Principal passes of the Alps

From Academic Kids

This article lists the principal mountain passes and tunnels in the Alps, and gives a history of transport across the Alps.


Road passes

Main chain

From west to east:

namelocationcountrieselevation (m)
Colle di CadibonaSavona to CevaI436
Colle di MelognoFinale Ligure to CevaI1028
Colle San BernardoAlbenga to GaressioI957
Colle di NavaImperia to OrmeaI934
Col de TendeTende to CuneoF, I1870
Maddalena Pass/Col de LarcheBarcelonnette to CuneoF, I1996
Col AgnelQueyras to SampeyreF, I2744
Col de MontgenèvreBriançon to SusaF, I1854
Col du Mont-CenisModane to SusaF, I2084
Little St Bernard PassBourg-Saint-Maurice to CourmayeurF, I2188
Great St. Bernard PassMartigny to AostaF, I2469
Simplon PassBrig to DomodossolaCH2005
Nufenen PassBrig to AiroloCH2478
St. Gotthard PassAndermatt to AiroloCH2108
Lukmanier PassDisentis to BiascaCH1916
San Bernardino PassSplügen to BellinzonaCH2065
Splügen PassSplügen to ChiavennaCH2113
Maloja PassSt. Moritz to ChiavennaCH2113
Bernina PassPontresina to TiranoCH2323
Fuorn PassZernez to Val MüstairCH, I2149
Reschen PassNauders to Meran-MeranoCH, I1507
Brenner PassInnsbruck to Brixen-BressanoneA, I1370
Großglockner-HochalpenstraßeZell am See to LienzA2505
Radstädter Tauern PassRadstadt to MauterndorfA1739
SchoberpassLiezen to LeobenA849
PräbichlEisenerz to LeobenA1204
Aflenzer SeebergMariazell to Bruck an der MurA1254
SemmeringGloggnitz to MürzzuschlagA965

Other passes

Detailed lists of passes are given by Alpine subdivision, see the following articles:

Road tunnels

Main chain, from west to east:

namelocationcountrieslength (km)
Tunnel de TendeTende to CuneoF, I3.2
Tunnel de FréjusModane to SusaF, I12.9
Mont Blanc TunnelChamonix to CourmayeurF, I11.6
Great St Bernard TunnelMartigny to AostaCH, I5.9
Simplon tunnelBrig to DomodossolaCH, I19.8
St. Gotthard TunnelGöschenen to AiroloCH17
San Bernardino (road tunnel)Splügen to BellinzonaCH7.7
Felbertauern tunnelMittersill to LienzA5.3
Tauern tunnelEben im Pongau to Sankt Michael im LungauA6.4

Railroad passes and tunnels

Main chain, from west to east:

namepass or tunnellocationcountrieselevation (m)
AltarepassSavona to CevaI436
Tunnel de TendetunnelTende to CuneoF, I?
Tunnel de FréjustunnelModane to SusaF, I?
Simplon tunneltunnelBrig to DomodossolaCH, I?
St. Gotthard TunneltunnelGöschenen to AiroloCH?
Bernina PasspassPontresina to TiranoCH2323
Brenner PasspassInnsbruck to Brixen-BressanoneA, I1370
Tauern tunneltunnelBad Gastein to ObervellachA?
SchoberpasspassLiezen to LeobenA849
PräbichlpassEisenerz to LeobenA1204
SemmeringpassGloggnitz to MürzzuschlagA965


Though the Alps form a barrier they have never been an impassable barrier. From earliest days onwards, they have been traversed first, perhaps, for purposes of war or commerce, & later by pilgrims, students and tourists. Places where they were crossed are called passes (this word is sometimes, though rarely, applied to gorges only), and are points at which the alpine chain sinks to form depressions, up to which deep-cut valleys lead from the plains & hilly pre-mountainous zones. Hence the oldest names for such passes are Mont (still retained in cases of Mont Cenis and Monte Moro), for it was many ages before this term was especially applied to peaks of the Alps, which with a few very rare exceptions (e.g. the Monte Viso was known to the Romans as Vesulus) were for long just disregarded.

Native inhabitants of the Alps were naturally first to use the passes. But to the outer world the passes first became known when the Romans crossed them to raid or conquer the region beyond. In the one case we have no direct knowledge (though Romans probably selected passes pointed out to them by the natives as easiest), while in the other we hear almost exclusively of passes across the main chain or the principal passes of the Alps. For obvious reasons, Romans, once having found an "easy" way across the chain, did not trouble to seek for harder and more devious routes. Hence, passes that can be shown as certainly known to them are relatively few in number: they are, in topographical order from west to east, the Col de l'Argentiere, the Mont Genevre, the two St Bernard passes, the Splugen pass, the Septimer pass, the Brenner pass, the Radstadter Tauern pass, the Solkscharte pass, the Plocken pass and the Pontebba pass (or Saifnitz pass).

Of these the Mont Genevre and the Brenner were the most frequented, while it will be noticed that in the Central Alps only two passes (the Splugen and the Septimer) were certainly known to the Romans. In fact the central portion of the Alps was by far the least Romanised and least known till the early middle ages. Thus the Simplon is first certainly mentioned in 1235, the St Gotthard (without name) in 1236, the Lukmanier in 965, the San Bernardino in 941; of course they may have been known before, but authentic history is silent as regards them till the dates specified. Even the Mont Cenis (from the 15th to the 19th century the favourite pass for travellers going from France to Italy) is first heard of in 756 only.

In the 13th century many hitherto unknown passes came into prominence, even some of the easy glacier passes. It should always be borne in mind that in the Western and Central Alps there is but one ridge to cross, to which access is gained by a deep-cut valley, though often it would be shorter to cross a second pass in order to gain the plains, e.g. the Mont Genevre, that is most directly reached by the Col du Lautaret; and the Simplon, which is best gained by one of the lower passes over the western portion of the Bernese Oberland chain. On the other hand, in the Eastern Alps, it is generally necessary to cross three distinct ridges between the northern and southern plains, the Central ridge being the highest and most difficult. Thus the passes which crossed a single ridge, and did not involve too great a detour through a long valley of approach, became the most important and the most popular, e.g. the Mont Cenis, ihe Great St Bernard, the St Gotthard, the Septimer and the Brenner.

As time went on the travellers (with whatever object) who used the great alpine passes could not put up any longer with the bad old mule paths. A few passes (e.g. the Semmering, the Brenner, the Tenda and the Arlberg) can boast of carriage roads constructed before 1800, while those over the Umbrail and the Great St Bernard were not completed till the early years of the 20th century. Most of the carriage roads across the great alpine passes were thus constructed in the 19th century (particularly its first half), largely owing to the impetus given by Napoleon. As late as 1905, the highest pass over the main chain that had a carriage road was the Great St Bernard (8111 feet), but three still higher passes over side ridges have roads -- the Stelvio (9055 feet), the Col du Galibier (8721 feet), in the Dauphine Alps, and the Umbrail Pass (8242 feet).

Still more recently the main alpine chain has been subjected to the further indignity of having railway lines carried over it or through it -- the Brenner and the Pontebba lines being cases of the former, and the Col de Tenda, the Mont Cenis (though the tunnel is really 17 miles to the west), the Simplon and the St Gotthard, not to speak of the side passes of the Arlberg, Albula and Pyhrn of the latter. There are also schemes (more or less advanced) for piercing the Splugen and the Hohe Tauern, both on the main ridge, and the Lotschen Pass, on one of the external ranges. The numerous mountain railways, chiefly in Switzerland, up various peaks (e.g. the Rigi and Pilatus) and over various side passes (e.g. the Brunig and the Little Scheidegg) do not concern us here.

See also: Alps


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