Thursday, July 7, 2011

Exploring the History of the Rhone Valley 7.7


Photos (top to bottom): photos 1&2: the Valais; photo3-7: just outside Montreux on Lake Geneva at a strategic point where the road constricts; photos 8-12: evidence of WWII defenses in the Valais (note the 5th c abby in photo 11); photos 13-21: in and around the Gorges of Triege (note the camouflaged artillery emplacements in photos 14&15, first constructed in WWI).

Rupert Marks, the IB Coordinator at Open Gate School, explained that while a summer activities coordinator in Leysin, he had entered a civil defense tunnel from the Grand Hotel, which led into the mountainside and connected to other tunnels from other hotels.

Having explored the basement and even the sub-basement of the renovating LAS (Leysin American School) in the past two summers, how could we have missed this? Tunnels into the mountainside?

Neither LAS administrator Christoph Ott, nor local historian Veronique Bernard, knew anything of these tunnels and saw the story as just another urban myth. However, bunkers and bomb shelters are common throughout Switzerland, vestiges of two world wars and one cold war, particularly in areas of strategic importance.

I spent an afternoon with Veronique visiting a half dozen sites in the Valais (the upper Rhone Valley, from its headwaters to Lake Geneva) where WWI and WWII bunkers are easily observed, camouflaged in the otherwise breathtaking scenery.

The Valais is rich in history, with Roman ruins, and medieval churches, monasteries and abbeys. Note the following:

As in neighbouring Vaud, Julius Caesar was an early 'tourist' in these parts. Historians fail to record whether he packed his skis, but we do know the Roman leader brought an army to conquer the Celtic community living in the valley, penetrating as far as Sierre. Once under Roman domination, it appears the four Celtic tribes of the Valais were peaceably integrated into the Roman system. Artefacts and archaeological remains still attest to the passage of the rambling general and his boys from Rome.

Sion became a key centre in the valley when the Bishop of Valais blessed the town with his presence, making his home there from AD 580. By 1000, the bishop's power stretched from Martigny to the Furka Pass.

That power did not go uncontested. A succession of Dukes of Savoy managed to encroach on the bishops' territory and a Savoyard army besieged Sion in 1475. With the help of the Swiss Confederation, the city was freed at the battle of Planta. Internal opposition was just as weighty and the independently minded communes that made up the Valais region stripped the bishops of their secular power in the 1630s, shifting the levers of control into the hands of the Diet, a regional parliament.

The Valais was not invaded again until Napoleon Bonaparte called by in 1798. The little man with big plans was determined to dominate the routes into Italy. Valais joined the Swiss Confederation in 1815.

from Lonely Planet


Cultural jewel of the Portes-du-Soleil - Chablais Region, Saint-Maurice is situated between the Lake Geneva's shores and the alpine peaks. Bathed by the Rhône River, this little charming city beholds a cultural heritage and a religious prestige.

Following the martyrdom of Saint-Maurice at the end of the IIIrd century, the antique village of Acaunus becomes an important place for pilgrimage on the via Francigena connecting Canterbury to Rome. The Abbey has been overlooking the city for about fifteen centuries. Protected site of national importance, Saint-Maurice is today a place for excursions and enriching stays. 

The Abbey of Saint-Maurice was founded in 515 by Sigismond, king of the Burgondes. Its precious goldsmith collection shows how rich its past is. Commemorated every 22nd day of September, the martyrdom of Saint-Maurice is at the origin of this Christian importance.

The castle with its rich past, is also a place for exhibitions. It is surrounded by forts and overlooks the medieval bridge. Alongside the Rhône River, numerous hiking itineraries and theme paths invite you to discover the region. 

Throughout thousands of years, water has dug into the rock to later give birth to the Fairies' Cave. Its little underground lake and its waterfall have enchanted visitors since 1863. The Cindey Forts and the Scex Forts galleries unveil the hidden military works which were also once classified as "top secret".

from My Switzerland

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