Beautiful despite the bad weather.Älgbert Elgson
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The Great St. Bernard Pass (French: Col du Grand Saint-Bernard) is a crossing that connects Italy with Switzerland. It lies in the Valais Alps at an altitude of 2469 meters and has been crossed for many centuries.
The trail of history
Finds along the access road testify that this pass was crossed in the early Iron Age, gained importance in the times of the Romans and developed into one of the most important Alpine crossings. At first it was impassable with a cart and goods could only be transported from Gaul to Northern Italy and back with the help of pack saddles attached to animals. After Emperor Claudius had the pass driveway expanded, the transport of goods was simplified and the route was subsequently used not only by traders and crusaders, but also by pilgrims and secular and spiritual dignitaries. Over time, a temple was built to worship the Celtic god Poeninus.
In the High Middle Ages, a hospice was built on the Great St. Bernhard Pass, giving it its current name. The Augustinian canons living there made it their business to treat people with hospitality regardless of their social position and the reason for crossing the pass, and to offer them something to eat and a roof over their heads. It is believed that the canons received grateful Saint Bernard dogs for their services, which they bred in the future and trained as rescue dogs for the search for avalanche victims. With these, they became even more famous after the visit of Napoleon Bonaparte and his 46,000 men.
In 1905, an accessible road was finally completed. Since this was only passable in summer, the 5.85 km long Great St. Bernhard Tunnel was also built in 1964.
Since the order of the canons was no longer sufficient, breeding of St. Bernard dogs “by the Great Saint Bernard” was abandoned and handed over to the “Fondation Barry” foundation in 2005.
The statue of St. Bernard stands on the site of the ancient temple, which, according to legend, had the hospice built. Today the history of the hospice staff in „Barryland“ can be traced, where dog breeding and keeping is also taken care of. Every summer, some St. Bernards are allowed to stay at their place of origin and tourists can then visit them or even take a little hike with them.
The finds (jewelry and Celtic coins) along the access road to the pass as well as finds from archaeological excavations at the former Roman temple and the remains of a town hall (bronze plaque, bronze statue, …) are exhibited in today’s hospice museum.
How to get there?
From approx. October to May, the Great St. Bernhard pass road is not passable. The Great St. Bernhard Tunnel is accessible all year round and is subject to a fee. The current costs depend on the size of your vehicle and can be seen on the operator’s website.
We recommend that you drive on the pass road. The journey time is longer than through the Great St. Bernhard Tunnel, but you can admire a beautiful mountain panorama and visit the origin of the St. Bernard dogs. When we visited in October it was unfortunately very foggy, it was raining and all buildings were closed. In high season there is a lot of activity on the pass and souvenir shops sell their products.