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September 25th 2019
“Places of power” and a battle by General Suvorov in 1799
This morning the rain came pouring down again. Therefore I have the opportunity to tell about the past days in Andermatt which I found very special. Actually by chance I was able to attend the commemoration ceremonies around the Russian “Generalissimus Suworow” and his heroic actions in the Schöllenen Gorge during his battle with Napoleon’s troops on September 24th and 25th 1799, now 220 years ago.
The Russian nobleman Alexander Wassiljewitsch Suworow, born on November 3rd 1929 or 1730 in Novgorod, had become under Tsarina Catharina the Great a famous warrior and military strategist, who hasn’t lost a single battle in his long career. He has been promoted to the highest possible military rank of Generalissimus. After the Tsarina’s death in 1796 he fell from grace with her successor Tsar Paul I. He was rehabilitated and appointed commander-in-chief of the Russian-Austrian army on expressive request of the Austrians: they only wanted to go into battle with Suvorov in command. He was almost 70 years old by then. In Switzerland he is especially known and famous as commanding officer of the Russian-Austrian troops in 1799 during the de War of the Second Coalition, in which he beat the French troops at the Gotthard Pass (September 24th 1799). On his journey via Andermatt to Altdorf at Lake Lucerne he had to pass through the Schöllenen Gorge, where he was again engaged in battle with the French troops. The Teufelsbrücke (Devil’s Bridge) over the river Reuss from 1595 was thereby badly damaged. His troops had to literally fight their way through several valleys in the area to the east of the lake and over mountain passes in the Cantons Glarus and Graubünden. The mountain passes in the Central and Grisons Alps (e.g. the Panix Pass) were meanwhile (in mid-October) snow-covered. Eventually a large part of the Russian troops, starved and exhausted, arrived Austria via Chur. The Swiss are still full of praise for General Suvorov. By his actions he has contributed to the fall of the vasal state, installed by the French, the Helvetic Republic. Therefore plaques and memorials in his honour can be found in many places in Switzerland where he has been, like the one in the Schöllenen Gorge.
In one of the old mansions in Andermatt the Talmuseum Ursern, the museum of the Ursenen Valley is situated, about the history of this Valley which stretches from the Furka Pass in the southwest to Andermatt and through which the young river Reuss flows. In the museum also attention was paid to General Suvorov; not only in the permanent collection, but also in a temporary exhibition about him and the journey of the Austrian-Russian army across the Alps, “Suworow’s Spuren in der Schweiz” (Suvorov’s traces in Switzerland), in Autumn of 1799. To conclude these two days of “Suvorov” I paid a visit to the museum this afternoon (in this time of the year the opening hours are limited: from Wednesday until Saturday, from 16.00 to 18.00 hrs). It was interesting to see and to read how much the Swiss in the parts through which Suvorov with his army had passed still honour him and even “venerate” him because of his contribution to the end of the French domination during the vasal state the Helvetic Republic. Apart from a nice portrait of the General himself and a few paintings about the heroic battle against the French at the Schöllenen Gorge, a collection of modern paintings by a young Russian painter, Alex Doll (*1990), depicting places in Switzerland where Suvorov had been. Thus the two hundred years have been aptly bridged.
Andermatt is situated in a special place in Switzerland: in this area four rivers spring which in the end flow through a major part of Europe and mouth in three seas! The river Rhône springs to the southeast of the Furka massive on the border between Canton Uri and Canton Valais and flows into the Mediterranean Sea, the river Rhine springs to the east of the Oberalp Pass on the border with Canton Grisons, the river Reuss springs near the Gotthard Pass and the Furka Pass, is fed by many small water streams with each a prefix to the name “Reuss”, but which after merging flows on just as “Reuss” and mouths in Switzerland into the river Aare, which on its turn mouths into the Rhine and ultimately into the North Sea. Then there is the river Ticino, not so well-known to many of us, giving its name to the Canton Tessin or Ticino in Italian: this river springs at the southside of the Gotthard massive, flows through the Lago Maggiore (the Great Lake…), flows after 250 kilometres into the river Po and eventually in the Adriatic Sea! Much attention is paid to the presence of so-called Kraftorte, places of power which are supposed to have strong earth magnetic radiance with a (most of the time) positive effect on humans. Although I have a rather lucent approach to this I have been in the past in places where I have clearly felt something extra: like my hikes to the Waterfalls of Batöni near Weisstannen in St. Gallen, the “Menhir of S-chanf” in the Engadin or the Saaser Alp in the Prättigau… Here in Andermatt the Tourist Information has even described ten walks along the various “places of power”. When I arrived last Monday in Andermatt, I had already walked through the village and visited some of the spots indicated in the brochure. Tuesday I passed by some others as I was on my way to the Schöllenen Gorge, and yesterday towards Göschenen as well. The places near water are quite appealing to me…
Near Andermatt the river Reuss is a rather wide stream. The Unteralpreuss flows past Hotel Drei Könige&Post and has already been joined by the Oberalpreuss which as the name indicates runs from the reservoir at the Oberalp Pass in southwestern direction. The Unteralpreuss flowes through the village from east to west. At a footbridge a statue has been placed of a “Brückenheiliger” (a saint of the bridge), the 14th century martyr and later on beatified John of Nepomuk, of whom also a statue has been placed on the Karlsbrücke bridge in Prague. The Unteralpreuss flows in the wide Ursern valley into the Reuss,that by then has already incorporated the Gotthardreuss and the Furkareuss. The spot where both streams flow together is supposed to be another “place of power”. Noticeably nice wetlands have been created. The difference in colour and speed of the currents is standing out!
Yesterday, Tuesday, when I walked from the point where the Unteralpreuss and the Reuss had come together downstream I saw a sing, pointing to the Schöllenen Gorge. I also saw large crowds of people, with a. o. wreaths and flowers moving into that direction. Many cars with licence plates of the diplomatic service were parked at the entrance of the Gorge. I went along with the crowd, because I had meanwhile understood that an official ceremony would be held at the Schöllenen Gorge. The trip to the Gorge was impressive: not only the paved road and the railway line Göschenen–Andermatt run through the narrow space between the two walls of rock, but also the river Reuss squeezes through it; nothing of the tranquil character the stream had had near Andermatt, was left here! The cogwheel support of the train can clearly be seen here – there also are various bridges over the river and tunnels through the mountains. In the rock walls military watch posts dating from different eras are visible: from 1890 on they have been built mainly to protect the passage to the Gotthard Pass, the important connection between Northern and Southern Europe. Andermatt also is the home base of a specialised division of the Swiss Army: the Kompetenzzentrum Gebirgsdienst der Armee (the Centre of competence for the Mountain service of the Army), where the “Gebirgsspezialisten” (mountain specialists) are being trained – it is the only army division that can be deployed in high mountain terrain (also for rescue operations in the mountains).
On the main road running from Andermatt, a large mosaic is placed on the mountain wall, made by the Swiss artist Werner Ernst Müller (1910–1987) to the occasion of the opening of the Gotthard tunnel in 1956. The saying “Der alte Weg zur neuen Zeit” (the old road to the new times) refers to the progress and the importance of the international transit route over the Gotthard Pass, from the times of the “Säumer” when people transported goods on the back of horses, mules etc. over mountain paths) to the modern transit traffic.
We also passed the Urnerloch tunnel: a to modern standards short tunnel of 70 metres long, but nevertheless the first road tunnel in the Swiss Alps. In 1707–1708 the tunnel has been built to replace the so-called “Twärrenbrücke“, a bridge made of wooden planks tied together with ropes and fixated to the outer side of the mountain wall. That bridge had been destroyed with each flood of the river Reuss. This afternoon I saw in the Talmuseum an old drawing on which the first tunnel was depicted. In the course of the centuries the tunnel has steadily been improved and widened.
Creating a passage through the Schöllenen Gorge has proved to be an almost impossible task in living history. We assume that the “Alemannic” tribe of the Walser with their knowledge of building the Suonen (the irrigation canals) perhaps had also been capable to build a bridge here. After the “Twärrenbrücke” bridge mentioned earlier the first fixed bridge, the Teufelsbrücke, the Devil’s Bridge, had been built in 1595. When the latter had been badly damaged during the battle between the French troops under General Lecourbe and the Austrian-Russian troops of Genera Suvorov and become useless, in 1830 the second Teufelsbrücke bridge had been constructed. This bridge which is still in good condition, dan ben used by hikers and cyclists. The first bridge collapsed in 1888 completely – on the north bank some remnants of the foundations can still be seen. In 1958 the present traffic bridge has been opened. It is special to see so many bridges near one another in this narrow gorge… Here the water of the Reuss is swirling and frothing during endless centuries and has created a deep bedding. Quite an infinitive power emanates from this water spectacle – for me a real Place of power, a “Kraftort” !
There is a legende about the name “Teufelsbrücke“, Devil’s Bridge. Because it proved to be very hard to build a bridge over this gorge, it is said that a member of the local council once had exclaimed: “Then the Devil should build the bridge!” The words had hardly been spoken, when the Devil appeared. He agreed to build the bridge, but on the condition that he would get the soul of the first living creature crossing the bridge. The devious population of Uri thought out a ruse: they didn’t send a human, as the Devil had meant, but a goat buck… The Devil was overcome with rage and was about to throw an enormous boulder on the bridge. An old lady was able to scratch a cross on that boulder, by which the devil got completely confused. The boulder changed its course, missed the bridge, rolled through the entire valley onwards into the direction of Göschenen and came to a halt just outside the village. This “Teufelsstein“, Devil’s Stone, over 2 tons heavy, is still lying there. A modern sequel to this legend is, that after in 1973 the “Teufelsstein” had been moved 127 metres for the construction of the Gotthard tunnel, the number of car accidents on that track of the tunnel had sharply increased! In 1950 the painter Heinrich Danioth (1896–1953) who originally was from Canton Uri made a striking oil painting on which the Devil and the buck have been depicted in a fierce red colour.
While we had reassembled in a large crowd on the narrow footpath to the Suvorov memorial with view on the Teufelsbrücke, the wildly flowing Reuss and the mural painting by Danioth at the entrance to the tunnel of the main road, “army units” dressed in authentic uniforms of the Napoleonic army, but also of the Russian army came marching on in the distance at the opposite side of the gorge, with a banner in front and accompanied by drum-players. Besides a number of photographers also a Russian priest was walking with them. It took quite a while before this group had crossed the old Teufelsbrücke bridge and had reached the restaurant nearby – that was towards the end of the ceremony at the memorial, which was very impressive. They were Russian reenactors. Amid great interest a kind of salute was taken. Anno 2019 cameras and drones recorded the whole scene. As a comparison: I saw this afternoon in the Talmuseum an authentic rucksack of a French soldier from that period on display.
Because the crowd was so massive I couldn’t exactly see what was going on at the bottom of the Suvorov memorial, also called the “Russendenkmal“, the Russians’ memorial. The Russian ambassador in Switzerland was there, as was the Commanding Officer of the division of the Swiss Army, the Territorialdivision 3 with as area of activity the five Cantons in Central Switzerland (Uri, Schwyz, Grisons, Ticino and Zug). There were Russian soldiers, but also (armed) Swiss soldiers, Russian priests, even a Russian-Swiss motorcycle club and many interested people: Russians, Swiss, or just more of less casual passers-by like me. The Suvorov Cadets from the Military Academy Moscow first played the Russian national anthem, followed by the “Schweizerpsalm“, the Swiss anthem. A large wreath with beautiful flowers was laid. Thereafter the ambassador held a speech in Russian, that subsequently was read, translated into German, by a Russian. The speech mainly dealt with the friendly relations between Russia and Switzerland over the centuries, and also about General Suvorov’s life and importance: he had been a commander who stood close to his troops, so they had been proud of themselves and also been willing to make sacrifices. Then a plaque in the mountain wall near the memorial was revealed – more about that later on. Hereafter the Commander of the Territorialdivison 3 spoke, in German – his text, translated into Russian, was read by a Swiss soldier. In that speech, he emphasised that this commemoration gathering referred to all soldiers, fallen during the September days in 1799, regardless of their nationality. The intention of today’s ceremony was in fact to keep the memories alive. He also spoke of the reasons how war started, whether in 1799 or of any war whatsoever: war often starts because of bleak economic prospects, by power-hungry rulers and blinding ideologies., but it always entails disaster and big fears. We as free people as we are nowadays, should be striving to a “nobler” world, within ourselves and in our direct neighbourhood. With his campaign Suvorov had also tried to strive for a more ideal Europe. Then there was a section which appealed to me and moved me very much, it dealt with hope and with meaning. The Commander continued that we therefore should think in respect of the soldiers in 1799 who hadn’t had the choice between war or peace – they only had a choice between fighting and perhaps surviving or go down anyhow. It was hope that gave them the courage and that made them go on. And hope is not the guarantee that something will end well, it is the notion that the things one does, are significant, regardless the result. That was exactly what General Suvorov had done: he gave his soldiers meaning and hope, and they followed him, because they trusted him. This is a textbook example of good leadership, which still has its value in our times. After his speech the Russian priest pronounced his blessing over the new plaque and over the Suvorov memorial. I could only hear the impressive chant – all present were completely silent. The only sounds were the thundering water in the Reuss and of some trucks passing over the traffic bridge. Thereafter the ceremony was over and less formal activities were possible, like posing in front of the memorial. (Meanwhile the entire ceremony can been watched on YouTube – in German.)
There has been quite an ado about the memorial itself: in 1898 a Russian prince and philanthropist, Prince Sergei Michailowitsch Golyzin (1843–1915) that in light of the centenary of the battle at the Schöllenen Gorge a memorial should be made for General Suvorov. He was the financier. It has taken some doing before this memorial has been placed. In 1883 the Swiss Bundesrat granted permission to the creation of the memorial, but imposed however some conditions on the execution thereof: it was not allowed the memorial to be a tribute to heroism of a foreign general – this would be contrary to the status of neutrality of Switzerland. The memorial should therefore be in honour of all fallen soldiers. A previous plan had been dismissed for these reasons. If those concerned had thought that just a simple plaque would be attached, they were wrong: an enormous piece of art, sculpted from the Uri granite, of 24 to 24 metres with a large cross of 12 metres height was installed, with mountings of bronze and a plinth with in Cyrillic writing the text: “to the heroic co-combatants of Generalissimus Field Marshall Count Suvorov-Rimniski, Prince Italiski, who have fallen during the crossing of the Alps in the year 1799“. The memorial looks indeed colossal, but it is impressive just by its size and relief in the grey rock. Also in the Valley Museum attention is paid to the memorial; old pictures of the memorial and the original official announcement of the inauguration on September 26th 1898. In Russian, French and German is also indicated that on that day besides the normal trains also a special train would depart from Lucerne to Göschenen: leaving at 9.18 hrs. The railway track via Göschenen through the Gotthard Tunnel to Airolo already existed since 1882! That train trip on its own and the inauguration must have definitely been exceptional…
At that time not much attention had been paid to the legal status of the memorial or the piece of land. This came to light in a painful way in the 1980s, when the memorial was on the brink of collapsing. The surveyors of the Canton Uri couldn’t find any indications in the Land Registry about the ownership of the plot on which the Suvorov memorial was standing. The cantonal authorities assumed that the piece of land was still owned by the Municipality of Urseren, even if the Soviets as successors of the Tsars(!) had paid for repair works in the 1950s. The Russians indeed relied on their ownership, but documents were missing…, until the Kremlin found a letter from the Municipality of Urseren, dated October 13th 1893, in which was mentioned that the municipality had unanimously decided that the plot needed for the memorial would be handed over to the Russians for free. All of a sudden it became clear that during the Cold War a piece of land in the heart of Switzerland belonged to the Soviets… Eventually the situation is that the Russian State is the owner, but that the plot of 563 sqm (rock and access road) is registered in the Land Registry of the Municipality of Andermatt and is governed by Swiss law. In 1999, at the commemoration of 200 years Suvorov’s Campaign through the Alps, the Cold War was over, the Soviet-Union had been dismantled and the relations had thawed. Nowadays a visit to the Suvorov memorial has become an integral part of the program when Russian delegations are visiting Switzerland and a commemoration service is held at the memorial every year around September 24th and 25th.
I considered it something very special that I could and was allowed to be a witness of this commemoration! This year there had been an additional feature: the revelation of the gold-coloured plaque commemorating Prince Golyzyn, who in those days had enabled this memorial. It had been revealed by a nephew of the Prince and later on blessed by the Russian priests. At the top of the plaque the Prince’s effigy is shown in relief. At the bottom of the plaque is the image of an icon owned by the Family Golyzin. The new plaque has been attached to the granite wall between two other plaques. There was much interest from those present: they were rushing in to take pictures.
After the ceremony the crowd dispersed. Many visitors stopped at the Russian reenactors, others continued over the short, but interesting walking trail along the Schöllenen Gorge. This circular walk runs from the main road to the Suvorov memorial ad past the restaurant, from there over the old Teufelsbrücke with the fascinating depths of the Gorge. There also is a tunnel, made towards the end or the 19th century, when the defences were built in the Gotthard area. Because in case of hostilities there was the possibility to blow up the Teufelsbrücke, an escape would be through the tunnel. The tunnel was long and narrow, but fortunately also well-lit. At the lighting points some moss was growing! At the end of the tunnel there was a view again on all bridges and the swirling water of the Reuss in the Gorge. At an open space a wall of large blocks of natural stones had been built with the coats of arms of Canton Uri (the black bull’s head with the red nose ring on a yellow background) and of the Ursenen Valley (the black bear carrying a white cross on a green background): this is the “Platz der Begegnung” (Meeting square). In this way is emphasised that the Schöllenen Gorge has always been an important link in the trade between the north and the south over the Gotthard Pass, already since the times of the “Säumer“. This traffic has not only influenced the development of this region, but also strengthened the bond between Canton Uri and the Ursenen Valley, which by its situation has known a clear position of independence until today. Over newly adapted steel stair wells I descended along the river, then I passed underneath the road and later on I climbed up to the restaurant Teufelsbrücke. The walk took around half an hour.
In front of the restaurant the “Franzosenplatz” or “La Place de la France” has been created. This spot has a story to go with as well. When at the end of the 19th century the Russians had asked for permission to build a commemoration monument near the Schöllenen Gorge, the French, the former enemies, also wished for their “own” memorial. That had been denied with an appeal on the Swiss neutrality. Only in 1999, two hundred year after the battle, “Friends of France” have arranged as a counterpart for the Russian memorial a modest, tranquil commemorative place: on a plaque with the appearance of a blue and white enamelled street sign, like can be found in France, the homage to the fallen French soldiers who have fought against the Russians under General Lecourbe’s command. Next to the plaque a replica of a large painting has been attached on which the battle is shown. When I returned at the restaurant from my small tour, the reenactors had “stored” their riffles near the painting – that seemed to empower the painting!
At the terrace of the restaurant it was busy: the dignitaries, the military anno 1799 and anno 2019,, the members of the bikers’ club and other people were standing there in animated conversation, with glasses and plates in their hands, mostly in Russian of in German with an accent… Not long afterwards I stood there as well with a glass of red wine and a savoury and warming stew of buckwheat groats amid the others. The lady with the obviously Russian scarf with tiny roses who was distributing the stew from a large army mess tin, didn’t speak a word “outside Russia”, so from the name she mentioned I could only later distil the dish Gretschnewanja Kascha… This dish, the Russian staple food nr. 1, was the savoury variation, with lots of onion and chopped bacon and other meat – it also suited the somewhat chilly weather. Furthermore there were appetizers, like rye bread with herring and an extremely hot red chilli on top, or a with cheese and a ditto yellow chilli. Just a nice closure to this historic happening!
Almost back in Andermatt again, in the part called Altkirch, I went to the small church dedicated to St. Kolumban – also one of the “Kraftorte” on the trail. The church has been named after the Irish abbot and saint St. Columbanus (540–615), who about 590 travelled from Ireland to the European mainland in order to found several monasteries and on his travels also has passed by Switzerland. The oldest part of the church dates from the 11th century, later extensions are from the 13th century. Already in the 9th century a chapel would have been there, which had been built by the Monastery of Disentis (at the other side of the Oberalp Pass in Grisons). In Canton Uri the church is one of the oldest Romanic buildings. The small church with the somewhat lopsided church tower has been built against the steep slope of the Chilchenberg mountain, towering above Andermatt. The connection with Ireland still is visible in a memorial stone with the image of an Irish harp. In Gaelic is the text, remembering the passage of Ireland’s last princes in 1607–1608. The memorial, cut out of stone has been unveiled on March 17th 2008 four hundred years later, by the ambassador of Ireland in Switzerland.
The weather had meanwhile improved, so I considered to go for a while with the gondola to the Chilchenberg mountain to enjoy the view over the Urseren Valley. I already stood at the ticket booth when I realised that I had forgotten my “Halbtax” pass, with which as the name already indicates I can travel for half the fare in the public transport in Switzerland, in my hotel. The reduction I could get with my guest card from the hotel only was 10%, so I cheerfully told the young man at the counter that I would be back in a few minutes, with my “Halbtax” Pass.
Arriving at Hotel Drei Könige & Post I quickly changed my plans: on the parking place was a sign indicating that the Suvorov Cadets’ Music Band would give a concert there! So I stood again amid the people who I had seen at the Suvorov memorial on the terrace and the steps of the hotel and could not do anything else than enjoying the music! Those young musicians gave a marvellous performance “with songs and dances”. The Russian audience sang along with some of the pieces, with other we all clapped our hands. There also were soloist performances of the wind instrumentalists, who pretended they didn’t want to take instructions from the conductor, because they considered themselves real stars – they were guaranteed a laugh! The tuba player pretended to throw his instrument into the audience (it looked quite realistic!), but by doing so his cap fell off, which was being fetched from the ground by the conductor with a sour face. The cap was being wiped clean in an exaggeratedly precise way and rendered to the tuba player, for which the conductor was exaggeratedly thanked. The sun was shining brightly, the audience applauded and the atmosphere was excellent! After more than half an hour the band marched off – which we all regretted… It had been a wonderful performance!
Yesterday, September 25th, I set off again, for the second time on the traces of the “Kraftorte“. This time I would like to go through the Schöllenen Gorge again, to Göschenen with a detour past the chapel Maria Hilf, which I can see from my hotel room, so actually the trip I mad on Monday by train, but now by foot and in the reserve direction.
The big white-stuccoed parish church with the high red-roofed tower, the St. Peter und Paul Kirche church can be seen from afar. The construction has started in 1602 to a design of the famous church architect Bartholomäus Schmid from the neighbouring Hospental. The church was only finished in 1696. The interior is very richly decorated. This “Kraftort” didn’t move me much… In the graveyard not only graves were visible, but also the remains of a tree which had been cut for a very long time!
Higher uphill to the east of Andermatt the small chapel Maria Hilf is situated, that has been built in 1740 on a spot where had been a small pilgrimage chapel before. This chapel has specifically been built to ask protection against avalanches. There also is a statue of grace of Mary. Here the interior is rich in colour and decoration as well. The stained glass windows filter the incoming morning light and the sun that was still shining at that moment. From the chapel I had a nice view over Andermatt. The large mountain ridge to the west of the valley was mostly hidden behind white clouds – only a small part of the top with the meaningful name of “Spitzi“, was poking through. The St. Peter und Paul Kirche church was for the largest part hidden from view by an enormous mountain ash shrub, loaded with berries. Seen from the mountain slope above the Maria Hilf Kapelle the chapel seemed indeed to protect the village standing in its elevated place!
Continuing on my trail along the Kraftorte I passed a mountain meadow in which some time before young cattle had been corralled from the higher meadows. They obviously were a bit disorientated, but already grazing again. It was touching to see how three of them seemed to look for support with each other by staying very close to each other… I had a brief chat with the farmers who had driven the cattle in a non-official “Alpabzug” from the higher meadows towards the valley 9by car I think!). The grazing season really was over: the solar cell for the electric fencing was in the booth of the car. I followed over narrow paths a part of the “Moorlehrpfad“, the educational footpath past a restored natural reserve with information panels about the development of raised bogs and which special flora and fauna can been found (again). It had been an interesting detour – and to me, also because of the oncoming fog, a stronger Kraftort than the church or the chapel…
I went back by the main street through the village, past the railway station and again into the direction of the Schöllenen Gorge, where it had been so busy yesterday. At the restaurant that looked rather deserted now, stood a reenactor, in a Russian uniform. I was a bit surprised, so I went to the Suvorov memorial, actually to check whether the flowers still were beautiful. There I met a entirely Russian crowd; all reenactors of the day before and quite a few Russian visitors, among which the bikers and the Russian priest who had then escorted the procession. Now it was much simpler to come closer to the action. Less smple was the communication with the other people attending, who couldn’t state more than just “It’s OK, no problem“, “Thank you” and “Sorry“, but somehow it didn’t matter much. It was a small-scale, Russian happening, that as to emotional content wasn’t inferior to the official ceremony of the day before. This happening was entirely centred around religion and history: September 25th had been the day on which in 1799 the battle in the Schöllenen Gorge had taken place. It took a while before all troops were standing neatly line. Then the priest came forwards in a black robe with a beautiful golden and red stole and a black cap on his head, underneath which his grey pony tail was showing. Although I could not understand what he was saying, it was clear that he pronounced the blessing over the memorial and over the gathered troops. He was praying with a strong bass-baritone half singing, half declaiming – quite a pity that I couldn’t understand him… From this happening a lot of inner force was emanating, which moved the Russian spectators very much – and me as well. After about 20 minutes this ceremony at the Suvorov memorial was over.
I continued my path over the old Teufelsbrücke bridge and past the entrance of the military tunnel, in former days meant to enable an escape back to Andermatt, and glanced back once more to the memorial with the visitors who looked like tiny puppets against the imposing rock wall with the shrine. The walking trail to Göschenen followed the wildly meandering valley through which the Reuss flows and now and then loudly churls. The galleries for the main road and the railway outline both mountain slopes. Regularly large waterfalls added even more water to the Reuss. The dynamics of this landscape appealed to me very much.
Suddenly I heard marching boots behind me on the descending, narrow path. I looked back and there the French troops arrived, followed by a largely depleted Russian group. Again here was a lot of theatre: especially the reenactors in the Russian uniforms very gallantly took off their bicornes for me! I was standing as a lonely hiker along their trail and have cheered them. They continued in line, over the Häderlisbrücke bridge further downstream which connects both banks of the Reuss.
One of the “Kraftorte” on the road to Göschenen is this Häderlisbrücke bridge from 1649. To build this bridge the devil was not neede, but just a lot of love and commitment, because the original bridge had been taken along and destroyed by a flood of the river Reuss during the night of August 24th on 25th 1987… Because this old bridge was very much appreciated the Canton Uri has decided to rebuild the bridge with the support of the Swiss federal government and the Swiss employers’ association in the construction trade, with stones cut to measure by hand and collected from a quarry just less than 300 metres from the original bridge! Old drawings and etches proved to be very useful with the reconstruction. The inauguration took place in 1991, when the Confederation existed 500 years.
After pausing at a next, modern bridge over the Reuss with view on a steep mountain wall, where two chamois, apparently effortless, climbed up and down (one of them looked extremely alertly into my direction – well, I shouldn’t have worn my blue raincoat…) I arrived in Göschenen, that is especially known for the northern station of the Gotthard tunnel. Also there is an affluent of the Reussm, the Göschenenreuss with an incredibly bright blue colour which joins the water coming from Andermatt. The old church “Mariä Empfängnis” with the dark-coloured church tower has a somewhat mor friendly appearance than the newer, much larger church situated closer to the railway station. The view over the old village with the church in black-and-white combined with the Valaisan “Blackneck goats” (“Schwarzhalsziegen“), which are black to the fort part and white in the hind parts grazing in a still green meadow was very relaxing. Because of the low clouds I could unfortunately not see the mountains at the beginning of the Göscheneralp valley.
I sat down in the modern Hotel zum weissen Rössli for lunch: I chose an “Urnerpfanne“, a tasty Rösti with alpine cheese on top from the oven and served in a cast-iron pan, a glass of sparkling mineral water and a glass of white wine. In combination with a nice and bright view my lunch break was quite pleasant!
The village of Göschenen itself isn’t very large: it is situated in a very narrow valley, so almost half of the built-up area has been used for motorways, railway tracks and railway yards. However railway history has obviously been written with the construction of the Gotthard railway tunnel, opened in 1882, which is somewhat longer than 15 kilometres, to Airolo in the Canton Ticino. There is a lot of attention paid to the construction of the tunnel, like a circular walk. That will e something for a next time. Now I got at the other side of the railway station onboard of the train of the Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn to Andermatt. Originally an independent company had been operating since 1917 on this track, the Schöllenen-Bahn. After several mergers and adaptations to the track and the trains it has joined in 2003 the MGB,which takes care of the transportation by rail between Visp in the Canton Valais and Chur in the Canton Grisons. Thus I covered in 10 minutes a distance of less than 4 kilometres with a lot of rattling of the cogwheel support to Andermatt, along the impressive trail I had followed by foot.
At the end of the afternoon I visited, as already mentioned, the Talmuseum Ursern, the Museum of the Ursern Valley and the temporary exhibition about General Suvorov. That concluded these in my ways interesting days in this fascinating area, that I had got to know and appreciate more and more!