Little St. Bernard Pass
The pass road is usually accessible from the beginning of June to the end of October.
Little St. Bernard is an Alpine pass, at 2,188 metres above sea level, linking the valley of Thuile, in Aosta Valley, with the Haute-Tarantaise, in France. Numerous archaeological and historical finds provide evidence of the frequentation of the area since the ancient times.
On the meadows on the right, just beyond the buildings of the former Italian Customs, you can see the earliest testimonies of Roman presence on the Alpis Graia, as they called this hill. These are the remains of the oriental mansio, unearthed and restored at the end of the 1920s. The size of its perimeter walls help us to understand the extent of this rectangular building, made up of a series of rooms surrounding a central courtyard, linked via an arcade to the Roman Road to Gaul, which runs parallel to the current road on the right. The “mansio” acted as a store and a shelter for wayfarers and the military. Next to and outside of this, right on the edge of the current paved road, there is a small temple, the gallo-roman fanum, perhaps dedicated to a Celtic divinity, considering the Roman custom of subjecting local worship habits to the Empire.
A short distance away, a much more ancient ruin can be observed: the “cromlech”, a large circle of 46 stones planted in the ground at 4 metres distance one from the other, right on the border between Italy and France, marks pre-Roman presence of man in the area, although the exact period of its construction is still not ascertainable.
The building beyond the former French Customs, on the right side, dating back to the Roman era, is also linked to the ancient Road to Gaul and, like the oriental mansio, has an internal courtyard surrounded by rooms. Here the sacred element is nevertheless predominating over the common use: indeed, apart from the sacellum for worship, detached from the other rooms, the construction uncovered a silver bust of Jupiter Dolichenus and several votive plaques of thanksgiving, today stored in the Museum of Archaeology in Aosta.
Jupiter also gave its name to the hill throughout the Middle Ages. Because of the presence of the 4.5 metres high marble column in front of the sanctuary and called the “Column of Joux”, the pass was named “Mons Minoris Iovis” and the Saint Bernard Hospice has been mentioned in documents as “Hospitale Columne Jovis”. Today, the column acts as a pedestal for the statue of Saint Bernard, replacing the former one dedicated to Jupiter, which was demolished, according to the legend, by Saint Bernard himself, once he arrived on the pass, for dismantling the symbols of paganism.
The Hospice, founded in the 11th century from Saint Bernard, was repeatedly destroyed by wars and fires, but was always rebuilt. It was abandoned after Second World War due to the violent bombardments; since 1993 its reconstruction began. At present it hosts the International Tourist Information Office as well as the Museum on the history of the Pass, the Valdigne and the region of Savoy .