1902 Encyclopedia > Valais

Valais, Switzerland




VALAIS (Germ., Wallis), one of the Swiss cantons, ranking as twentieth in the Confederation. Its name has been explained to mean the " Welsh land," as the Teutons called all non-Teutonic lands ; but it is far more probably derived from " vallis," for Valais is simply the " Vallis Pcenina," or valley of the Rhone, from its source to the gorge of St Maurice, together with some villages south of the Simplon Pass, and Monthey, Val d'llliez, and Bouveret beyond St Maurice, on the left bank of the river. The total area of the canton is 2026'3 square miles, which is exceeded only by that of Grisons (Graubiinden) and of Bern. Of this 930'4 square miles are classed as productive, forests cover-ing 243-2 and vineyards 9 ; of the remainder 375-l square miles consist of snow and ice. The highest point of the canton is Monte Bosa (15,217 feet), and within its borders rises the Dom (14,942 feet), the loftiest peak entirely in Swiss territory. The population in 1880 was 100,216 (males predominating), an increase of 3329 since 1870. French is the native tongue of 67,214 and German of 31,962, the former dwelling (roughly speaking) west and the latter east of a line drawn north and south across the valley of the Rhone between Sierre and Leuk. The bulk (99,316) of the inhabitants are staunch Roman Catholics. The canton forms the diocese of Sion (founded in 4th cen-tury), which before 1513 was in the ecclesiastical province of Moutiers-en-Tarentaise (Savoy), and since then has been immediately dependent on the pope. In the canton there are three famous houses of Austin canons regular—St Maurice (founded as a Benedictine monastery, as distinct from the see, in 515 by Sigismund of Burgundy), the hos-pice on the Great St Bernard (first mentioned in 1125), and that on the Simplon Pass (first mentioned in 1235). Ecclesiastical affairs are managed without any control or interference on the part of the state, though the cantonal legislative assembly selects as bishop one of four candi-dates nominated by the chapter of Sion. The only town of any size is the capital, Sion or Sitten (4871 inhabitants in 1880). The population are mainly engaged in agricul-tural pursuits, and great efforts have been made to improve matters lately, while the Rhone has been embanked to prevent disastrous floods. Much wine (e.g., Muscat and Vin du Glacier) and a vast quantity of grapes are exported. Education is compulsory and free, but very backward. A railway runs from Brieg to Bouveret. The mineral waters of Leukerbad and Saxon are well known, and in summer the canton is a favourite haunt of tourists.
The Vallis Pcenina was won by the Romans after a great fight at Octodurus (Martigny) in 57 B.C., and was so thoroughly Roman-ized that the Celtic aboriginal inhabitants and the Teutonic Bur-gundian invaders (5th cent.) became Romance - speaking peoples. According to a tradition which can be traced back to the middle of the 8th century, the "Theban legion" was martyred at St Maurice about 285. Valais formed part of the kingdom of Transjurane Burgundy (888), which fell to the empire in 1032, and later of the duchy of Burgundia Minor, which was held from the emperors by the house of Zaringen (extinct 1218). In 999 Rudolph III. of Burgundy gave all temporal rights and privileges to the bishop of Sion, who was later styled '' prsefect and count of the Valais," and is still a prince of the Holy Roman empire; the pretended donation of Charlemagne is not genuine. The bishops had much to do in keeping back the Zaringen, and later the counts of Savoy. The latter, however, succeeded in winning most of the land west of Sion, while in the upper part of the valley there were many feudal lords (such as the lords of Raron and the counts of Visp). About the middle of the 13th century we find independent communities or '' tithings " (" dizains " or " zehnten ") growing up. In the same century the upper part of the valley was colonized by Germans from Hash, (Bern), who thoroughly Teutonized it, though many Romance local names still remain. In 1354 the liberties of the seven "tithings" (Sion, Sierre, Leuk, Raron, Visp, Brieg, and Conches) were confirmed by the emperor Charles IV. A little later the influence of Savoy became predominant, and the count secured to his family the bishopric of Sion, of which he was already the suzerain. His progress was resisted by the tithings, which in 1388 utterly defeated the forces of the bishop, the count, and the nobles at Visp, this being a victory of the Teutonic over the Romance ele-ment in the land. From 1384 the Morge stream (a little below Sion) was recognized as the boundary between Savoyard or Lower Valais and episcopal or Upper Valais. For the connexion of the latter with the Val d'Ossola, see SWITZERLAND, vol. xxii. p. 785. By the election of Walther von Supersax of Conches as bishop in 1457 the Teutonic element finally won the supremacy. On the outbreak of the Burgundian "War the bishop of Sion and the tithings made a treaty with Bern. In November of the same year (1475) they seized all Lower "valais up to Martigny, and in 1476 (March), after the victory of Granson, won St Maurice, Evian, Thonon, and Monthey. The last three districts were given up in 1477, but won again in 1536, though finally by the treaty of 1569 Monthey, Val d'llliez, and Bouveret alone were permanently annexed to Valais. These conquered districts (or Lower Valais) were always ruled as subject lands by the bishop and tithings of Upper Valais. In 1533 a close alliance was made with the Catholic cantons ; but by 1551 the Protestants had won so much ground that toleration was pro-claimed by the local assembly. In 1586 Upper Valais became a member of the Golden League, and finally in 1603-4 the four tithings of Conches, Brieg, Visp-, and Raron carried the day in favour of the old faith against those of Leuk, Sierre, and Sion. In 1790-91 Lower Valais rose in revolt ; but it was not finally freed till 1798, wdien the whole of Valais became part of the Rhodanic, and then one of the cantons of the Helvetic, Republic. Such prolonged and fierce re-sistance was, however, offered to French rule by the inhabitants that in 1802 Bonaparte declared Valais an independent republic, yet in 1810, for strategic reasons, he incorporated it with France as the " department of the Simplón," and it was not freed till the Austrians came in 1813. In 1815 a local assembly was created, in wdiich each of the seven tithings of Upper and each of the six of Lower Valais (though the latter had nearly double the population of the former) elected four members, the bishop being given four votes. In 1832 Valais joined the League of Sarnen to maintain the Federal Pact of 1815. In 1838-40 it was convulsed by a struggle between the Con-servative and Radical parties, the split into two half cantons being only prevented by the arrival of Federal troops. The constitution was revised in 1839 and 1844 ; the local assembly was to be elected according to population, and the bishop was given a seat instead of his four votes. In 1843 Valais was one of the Sonderbund, and in 1844 civil war raged, many Liberals being slain at the bridge of Trient (May 1844). The introduction of the Jesuits embittered matters, and Valais was the last canton to submit in the Sonderbund War (1847) ; it contented itself, however, wdth voting steadily against the acceptance of the Federal constitutions of 1848 and 1874. By the constitution of 1847 all ecclesiastical immunities were swept away, and the bishop lost his seat in the assembly. That constitu-tion was revised in 1852, and the present one is dated 1875. There is now a legislative assembly of 101 members, elected for four years by all male citizens of twenty years, in the proportion of one mem-ber to 1000 inhabitants, and an executive council of five members, holding office for four years, and chosen by the legislative assembly, though in a certain proportion to the different districts of the canton (two for the upper part, one for Sion, two for the lower part). The " financial referendum " exists, by wdiich when a capital expendi-ture of £2400, or an annual one of ¡£800 for three years, is to be incurred, or it is proposed to raise the property tax higher than 1£ per cent., the proposal must be submitted to and approved by a popular vote.
See Furrer, Gesch. von Wallis (3 vols., 1S52-54) ; Gingins La Sarra, Développement de l'Indépendance du Haut Valais et Conquête du Bas Valais (1S14) ; and J. Gremaud, Documents Relatifs à l'Histoire du Valais (1S75 sq.). (W. A. B. C.)







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