Simplon Pass

One of Switzerland’s most famous and historical mountain passes is the Simplon, connecting the town of Brig in the upper, German-speaking part of the Canton (state) of Valais with Italy.

The Simplon Pass became a commercial lifeline in the 17th Century, when a Brig-based merchant, Kaspar Jodok von Stockalper, used it to import salt – a precious commodity at the time – and silk from Italy, sending it on to as far north as Belgium.

The Simplon route actually goes back to ancient Roman days, but became a major trans-alpine thoroughfare when Napoleon constructed a road over it between 1800 and 1806. A hundred years later, a 17-kilometer-long rail tunnel was opened, with a second one being added in 1922.

In 1831, Augustinian monks opened a monastery and hospice at the top of the pass (2,005 m. / 6,062 ft.), to provide food and shelter for travelers all year around. This tradition continues today.

The modern Simplon road is an easy drive for motorists. It is well built and open the year around. In the warmer season, there are numerous cafés and restaurants along the way. The pass is also served by Swiss postal buses, which go from Brig to as far as Domodossola, the main town at the Italian end of the pass..

The beautiful nature along the pass attracts many cyclists and hikers, as well as winter sports enthusiasts. High mountain ski-trekking is organized, even into the spring.

At the crest of the Simplon Pass is a stone eagle, which looks south – a monument recalling World War 2, when Swiss soldiers were stationed there to protect the country in the event of an Axis invasion, which fortunately never came.

Bob Zanotti visited the Simplon Pass together with his long-time friend, the late Canadian historian and geographer Professor Aubrey Diem, who had written extensively about this area, and lived not far away.