1902 Encyclopedia > The Alps > Passes of the Alps

The Alps
(Part 4)


(d) Passes of the Alps

For ages before there existed any correct knowledge of the configuration of the Alpine chain, the needs of the war and commerce had urged the people dwelling on the opposite sides of the great barrier to seek out the easiest and most direct routes for traversing it. Hence the chief passes of the Alps have been known and frequented from a period antecedent to authentic history, while until a quite modern period little attention was given to the parts of the chain which did not lie in ot near the line of traffic. It is highly probable that many other passes, affording the easiest means of communication between adjacent valleys, have been known and used by the native population from a very remote period, but only those which served fro international purposes of war or peace became known at a distance, and are alluded to by ancient writers. A pass is a depression between two adjacent mountains, and the track is usually carried over the lowest part of the depression: but nevertheless nearly all the passes of the Alps involve a long ascent to reach the summit, and a long descent upon the opposite slopes. Hence the Romans, who were the first semi-civilized people to make extensive use of the Alpine passes, applied to each of them the term Mons.

The same names, more or less modified in the middle ages, have been preserved in the dialects of Latin origin that prevail throughout the western half of the Alpine chain, and the modern name for the chief passes are still Mont Genevre, Mont Cenis, Mont Iseran, Petit Mont St. Bernard, Grand Mont St. Bernard, Monte Moro, and Monte San Gottardo. In more recent times, since geographers have attempted to fix the names and positions of the chief summits of the Alps, they have been continually misled by the supposition that a name of high antiquity designating a mountain must belong to some prominent peak, The errors arising from that source have not yet disappeared from geographical works of high repute, but in point solely to the pass, and there is no neighboring peak entitles to the same designation. The more important passes of the Alps are enumerated in the following description of the chief groups of the Alps; but it may be here remarked that the direction of the main routes for traffic is not exclusively determined by the position of the lowest and easiest passes over the main chain. The configuration of the mountains is such that a traveler proceeding from Italy to France, Switzerland, or Germany, after crossing a comparatively easy pass over the main chain, may find it necessary to traverse a second and loftier pass over a lateral chain, or else follow a circuitous route that may double the length of his journey. Thus a traveler going from Turin to Lyons, who should take what appears to be the direct course over the pass of Mont Genevre, the easiest in the whole range of the western Alps, will find on descending to Briacon that he must cross the much higher and more difficult pass of the Col de Lautaret, or else descend along the Durance till it emerges into the lower country near Gap, and thus more than double the length of his journey. Including the Semmering Pass, there is now not less than 60 Alpine passes that are traversed by carriage roads; and besides are in course of construction.

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