) beneath the pass. A highway tunnel under the pass was opened in 1980. With a length of 10.1 miles (16.3 km), it is one of the longest vehicular tunnels in the world. Only since 1980 has the pass been drivable year-round; thanks to the Gotthard Road Tunnel, travelers can traverse the mountain unhindered through this 10-mile tunnel. The tunnel passes by the "Devil's Bridge," which actually refers to two bridges that span the Schöllenen Gorge, one old and in disrepair and one new and still in use. A legend arose around the older bridge because several attempts to build a bridge across the gorge had failed. The legend goes that the River Reuss was so difficult to cross that a goatherd asked the devil to build a bridge for him. The devil agreed, but in return, he wanted to own the first soul that crossed the bridge. Thinking on his toes, the goatherd led one of his goats across the bridge in front of him, thus angering the devil, who picked up a large stone in order to destroy the bridge. A woman had come upon the scene, and knowing the devil's weakness, drew the sign of the cross on the stone so that the devil could no longer lift it.
 

The surface of the old road to the pass is cobblestoned in the hairpin curves (well-layed, though). It was an important link between the German and Italian parts of the country. Parallel to the old pass road, there is the newer one, that does not play a big role any more since the tunnel is open. But when there is a jam, it gets back to life again. During the summer months, the traffic in the area slows due to an influx of vacationers and sight-seers, but for most people, the leisurely pace allows for a better appreciation of the stunningly beautiful landscape.

 




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