1902 Encyclopedia > Grisons


GRISONS (German, Graubiinden) is the largest and easternmost of the Swiss cantons. It is 80 miles in length from E.N.E. to W.S.W., and 45 in breadth, and has a» area of 2963 square miles. On the N.E. and E. it abuts against the little principality of Liechtenstein, and the Austrian provinces of Tyrol and Vorarlberg, on the S. on the Italian provinces of Val Tellina and Como, and on the W. and N. on the Swiss cantons of Ticino, Uri, Glarus, and St Gall.

The whole canton is mountainous, and, with the exception of the Bhine valley below Beichenau and the Italian valleys, which still form part of it, has a severe alpine climate and vegetation. One-tenth of the surface is covered by glaciers. The five principal glacier groups are those of the Todi, N. ; the Medelser Gebirge and the Bheinwald or Adula Gebirge, containing the chief source of the Bhine, S.W. ; the Bernina group, the largest and loftiest, S.E.; and the Silvretta Gebirge, E. The principal valleys are the Vorder and Hinter Rheinthaler, with their side-valleys the Valserthal, Averserthal, Oberhalbstein, and Priitigau, forming together the upper basin of the Rhine. Besides these, the canton includes the long narrow trough of the upper Inn, and the Italian valleys of Misocco, Bregaglia, and Poschiavo, whose streams join the Ticino or the Adda. The high average elevation of the country, with the absence of any large lake, renders the scenery more severe than that of central Switzerland, and the mountain summits less imposing. The most fertile valleys are the Priitigau and Rheinthal below Ilanz. The lower chains are rent by many great gorges. The Via Mala, the Rofla, and the Schyn are the best known, but those of the Zuge, the Averserthal, Medelserthal, and Valserthal are almost equal to them in grandeur. In the Rheinthal below Chur the vine flourishes and good wine is produced, and the Cisalpine territory bears the usual products of the southern slope of the Alps, maize and chestnuts. At Poschiavo tobacco is cultivated to some extent. The inner valleys are the highest of Central Europe, containing several villages at an elevation of about 6000 feet (St Moritz, Engadine, 6080; Bivio, Oberhalb-stein, 5827; Cresta, in the Averserthal, 6394 ; snow lies there for six or seven months in the year, and corn will not ripen. The hay-harvest is the great agricultural event of the year, and is so large that great numbers of Italian labourers are annually employed in it. The forests and pasturages are the chief source of wealth. The lower Alps maintain a fine breed of cows ; the upper are let to Bergamasque shepherds, who drive yearly immense flocks of sheep from North Italy for the summer pasturage. There are many mineral springs in the country; the most frequented are at Alveneu, Fideris, Le Prese, and San Ber-nardino, besides those in the Engadine (see ENGADINE).

The Grisons is sparsely peopled. The population in 1870 amounted to 91,782—39,843 Protestants and 51,877 Catholics. 36,000 speak German and 12,000 Italian. The remainder use the Eomansch or the Ladin dialect, probably corrupt descendants of the old " lingua rustica" of the Roman empire. The former is dying out in some districts on the Tyrolese frontier, and German is now everywhere taught in the schools. A large portion of the population find occupation and profit in the summer in attending to the wrants of the numerous visitors attracted by the scenery or the mineral waters. There is a considerable transport trade with Italy, particularly in Val Tellina wines. Many of the young men seek their fortunes abroad as confec-tioners and coffee-house keepers.

Since Roman times the passes of the Grisons have been among the most frequented routes across the Alps. The Julier and Bernina, the Septimer, Splugen, and Lukmanier, were the most used in the Middle Ages. In 1818-23 the great road of the San Bernardino was made, and it was soon rivalled by the Splugen. The internal communica-tions of the canton have been greatly developed in the last twenty years. The following are the principal carriage roads:—(1) the Ober Alp, Vorderrheinthal to Uri; (2) the Valserberg, Ilanz to Hinterrhein; (3) the Schyn, Julier, Albula, and Fluela Passes, connecting the Bhine valley and Davos district with the Engadine; (4) the Maloya and Bernina Passes, connecting the Upper Engadine with Chiavenna and Val Tellina respectively; (5) the Ofen Pass and the road following the gorge of the Inn to Fin-stormuntz, Leading into Tyrol.

Two districts, the Upper Engadine and Davos, have lately acquired European fame as health resorts. Davos now receives every winter over 1000 consumptive patients. Statistics show that diseases of the lungs are very rare in high mountain districts, and local doctors observed that inhabitants who had contracted them in the plain recovered speedily on their return home. Davos is singu-larly well situated for a sanatarium for these diseases. The climate, owing to its distance from the warm currents rising from the Italian plain, is, though severe, singularly dry and equable in winter, and the valley is open and sunny. Many good hotels offer every comfort to invalids.

History.—The Rhoeti, the original inhabitants of the region now known as Graubiinden, who were conquered under Augustus by the Romans, are reputed to have been an Etruscan race who had emigrated thither 500 years B.C. The Romans established numer-ous roads through the country, and held it in subjection until the downfall of their empire. In 496 A.D. Tlreodoric the Great settled some Alemanni in Rluetia. In 807 the district was incorporated by Charles the Great in his empire, and placed under a temporal count. In the middle of the 11th century, in the confusion conse-quent on the fall of the duchy of Alemannia, the bishop of Chur regained part of the temporal authority some of his predecessors had already held before 807, and in the early Middle Ages he appears as the most powerful among the petty rulers who disputed among themselves the right of oppressing the peasantry. Towards the end of the 14th century, the bishop of Chur supported the league formed by the neighbouring districts to resist the encroachment of the lay nobles. This was known as the Gotteshausbund, and had Chur (see COIRE) as its chief town. In 1424 the Oberbund, some-times called, perhaps from the grey coats of the delegates who assembled at Trons to confirm it, the Grauebund, was formed with the aid of the abbot of Dissentis and a party among the nobles in the Vorder Rheinthal. In 1436 the districts bordering on Tyrol, which had been vassals of the counts of Toggenburg (till the extinction of the line in that year), concluded, in imitation of their neighbours, a league known as the Zehngerichtenbund, with Davos for its centre. In 1450 the Zehngerichte formed an alliance with the Gotteshausbund, in 1471 with the Grauebund; but of the so-called "perpetual alliance" at Vazerol near Tiefenkasten there exists no authentic evidence in the oldest chronicles. It is certain, however, that several diets were held at Vazerol. Unhappily for the whole Grisons, nearly all the possessions of the Toggenburg family had fallen by 1489 to the house of Austria, to which an excuse was thus given for interference in the country. In 1497 the Grauebund and in 1498 the Gotteshausbund entered into alliance with the seven Swiss cantons. In 1499 the contest with Austria broke out. The memorable victory of the Malserheide or Calveu, in which the imperial troops were defeated with a loss of 5000 men, coupled with other disasters to his arms in North Switzerland weakened the authority of Maximilian, but the rights of Austria in the Zehngerichtenbund were only extinguished by purchase in 1652. In 1512 the Grisons took advantage of the war in Italy to lay hands on Val Tellina, Bormio, Chiavenna, and Val Misocco.

These acquisitions attracted, a hundred years later, the cupidity of the Spanish governor of Milan. The Grisons, torn between the French and the Spanish, the Reformed and Catholic parties, offered a favourable field for his intrigues. In 1620 the Protestants of Val Tellina were cruelly massacred, the Spaniards gained the district, and an Austrian force occupied the greater part of the Grisons. The Austrians were expelled in 1635 by the French, but the Grisons did not recover their full authority over their Italian possessions till 1639. They finally lost them when Napoleon annexed these districts to his Cisalpine republic, a measure confirmed by the con-gress of Vienna.

The obscure quarrels of the Planta and De Salis factions, dating from the 17th century, were put an end to by the Napoleonic wars and the appearance of great armies—French, Austrian, and Russian—upon the mountains. The incursion of the French was marked by the wanton destruction of the great convent of Dissentis, in which perished the chronicle of Dissentis, dating from the 7th century, and many of the MSS. of Placidus a Spescha, one of the first systematic explorers of his native Alps. In 1803 the Grisons, by virtue of Napoleon's act of mediation, became a member of the Swiss Confederation, retaining its internal government. This con-sists of a great council elected by universal suffrage, and meeting every year. Three citizens, elected yearly, form the executive government. A committee of 12 members assist them in weighty matters and in preparing bills for the chamber. Large powers of self-government are left to the separate communities. The consti-tution was last completely revised in 1853, but a further reform in an extreme democratic sense is now (1879) under debate.

For a list of ancient works on the Graubiinden, see Roder & Tseharner's Grau-biinden, Bern. 1838, and Georg of Basel's Bibliotheca Afpina Teriia, 1878. See also Theobald's Bundner Oberland and Naturbilder am den Rhatischen Alpen; Berlepsch's Graubiinden, Leipsic, 1858; Leonhardi's Das Posehiavino Thai, Leipsic, 1859; Lec-hner Das Thai Bergell, Leipsic, 1865; Coxe's Travels in Switzer-land, 1780; Mrs II. Frcshfield's Summer Tour in the Grisons, 1862 ; Conradin von Moor's Geschichte von Currdtien, Chur, 1870-74; P. C. Planta's Das alte Rdtien, Berlin, 1S72; Davos by one who knows it, 1878; Fortnightly Review, July 1878, Nov. 1879; Ball's Alpine Guide; and articles ALPS and ENGADINE. (D. W. F.)

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