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2 1/4 Sierre (Germ. Siders)-Inn: Soleil, a humble
Mules may be hired here for the ascent of the remarkable Pass of the Gemmi (Route 38). The path leading to it by the Baths of Loèche turns out of the post-road a little way beyond the town, before reaching the bridge. It is steep but highly romantic.
The post-road, after crossing the Rhone, and winding for some distance among irregular hillocks, passes, on the rt. bank of the river, at the mouth of the gorge of the Dala, the picturesque village of Loèche. The Baths are situated about 9 miles above the village; a char-road leads to them. Travellers coming from the Simplon turn aside here to visit them, and ascend the Gemmi." (Route 38).
2 1/4 Tourtemagne (Germ. Turtman)-(Inn: Poste, Lion or Sun (?) tolerably good, but dear). 20 minutes' walk behind the inn is a Cascade of some repute among tourists. The volume of water is considerable. It is on the whole inferior to the fall of the Sallenche near Martigny, but the scene is interesting on account of its entire seclusion. The neighbourhood is overspread with marshes and stagnant pools.
2 1/4 Visp (Viège), a miserable village, with no good inn, but finely situated at the junction of the Visp with the Rhone. The valley divides at some distance above Visp into two branches; the 1. leads to the foot of Monte Rosa by the pass of the Moro, one of the finest in Switzerland (Route 105); that on the rt. ascends the vale of St. Nicholas to the Mont Cervin (Route 106).
The Gamsen and other torrents which fall into the upper end of the Vallais are most dangerous neighbours to the villages and cottages on their banks. The bed of the torrent Visp is 4 metres above a part of the village, and the Saltine is 3 metres higher than Brieg. The miserable and povertystricken inhabitants are in consequence obliged to construct very considerable dykes to restrain them, but even these defences are liable to destruction every 2 or 3 years.
The desolation which the torrents spread over the fields, by their debris, will attract the remark of every traveller; and the evil is constantly increasing, as the beds of the torrents rise as fast as the dykes are raised to restrain them, till they flow along the top of a colossal aqueduct or wall of loose rocks, which the road ascends and descends like a hill.
The ascent of the Simplon properly begins at Glys, a vilJage distinguished by its large church; but, as the post-house and inn are both situated at Brieg, a detour of about 2 miles is made to pass through it.
1 1/2 Brieg. (The Inn, Hôtel d'Angleterre (post), is the
usual halting-place of travellers before or after crossing the Simplon it contains 50 beds, but is not very comfortable) Brieg is a small town of 650 inhabitants, situated on a sunny slope by the side of the Saltine, and overlooking the course of the Rhone, which here makes a sharp bend. The most conspicuous building is the Jesuits' College. The number of brothers at present (1837) does not exceed 10, and their pupils amount to only 30. There is also an Ursuline Convent.
The upper valley of the Rhone above Brieg, and the route to the Grimsel and Gries, are described in Routes 28 and 29.
At Brieg the Simplon road quits the vale of the Rhone, beginning to ascend immediately from the post-house. The distance from Brieg to Domo d'Ossola is 15 leagues=about 40 English miles; and the journey usually occupies 10 hours7 to reach Simplon, and 3 1/2 thence to Domo d'Ossola. On foot it will take full 10 hours' good walking to go from Brieg to Domo d'Ossola.
The construction of a route over the Simplon was decided upon by Napoleon immediately after the battle of Marengo, while the recollection of his own difficult passage of the Alps by the Great St. Bernard (at that time one of the easiest Alpine passes) was fresh in his memory. The plans and surveys by which the direction of the road was determined, were made by M. Céard, and a large portion of the works was executed under the superintendence of that able engineer. It was commenced on the Italian side in 1800 and on the Swiss in 1801. It took 6 years to complete, though it was barely passable in 1805, and more than 30,000 men were employed on it at one time. To give a notion of the colossal nature of the undertaking, it may be mentioned that the number of bridges, great and small, constructed for the passage of the road between Brieg and Sesto amounts to 611, in addition to the far more vast and costly constructions, such as terraces of massive masonry miles in length; of 10 galleries, either cut out of the living rock or built of solid stone; and of 20 houses of refuge to shelter travellers, and lodge the labourers constantly employed in taking care of the road. Its breadth is throughout at least 25 ft., in some places 30 ft., and the average slope nowhere exceeds 6 inches, in 6. 1/2 feet.
To use the eloquent words of Sir James Mackintosh, "the Simplon may be safely said to be the most wonderful of useful works, because our canals and docks surpass it in utility, science, and magnitude, but they have no grandeur to the eye. Its peculiar character is, to be the greatest of all those monuments that at once dazzle the imagination by their splendour and are subservient to general convenience." It may be observed in addition that (except the Cenis) the Simplon was,
the first of the great carriage-roads opened across the W. Alps; and, though others since constructed surpass it in some respects, especially in the elevation attained (e. g. the Stelvio), yet this has the merit of originality, and the others are mere copies. This is the first example of the triumph of human power and intellect over nature, apparently invincible.
The cost of this road averaged about 16,000l. per league (i. e. 400,000 fr.) The object of Napoleon in its formation is well marked by the question which, on two different occasions, he first asked of he engineer sent to him to report progress" Le canon, quand pourra-t-il passer au Simplon?”
The postmasters on both sides of the mountain have the right to attach one extra horse to light carriages and 2 or more to heavy ones in ascending the mountain: indeed, as many as eight horses are sometimes required to drag up a heavy landau. Berisol, the first posthouse above Brieg, is sometimes without horses, in which case those from Brieg are taken on for two stages. By following the old char-road the pedestrian may abridge the distance to the summit by several miles; but it is rough, and more fatiguing than the carriageroad.
The ascent of the Simplon begins at once from the posthouse in Brieg. About 1/2 a mile above the town the road passes, on the rt., the lofty covered bridge over the Saltine, now little used, since most vehicles make the detour by Brieg instead of going direct to or from Glys, whither this bridge conducts. The road then makes a wide sweep, turning away from the Glytzhorn, the mountain which bounds the valley on the rt., towards the Breithorn, on the opposite side, skirting a little hill dotted with white chapels and crowned by a calvery. It then again approaches the gorge of the Saltine, skirting the verge of a precipice, at the bottom of which the torrent is seen at a vast depth, forcing its way among black and bristling slate-rocks, which seem still shattered by the convulsion which first gave a passage to its waters. It is a scene of grandeur, almost of terror. At the upper end of the ravine, high above his head, the traveller may discern the glaciers under which the road is carried, but which he will require at least 3 good hours to reach, on account of the sinuosities of the route. Looking back, he will perceive the valley of the Rhone, as far as Tourtemagne, spread out as a map at his feet; Brieg and Naters remain long in sight. It is a constant pull against the collar from Brieg to the second refuge. Here the road, carried for some distance nearly on a level, is compelled to bend round the valley of the Ganther until it can cross the torrent which traverses it by another
lofty bridge, called Pont de Ganther. The upper end of this fwild ravine is subject to avalanches almost every winter, the snow of which nearly fills it up, and reaches sometimes to the crown of the arch. This bridge is left uncovered, from the fear justly entertained by the engineers that the terrific gusts or currents of air which accompany the fall of an avalanche might blow the arch entirely off, were much resistance of flat timber-work presented to it. The road originally traversed a gallery cut in the rock near this, but it has been removed. After crossing the bridge the road turns down the opposite side, and then ascends by several zigzags to the third refuge, ralled
2 1/2 Beresal, or Persal, a homely tavern, consisting of 2 buildings connected by a roof across the road, where a few posthorses are kept, and brandy, cheese, milk, and such-like refreshments may be procured. It may be reached in 2 1/2 hours from Brieg.
The first gallery which the road traverses is that of Schalbet, 95 feet long-1195 metres above Glys. Near this, and hence to the summit, should the sky be clear, the traveller's attention will be riveted by the glorious view of the Bernese Alps, which bound the Vallais and form the rt.-hand wall of the valley of the Rhone. The glittering white peaks of the Breithorn, Jungfrau, and Mönch are magnificent objects in this scene, while below them is spread out the glacier of Aletsch, one of the most extensive in the Alps.
Fifth Refuge, called Schalbet. “Here a picture of desolation surrounds the traveller. The pine has no longer the scanty pittance of soil which it requires for nourishment; the hardy but beautiful Alpine flower ceases to embellish the sterile solitude; and the eye wanders over snow and glacier, fractured rock and roaring cataract, relieved only by that stupendous monument of human labour the road itself, winding along the edges of precipices, penetrating the primeval granite, striding over the furious torrent, and burrowing through dark and dripping grottoes beneath accumulated masses of ice and snow."-Johnson.
The portion of the road between the fifth refuge and the Summit is the most dangerous of all, at the season when avalanches fall, and tourmentes arise, on which account it is provided with 6 places of shelter, viz. 3 galleries, 2 refuges, and a hospice, within a distance of not more than 3000 metres. The head of the gorge of Schalbet, a wild recess in the flanks of the Mount Simplon, or Monte Leone, is filled up with glaciers, beneath which, along the edge of a yawning abyss, the road is necessarily conducted. These fields of everlasting ice, forming the Kaltwasser glacier, in the heat of summer feed 5 or 6 furious torrents, the sources of the Saltine, and in
winter discharge frequent avalanches into the gulf below. To protect this portion of the road 3 galleries, called, from their vicinity to the glaciers, Glacier Galleries, partly excavated, partly built of masonry strongly arched, have been constructed. By an ingenious contrivance of the engineer they serve in placès as bridges and aqueducts at the same time, the torrents being conducted over and beneath them; and the traveller is surprised to find his carriage suddenly driven in perfect safety underneath a considerable waterfall. These galleries have been recently extended far beyond their original length, for greater security. In the spring the avalanches slide over their roofs.
The Sixth Refuge is also a barrier, at which a toll of 2 fr. is paid for each horse, to defray the cost of keeping the road in repair. A simple cross of wood, a few yards further, marks the highest summit or culminating point of the road, 2018 metres, or about 6562 ft., above the level of the sea. About 1/2 a mile beyond it stands the New Hospice, founded by Napoleon for the reception of travellers, but long left unfinished for want of funds, and even now not entirely furnish ed within. Externally it is a plain, solid edifice, containing several very neat bedrooms for masters, a drawing-room provided with a piano, a refectory, a chapel, and about 30 beds for travellers of the common sort. It is much more comfortable than the hospice on the Great St. Bernard, and is even warmed with a heating-apparatus. It is occupied by 3 or 4 brothers of the Augustine order, members of the same community as those on the Great St. Bernard. The prior is the amiable Father Barras, whose civility must be remembered by all who have visited the Great St. Bernard within the last 25 years, during which he resided there. Several of the celebrated dogs of St. Bernard are kept here, but they are rarely employed in active service. The monks are very happy to show the mansion to travellers, and to receive, lodge, and entertain them in stormy weather and during winter; but at other times strangers have no excuse for availing themselves of the hospitality of the house, since the inn at Simplon is good, and not far distant. The establishment is similar to that on the Great St. Bernard, except that it is more limited in extent and funds. (For further particulars see Route 108.) A large open valley of considerable extent, bounded by snow-clad heights, having the appearance of a drained lake, Occupies the summit of the Simplon. It is devoid of picturesque interest, all around is barrenness, and nothing but lichens and Coarse herbage grow on the bare rocks. Below the road, on the rt., stands a tall tower, the original hospice before the new one was built. A gradual but continued descent leads past the Seventh Refuge (ruined), in about 3 miles, to the village of