A gorge, the Devil and a myth.
Schöllenen Gorge leads from Göschenen to Andermatt into the Gotthard region. It is rewarding to pause between the steep rock faces and sense the Gotthard myth up close.
Opening up the Schöllenen Gorge
For a long time, the only route from Northern to Southern Europe that had just one mountain pass to tackle ran via the Gotthard Pass. In addition, the Ursern valley was the departure point for journeys to the west (Furka Pass) and east (Operalp Pass). The valley’s central location is an asset for the region to this day.
Schöllenen Gorge was opened up back in ca. 1200 thanks to the building of two bridges – Twärren bridge and the “Stiebender Steg”. It is assumed that the Walser people performed this feat.
The first stone bridge followed in ca. 1585 – the Devil’s Bridge. This bridge was destroyed by a big storm just 60 years after its construction. Until the bridge was repaired, travellers were again forced to take the arduous detour via the Bäzberg or through the Rien valley via Gütsch. Thanks to an increase in tolls, repair costs could be covered within just a few years. It was universally agreed that the infrastructure in the Schöllenen Gorge needed improvement.
In 1707, Ticino-based fortress builder Pietro Morettini ventured the breakthrough through the Kirchenberg rock, in order to bypass the Twärren bridge and make the route safer. Morettini succeeded in building the tunnel in just under a year and he is renowned to this day as the builder of the first tunnel in the Alps. The tunnel (Urnerloch) was 2.1 metres wide and 2.4 metres high, at a length of 60 metres.
Construction costs turned out to be much higher than expected and Morettini incurred debts. However, as the route had been considerably improved and the locals appreciated this very much, it was possible to trade more goods and tolls were increased once more. Morettini was released from his debts and received a bonus.
The infrastructure underwent heavy strain – from the constant through traffic and trade traffic on the one hand, and from the wind and weather on the other. As there were economic interests for a drivable Gotthard link on both sides of it, the mule road was expanded in the 19th century and the pass was made accessible to coaches and sleighs. The era of the mail coaches endured until 1882; in that year the Gotthard tunnel was opened, at the time it was the world’s longest tunnel. It ran for 15km from Göschenen to Airolo – this railway tunnel was a pioneering feat.
In only around 100 years, the journey across/through the Gotthard has been reduced from almost a week to just nine hours. Local people have constantly been called on to adapt to the changes.
Schöllenen Tour – in the Devil’s footsteps at your own pace
Fancy catching a spine-tingling glimpse of the Schöllenen Gorge? Embark on the Schöllenen walking tour during the summer months. It is an easy walk, lasting a maximum of 30 minutes at a comfortable pace. The vertical rock faces and rushing Reuss river make a fascinating sight. The Teufelsbrücke restaurant is located right next to the bridge of the same name. During the summer, visitors can let the Gotthard myth work its magic on them as they drink and dine.