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September 18th 2018

A day to relax, but with a lot of activities

Today I opted for a day of leisure with in the morning a visit to the “Thermal bath” in Brigerbad. My Hotel Europe had an interesting offer for a “Badecombi”: a bus trip to and from the thermal bath and an entrance for three hours. So I got on the Postal car into the direction of Saas-Fee.

I passed the part of Brig, called Glis and the village of Gamsen, where I spotted a sign pointing towards the “Gamser Landmauer”, the Defensive wall of Gamsen. I had already read something about this defensive wall dating back to the 14th century on an information panel during my descent from Mund to Naters last Sunday. That wall I would like to visit on the way back, because this “Landmauer” is now a “Kulturdenkmal von nationaler Bedeutung“, a cultural site of national importance. After a while the Postal car arrived around 10 o’clock in the northern parts of Brigerbad, where I entered the Thermalbad Brigerbad. It is a generously designed wellness centre with many outdoor pools with different temperatures. It is not only mineral water (containing a. o. lithium), but also thermal water: the water has from its own a temperature between 21° and 50°C. It was wonderful to lay in the warm water. There is also the possibility of just swimming: one of the basins is 3 metres diep, where I unexpectedly went under – a strange experience, which proved once more that I really prefer splashing around over swimming… There also was a kind of snail’s shell with currents, that made me enthusiastic. The temperature of the air was pleasantly high already and the sun was shining on the northern mountain slope with the railway tracks of the BLS. At several levels beautiful borders with roses had been arranged and everything was spotless.

After about one-and-a-half hours in the water I was getting a bit hungry. The terrace of the Restaurant Cécile next-door looked tempting, with its large parasols. There were – understandably – dress codes, so I dress up again and sat down on the terrace for a cup of coffee. To start with, because next I read the menu… Meanwhile it is game season and I spotted something on the menu that made me giggle. One could also order a vegetarian version of “Venison with game garnishes”, with the title “Der Schuss ging daneben” – the shot went amiss! I would like to try that and I left the coffee to cool down until after the main course. So I had a large plate with all things I like, like red cabbage, stewed apples, sweet chestnuts, “Butterspätzle” (a variety of egg noodles from Germany and Switzerland), a bunch of white grapes and sweet red currants. In small bowls were cranberry cream sauce, pumpkin chutney and blueberry confiture. I could not resist the temptation of the Humagne rouge wine… This wine is made of the variety of grapes Cornalin d’Aoste, which is indigenous in the Swiss-Italian Alps. The wine can be described as “a ruby red to purple, powerful wine, rich in tannins, with a fruity bouquet of wild berries” – and that was quite true!

Strengthened by this meal I returned to the bus stop. There I saw a poster: it was an invitation to youngsters to become member of the “Tambouren- & Pfeiferverein Brigerbad“, the “Drums-& Pipers Club” of Brigerbad. I was only able to understand the text by reading it out loud: in the German spoken in the Valais ends of words are drawn to the next word. I also had to get used to the way greeting here. “Grüezi” or “Grüssig” for “Hello” are only spoken by (German speaking) tourists , but “Tag Wohl” (kind of “Day OK”…) is the greeting mostly used by the locals. And from around half past one in the afternoon it is “Abend” (“Evening”), although the sun is still burning in your neck! It is comparable to the “Bun di” in the Vallader of the Lower-Engadin: that is what you are supposed to say until around half past ten in the morning. Afterwards it is “Allegra”!

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Brigerbad: invitation to join the music club as a lesson in “Valais German”

The 13.04 hours Postal car turned out to be also a school bus full of loud children – the driver had to raise his voice to order them to be quiet. I was glad that I could get off the bus in Gamsen to visit the “Landmauer”. Gamsen has already known a long history: a tribe of the Celts have been living in this area some 3.000 years ago as well as about the start of our common era. They had a settlement, Waldmatten, situated a little higher up against the slopes of the Glishorn mountain. In preparation for the construction of the motorway A9 interesting excavations have been made. The stone wall dates from the 14th century and in the beginning was especially meant to keep the water of the mountain stream, the Gamsa, that flows into the Rhone near Gamsen, out of the village. Nowadays the wall starts near the main road running though Gamsen and at first glance doesn’t look very spectacular. A walk along the Landmauer wall has been created with information panels providing extensively the history of this wall. The website (in German) gives even more information. There is also a plaque on the wall, reading: “Dr. Sigmund Widmer (1919 – 2003) dem Retter der Landmauer in Dankbarkeit” (Dr. Sigmund Widmer (1919 – 2003) to the saviour of the Landmauer in thankfulness”). Dr. Widmer was an historian and politician from Zürich who from 1933 was committed to restore the Landmauer near Gamsen, the only “Letzi” (defensive wall) of this calibre in Switzerland and to save it for the next generations, supported by a widely shared foundation. It is a special construction: originally it was 6 metres high and over 2 metres wide. About the year 1350 it has been financed by several rulers in the area and built by different groups of workers over a length of 850 metres from the Rhone up to the southern part of the valley. Nowadays 600 metres of the wall has been conserved. The wall was partly meant as a protection against the flooding of the mountain stream Gamsa, but it also served as a strategical protection agains attacks from the west and as a barrier against the Plague.

There are more examples of such defensive walls in the Alpine area, i.e. in Mülenen in the Kandertal Valley, in the Bernese Oberland. However there are some particular features to be found in the “Talsperre” (“Blockage of the valley”) at Gamsen, which in old writings has been indicated as “murus de Briga” or “lantweri”. Because one could walk over the wall, “stairs” have been built at the side of the village: large slabs of stone stick out of the wall and in that way form the stairs. In addition it shows that the Landmauer also has towers. These towers served to guard the city gate. The towers are round and not square like in Central Switzerland. Here the influence of the Savoyard style of building defensive constructions is visible. Because the use of guns and canons has not yet been known by then, there aren’t any loop holes. The wall consists of two stone walls filled up with lime mortar.

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Gamsen: ground plan of a tower in the “Landmauer”

The wall also formed the border between the Oberste Zenden (Upper District) and the Untere Zenden (Lower District) in the Valais, which have been besetting each other between the 14th and 17th century. A “Zehnden” or also “Zenden” is the name of a district in the former Republic of Valais, the later Canton of Valais. Furthermore the wall forms a linguistic border: a word like “Käse” (cheese) is pronounced like “Chäs” to the north of the wall and as “Ches” to the south of the wall. To the north cows of the race “Braunvieh” are kept and to the south cows of the race “Fleckvieh”!

The wall is after over 650 years still a remarkable construction. At some places however the Landmauer has almost disappeared: because of the many times the Gamsa stream has been flooding a large amount of sediment has been heaping around the wall.

Here some more pictures of the “Landmauer” from different angles:

To the west of the wall a large industrial area had been developed over time, including an enormous waste incineration plant – it forms a sharp contrast: at some odd metres from the old defensive wall a high fence with a lot of barbed wire has been built. Just another kind of border! Notwithstanding the industrial character of these surroundings there is still room for nature development. Partly this development took place of its own, like the small lime tree forest, that has grown on the alluvial fans of the Gamsa stream. Because the roots are proliferating, the soil is fixed and erosion prevented. In the mini biotope a lot of animals live, also because of the “source of nectar” from the lime blossom.

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Gamsen: a small forest of lime trees near the “Landmauer”

Halfway the wall a large building is situated, a so-called “Sust” a warehouse, where goods are weighted and sold. This building has also been restored. At the times of the Landmauer such a warehouse was important for transit and transhipment of goods. Although some historians have their doubts about it and wonder if there has only been an large barn, others assume that there has actually been such a Sust: the valley near Gamsen is very narrow and the regular flooding caused the land to be marshy – therefore it is likely that the goods had to be transferred from charts onto animals of burden.

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Gamsen: a restored “Sust” (warehouse) close by the “Landmauer”

The visit to the Gamser Landmauer was again an interesting event on this beautiful, warm and sunny day!