Voiced report on the long history of the Gotthard mountains
It’s one of the most iconic sites in Switzerland.
The Gotthard massif in the northwestern Alps is one of the continent's most formidable natural barriers, barring the way between northern and southern Europe.
For centuries, this was a key trade route for goods travelling from Germany to Italy, and an important military stronghold.
SOUNDBITE 1, Kilian T Elsasser, Transport Historian:
"In the 1500s it was the idea that because all the rivers start in this region, they thought it must be the highest region of the Alps. The difference between the Jungfrau or the Matterhorn and the Gotthard is that the Jungfrau and Matterhorn do have an image – when you say ‘Matterhorn’, you just see it in your head; when you say ‘Gotthard’, there are 20 different images. Someone said once that Gotthard has no image, but a lot of stories."
The only way to cross the Gotthard until modern times was by negotiating a narrow pass that forded turbulent rivers and scaled sheer granite gorges.
This wild, mountainous Gotthard Pass captured the imagination of Europe’s artists, from William Turner, who painted the famous Devil’s Bridge, to Romantic poets like Goethe.
The idea of tunnelling straight through this rock was an enormous undertaking – and an expensive one, the brainchild of the Swiss industrialist Alfred Escher.
Excavations on a first rail tunnel began in 1871, with workers using hammers, chisels and the newly-patented dynamite. It was slow and risky progress, with the tunnel advancing by just a meter a day in the beginning.
But when it was finally completed, ten years later, it was the world’s longest tunnel, and one of its greatest engineering achievements.
It was this line that was first electrified by Brown Boveri & Co., the forerunner to ABB, in the 1920s.
Now, ABB engineering has helped complete a new tunnel, and one of the most groundbreaking rail projects ever attempted.
"Switzerland is a very small country. I think to build such a tunnel in a country with 8 million inhabitants is really something special. And I think…we don't have the fastest train, the longest train, the highest train – but our pride is to have the longest tunnel, which we do have now for the third time, and I hope for a long time to come."
This newly-completed tunnel reaches all the way through the very base of the Gotthard massif, to form the longest and the deepest tunnel anywhere on the globe – powered and ventilated by ABB engineering.
It's a worthy successor to the past achievements of this imposing region…a landmark project connecting Europe together from north to south.
And a suitably iconic milestone in the long and legendary history of Gotthard.
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