Urnerloch


Useful Information

Vue de l'entrée, Aquatinta, Straub Weber, Leuthold Zürich um 1840.
Vue de la Sortie de l'Urnerloch, Aquatinta, Dikenmann, Zürich um 1850.
Location: Near Andermatt.
(46.651786, 8.585670)
Open: no restrictions.
[2021]
Fee: free.
[2021]
Classification: SubterraneaTunnel
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=60m, W=2.1 m, H=2.4 m.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: yes
Bibliography: Robert Schedler (1919): Der Schmied von Göschenen, . Deutsch - German
Meinrad Lienert (1915): Schweizer Sagen und Heldengeschichten. Deutsch - German
Address: Andermatt-Urserntal Tourismus GmbH, Gotthardstrasse 2, 6490 Andermatt, Tel: +41-41-888-71-00. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

20-SEP-1707 contract for the construction of the tunnel signed.
15-AUG-1708 Tunnel completed.
1830 tunnel extended for coaches.
1954 tunnel extended for two lane road.
2014 renovation of the tunnels and additional security measures.

Description

the old and new Devils Bridge. Picture by Markus Schweiß, © GNU FDL
"Das Urner-Loch von der Teüfels-Brüke anzusehen" (the Urnerloch as seen from the Devils Bridge), Salomon Gessner, 1781. Schöllenenschlucht, Switzerland. Public Domain.

The Urnerloch is really an exceptional tunnel, as it is one of the first road tunnels ever built! Actually it is not the oldest, not even in the Alps, the oldest tunnel is the SubterraneaBuco di Viso at the French-Italian border. The statement that this is one of the oldest tunnel seems weird for another reason. Since antiquity tunnels were built, which means there are tunnels which are 2,000 years older. However, the statement is that this is the oldest tunnel which was used for traffic. Tunnels were built for mining or as aqueducts to transport drinking water and sometimes sewage. But the idea to build a road through a mountain is rather young. Today it's the opposite, almost any tunnel which is built is intended for a road or a railroad.

The Urnerloch is located at an important north-south route through the Alps, the Gotthard Pass road. The pass height is only 1,170 m asl, which makes it a rather low and easy pass across the Alps. The main problem of the Gotthard Pass was always the narrow gorge called GorgeSchöllenenschlucht. It could not be crossed, and so it was necessary to cross the Bätzberg which meant a 600 m height difference. So the Gotthard actually required crossing two passes instead of one. This obstacle was overcome by two important constructions, the Twärrenbrücke and the Teufelsbrücke (Devils Bridge). The story of the Devils Bridge, and how it got its name, is told in a legend.

The council of Urn went to the dangerous place in the gorge of the river Reuss. They discussed the problems for hours, but got no result. Finally, one of the councilmen went so angry that he shouted: "Do sell der Tyfel e Brigge bue!" (There may the devil build a bridge!). Immediatly the devil appeared and told, he would build the bridge, if he got the soul of the first one crossing the bridge. The clerk of the council noted this agreement, and the following day a stone bridge crossed the gorge. But now the price had to be paid. One councilman asked a few boys to drive a huge billy goat across the bridge. When the goat saw the devil with his horns, it paced towards him. The devil became so angry that he was tricked, he teared the goat to tatters.

But that was only one half of the problem. There was still another steep wall along the gorge. A blacksmith from Göschenen or Andermatt had an idea: he mounted iron chains into the vertical rock and stuck wooden planks through the loops in the chains. This bridge was called the Seventh Bridge or Twärrenbrücke. It worked well and the simple connection caused an enormous boom across the pass. But the problem was, that the bridge was destroyed by floods now and then. And every time it had to be reconstructed.

After another flood in 1707, the bridge was destroyed completely and also part of the road. Now the people planned to construct a safe alternative. Pietro Moretti (*1660–✝1737), who lived in Locarno and originated from the Val Maggia, was colonel and engineer. He was an apprentice of the famous French architect Vauban, who was well known for his fortresses. Moretti was asked to build a tunnel, and signed a contract in the same year. He was liable to ensure the traffic in spring 1709, but he needed only eleven months, and the tunnel was opened in August 1708. Two people died during the construction and the costs were about two times higher than planned, because of unforeseen problems. And the Twärrenbrücke was no longer maintained and allowed to collapse.

Morettini miscalculated the costs so badly that he was bankrupt after the tunnel was completed. However, the people of Uri recognised the incredible benefit of the tunnel and decided to raise the toll. With the improved connection, a lot more goods and people could be transported at lower cost. In addition, the local goods, such as the famous "Ursener Käs" or the crystals of the valley, were now traded all over Europe. The new tunnel was so important, traffic across the pass almost exploded, despite the increased toll. With this money they made Morettini debt-free and he even received a bonus.

The Urnerloch still exists, but it has changed substantially. First it was extended for the first road which was built through the gorge and was completed in 1830. It was a narrow road but suitable for horse driven coaches and sleds. The tunnel then had a size adapted to the size of the coaches. In 1954, when the modern two lane road for cars was built, it was again enlarged. Later a 300 m long gallery was added at the lower entrance as a protection against rockfall and avalanches. And in 2014, when the whole road was modernized, the tunnel was also repaired and extended. As a result the tunnel today actually looks like any other modern tunnel in Switzerland. If you are very careful you can see a small sign at the entrance stating the name of the tunnel.