Gotthard stories


Category:
Knowledge concerning nature
  • Oral expressions
  • Performing arts
Canton:

Description

The Gotthard is more than a mountain pass. Various eras have carved their own histories into its rocks, giving mythical status to this Alpine massif in Central Switzerland. To this day, talking about the Gotthard acts as a cultural trope throughout Switzerland, a shared value that has a cohesive function in society. The origins of the myth can be relatively precisely identified and dated: they began with an academic debate among historians in the first two decades of the 20th century, which was subsequently popularised in a wide variety of forms. The Gotthard Massif became a symbol of Swiss national sovereignty and technical prowess thanks to its defensive military function in World War I and above all in World War II, when the Swiss armed forces command built numerous fortifications inside its rock. In the political discourse on the intellectual defence of the nation, it grew to become the physical representation of the Swiss concept of the state. The basic features of this secular consecration of the Gotthard last to this day; they have their own special manifestation in the canton of Uri, where the national mythology has been fortified with elements of the local narrative tradition – above all with the well-known tale of how the Devil’s Bridge (Teufelsbrücke) was built – and in Ticino, where the story behind the railway tunnel, which opened in 1882, enjoys popularity. These links with transport history have again come to the fore throughout Switzerland in the past three decades. The construction of the Gotthard Base Tunnel has given fresh impetus to the somewhat stale myth. Thanks to the construction project of the century, the contemporary Gotthard narrative has gained a range of superlatives, predominantly technical.

Image gallery

  • The "Teufelsbrücke" (Devil's Bridge) in the Schöllenen Gorge (Uri). The bridge in the background is part of the Matterhorn Gotthard railway, 2011 © Christof Hirtler, Altdorf
  • The legendary Devil’s Rock (Teufelsstein) at its new location in Göschenen (Uri); it was moved there in 1973 in an expensive project when the motorway was built, 2011 © Christof Hirtler, Altdorf
  • With his painting of 1873 entitled ‘Gotthardpost’, Rudolf Koller created an icon for the fledgling federal state, just eight years before the railway tunnel rendered the stagecoach service obsolete.
  • On the south side, the ‘Tremola’ leads to the Gotthard Pass © Stefano Ember / shutterstock.com
  • Saint-Gothard, hospice et car postal, 2094 m. (carte postale). ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf: Unbekannt / Fel_006160-RE / Public Domain Mark
  • The Gotthard Pass summit at 2091 metres above sea level with the old hospice, hotel and post station, 2015 © Alexander Hoernigk (via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Motto Bartola fortification, Airolo, Switzerland: Fieudo Infantry bunker A 8400 © Paebi/Wikipedia
  • Swiss border guard, 1914: militiaman on the Gotthard Line © ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf: Unbekannt / Fel_017068-RE / Public Domain Mark
  • The Gotthard Treaty of 1909 (SR 0.742.140.11) led to protests among the Swiss population; the international agreement granted Germany and Italy rights of rail access through Switzerland via the Gotthard. ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf: Unbekannt / PK_008979 / Public Domain Mark
  • At Wassen, the old Gotthard railway gains height through a series of spiral tunnels; the church can be seen from various angles. ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf: Unbekannt / Ans_05092-112 / Public Domain Mark
  • Monument in Airolo by Vincenzo Vela (1820–1891), a sculptor from Ligornetto, commemorating those who died during the construction of the railway tunnel © picswiss.ch / Roland Zumbühl
  • The film ‘San Gottardo’ by Villi Hermann (winner of the Silver Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival in 1977) compares the construction of the railway tunnel in the 19th century with that of the road tunnel in the 20th century; Hermann tells the story of the workers (poster by Werner Vogel, Lucerne) © Schweizerische Nationalbibliothek, Plakatsammlung/Werner Vogel/Villi Hermann
  • The "Teufelsbrücke" (Devil's Bridge) in the Schöllenen Gorge (Uri). The bridge in the background is part of the Matterhorn Gotthard railway, 2011 © Christof Hirtler, Altdorf
  • The legendary Devil’s Rock (Teufelsstein) at its new location in Göschenen (Uri); it was moved there in 1973 in an expensive project when the motorway was built, 2011 © Christof Hirtler, Altdorf
  • With his painting of 1873 entitled ‘Gotthardpost’, Rudolf Koller created an icon for the fledgling federal state, just eight years before the railway tunnel rendered the stagecoach service obsolete.
  • On the south side, the ‘Tremola’ leads to the Gotthard Pass © Stefano Ember / shutterstock.com
  • Saint-Gothard, hospice et car postal, 2094 m. (carte postale). ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf: Unbekannt / Fel_006160-RE / Public Domain Mark
  • The Gotthard Pass summit at 2091 metres above sea level with the old hospice, hotel and post station, 2015 © Alexander Hoernigk (via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Motto Bartola fortification, Airolo, Switzerland: Fieudo Infantry bunker A 8400 © Paebi/Wikipedia
  • Swiss border guard, 1914: militiaman on the Gotthard Line © ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf: Unbekannt / Fel_017068-RE / Public Domain Mark
  • The Gotthard Treaty of 1909 (SR 0.742.140.11) led to protests among the Swiss population; the international agreement granted Germany and Italy rights of rail access through Switzerland via the Gotthard. ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf: Unbekannt / PK_008979 / Public Domain Mark
  • At Wassen, the old Gotthard railway gains height through a series of spiral tunnels; the church can be seen from various angles. ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf: Unbekannt / Ans_05092-112 / Public Domain Mark
  • Monument in Airolo by Vincenzo Vela (1820–1891), a sculptor from Ligornetto, commemorating those who died during the construction of the railway tunnel © picswiss.ch / Roland Zumbühl
  • The film ‘San Gottardo’ by Villi Hermann (winner of the Silver Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival in 1977) compares the construction of the railway tunnel in the 19th century with that of the road tunnel in the 20th century; Hermann tells the story of the workers (poster by Werner Vogel, Lucerne) © Schweizerische Nationalbibliothek, Plakatsammlung/Werner Vogel/Villi Hermann

References and documentation

Publications
  • Giorgio Bellini: La strada cantonale del San Gottardo: storia e storie della Tremola dall'Ottocento ai giorni nostri. Claro, 1999

  • Kilian Elsässer, ViaStoria (Ed.): Der direkte Weg in den Süden: die Geschichte der Gotthardbahn. Zürich, 2007

  • Guido Calgari: San Gottardo - Sintesi nazionale in quattro tempi e tre intermezzi. Lugano, 1937

  • Urs Hafner: Der unsichtbare Berg. Wie der Gotthard zu seinem Mythos kam. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 14. Mai 2016, p. 47

  • Villi Hermann: San Gottardo. Produzione TSI. Lugano, 1977 (Film)

  • Elisabeth Joris, Katrin Rieder, Béatrice Ziegler (Ed.): Tiefenbohrungen. Frauen und Männer auf den grossen Tunnelbaustellen der Schweiz 1870-2005. Baden, 2006

  • Jon Mathieu: Gotthardverkehrswege - Nukleus der Eidgenossenschaft im Spätmittelalter? In: Schweizerische Akademie der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaften (Ed.): Eine Zukunft für die historische Verkehrslandschaft Gotthard. Bern, 2014

  • Peter von Matt: Das Kalb vor der Gotthardpost. Zur Literatur und Politik der Schweiz. München, 2012

  • Orazio Martinetti: Sul ciglio del fossato - La Svizzera alla vigilia della grande guerra. Locarno, 2018

  • Renato Martinoni: Viaggiatori del Settecento nella Svizzera italiana. Locarno, 1989

  • Josef Müller: Sagen aus Uri. 3 Bände. Basel, 1926 / 1929 / 1945

  • Boris Previšić (Ed.): Gotthardphantasien. Eine Blütenlese aus Wissenschaft und Literatur. Baden, 2016

  • Remigio Ratti: L'asse ferroviario del San Gottardo: economia e geopolitica dei transiti alpini. Locarno, 2016

  • Judith Schueler: Materialising identity. The co-construction of the Gotthard Railway and Swiss national identity. Amsterdam, 2008

  • Helmut Stalder: Goethe am Gotthard. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 12. Januar 2017

  • Aloys Schulte: Geschichte des mittelalterlichen Handels und Verkehrs zwischen Westdeutschland und Italien mit Ausschluss von Venedig. 2 Bände. Leipzig, 1900

  • Gerardo Rigozzi, Luca Saltini (Ed.): Lungo i binari del tempo / Auf den Schienen der Zeit. Catalogo della mostra «Lungo i binari del tempo: vedute e stampe della collezione di Giorgio Ghiringhelli, dal Settecento alla ferrovia del Gottardo», Biblioteca cantonale di Lugano, 24 maggio - 31 ottobre 2016. Lugano, 2016

Documentation