A Gorge, the Devil and a Myth.
The Schöllenen Gorge leads from Göschenen to Andermatt and on into the Gotthard region. It is worthwhile pausing between the steep rock faces and in order to feel the Gotthard myth up close.
The Development of the Schöllenen Gorge
For a long time the only route from northern to southern Europe, where there was only one pass to cross over, was 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.
The Schöllenen Gorge was opened up around a.d.1200 thanks to the construction of two bridges – the "Twärren" bridge and the "Stiebender Steg". It is assumed that the Walser people performed this feat.
The first stone bridge followed around 1585 – the Devil's bridge. This bridge was destroyed by a big storm just 60 years after its construction and until the bridge was repaired travellers were again forced to take the arduous detour via the Bäzberg or through the "Riental" via Gütsch. Thanks to an increase in customs duties the repair costs could be covered within just a few years. It was further agreed that the infrastructure in the Schöllenen gorge needed to be improved.
In 1707, the Ticino-based fortress builder Pietro Morettini ventured the breakthrough through the Kirchenberg cliff face, this 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 still regarded as the builder of the first tunnel in the Alps. The tunnel (Urnerloch) was 2.1 metres wide and 2.4 metres high with a length of 60 metres.
The costs of construction turned out to be much higher than expected and Morettini got into debt. However as the connection had been considerably improved, and the locals appreciated this very much, it was possible to trade more goods and customs duties were increased once again. Morettini debts were cleared and he was paid.
The connection however suffered, heavily used on the one hand by the constant transit and trade and the other hand buffeted by wind and weather. As there were economic interests for a drivable Gotthard link on both sides of it, the original mule track was improved in the 19th century and the pass was made passable for carriages and sleighs. The era of the stagecoaches lasted until 1882; in that year the Gotthard railway tunnel opened, at the time the world’s longest tunnel. This pioneering achievement led 15 km from Göschenen to Airolo.
In only around 100 years, the journey across/through the Gotthard has been reduced from almost a week to just nine hours causing local people to adapt constantly to these major changes.
Schöllenen tour – in the Devil's footsteps at your own pace.
If you want to catch a spine-tingling glimpse of the Schöllenen Gorge, you should try the Schöllenen circular trail during the summer months. It is an easy walk, takes no more than 30 minutes at a comfortable pace. The vertical rock faces and rushing Reuss river offer a fascinating view. The Teufelsbrücke restaurant is located alongside the bridge of the same name. During summer visitors can let the Gotthard myth work its magic on them as they drink and dine.
Please note: The circular trail is not accessible to pedestrians in winter (November to May).