Great Saint Bernard pass

Looking at the map, the long range of the Alps seems to divide Europe in two from East to West. The mountain range opens routes for communication between the population of the south with that of the north.

The Great Saint Bernard is one of these routes. For a long time it was the main passage and one of the oldest known. Located at 2472 metres above sea level, the pass is dominated by Chenalette in the north, Mont Mort in the south and Pain de Sucre in the west.

Due to its position the valley is exposed to almost incessant winds and a temperature that fluctuates between a minimum of -30°C and a maximum of +19°C. The annual snowfall reaches and sometimes exceeds twenty metres.

Initially there was only a small path to climb the pass which ran alongside the shore of the lake.

Since Roman times, when the temple dedicated to Jupiter Poenius was built on the pass, the valley has constituted an important access route through the Alps. Around the Roman Temple, buildings have been discovered dating back to the same time, at an archaeological site known as Plan de Jupiter.

In 1045, Saint Bernard of Menthon built a hospice managed by a congregation of canons regular on the pass for the purpose of recovering, helping and protecting the many travellers, including pilgrims, who were following the Via Francigena.

At the start of the 16th century, the canons of the hospice bred large molosser dogs for guarding and protecting the Hospice, but also for the many other uses. The role that made them famous was to help the canons mark the route in the fresh snow, giving warnings of avalanches and finding travellers lost in the bad weather or buried by avalanches. From 1800s these dogs were to give rise to the breed now known as St Bernard.

If we were to mention all the famous people who marked this historical pass with their footprints, there would be some for every century. However, the most spectacular passage remains that of Napoleon who with his army of 40,000 men and 5,000 horses, 50 canons and 8 howitzers, crossed the valley in 1800. The passage of the artillery was arduous to say the least, and it took eight days for the entire army to pass.

In 1892 the current carriageway was opened on the Swiss side and only in 1905 on the Italian side.

The view of a small lake, frozen until late spring can be admired at the pass along with the breath-taking scenery of the surrounding mountains. The area is a destination for mountain skiing thanks to the snow which remains until the start of June, and for excursions during the summer.