Principal passes of the Alps

This article lists the principal mountain passes and tunnels in the Alps, and gives a history of transport across the Alps.

Road passes

Main chain

Paved road passes across the main chain of the Alps, from west to east:

namelocationcountrieselevation (m)
Colle di CadibonaSavona to CevaItaly436
Colle del MelognoFinale Ligure to CevaItaly1028
Giogo di ToiranoToirano to CalizzanoItaly807
Colle ScravaionAlbenga to CalizzanoItaly820
Colle San BernardoAlbenga to GaressioItaly957
Passo di PraleCisano sul Neva to OrmeaItaly1258
Colle di NavaImperia to OrmeaItaly934
Colle San Bernardo di MendaticaTriora and Mendatica to Ormea (through Colle di Nava)Italy1262
Col de TendeTende to CuneoFrance, Italy1870
Col de la LombardeIsola to VinadioFrance, Italy2350
Maddalena Pass/Col de LarcheBarcelonnette to CuneoFrance, Italy1996
Col AgnelQueyras to SampeyreFrance, Italy2744
Col de MontgenèvreBriançon to SusaFrance1854
Col de l'ÉchelleBriançon to BardonecchiaFrance, Italy1762
Col du Mont CenisModane to SusaFrance2084
Little St Bernard PassBourg-Saint-Maurice to Prè-Saint-DidierFrance, Italy2188
Great St Bernard PassMartigny to AostaSwitzerland, Italy2469
Simplon PassBrig to DomodossolaSwitzerland2005
Nufenen PassBrig to AiroloSwitzerland2478
St Gotthard PassAndermatt to AiroloSwitzerland2108
Lukmanier PassDisentis to BiascaSwitzerland1916
San Bernardino PassSplügen to BellinzonaSwitzerland2065
Splügen PassSplügen to ChiavennaSwitzerland, Italy2113
Maloja PassSt. Moritz to ChiavennaSwitzerland1815
Bernina PassPontresina to TiranoSwitzerland2323
Livigno PassPoschiavo to LivignoSwitzerland, Italy2315
Foscagno PassBormio to LivignoItaly2291
Fuorn PassZernez to Val MüstairSwitzerland2149
Reschen PassNauders to MeranAustria, Italy1507
TimmelsjochÖtztal valley to MeranAustria, Italy2474
Brenner PassInnsbruck to SterzingAustria, Italy1370
HochtorZell am See to LienzAustria2505
Radstädter Tauern PassRadstadt to MauterndorfAustria1739
Sölk PassSchöder to GröbmingAustria1788
Triebener Tauern PassJudenburg to TriebenAustria1274
Schober PassLiezen to LeobenAustria849
PräbichlEisenerz to LeobenAustria1204
Aflenzer SeebergMariazell to Bruck an der MurAustria1254
Niederalpl PassMürzsteg to GußwerkAustria1221
LahnsattelMürzsteg to MariazellAustria1006
OchsattelSchwarzau im Gebirge to HohenbergAustria820
Kalte KuchlSchwarzau im Gebirge to Rohrbach an der GölsenAustria728
Gerichtsberg PassAltenmarkt an der Triesting to HainfeldAustria581

Other passes

Detailed lists of passes are given by Alpine subdivision, see the following articles:

Road tunnels

Main chain, from west to east:

namelocationcountrieslength (km)
Col de Tende Road TunnelTende to CuneoFrance, Italy3.2
Fréjus Road TunnelModane to SusaFrance, Italy12.9
Mont Blanc TunnelChamonix to CourmayeurFrance, Italy11.6
Great St Bernard TunnelMartigny to AostaSwitzerland, Italy5.9
St. Gotthard TunnelGöschenen to AiroloSwitzerland17
San Bernardino TunnelSplügen to BellinzonaSwitzerland7.7
Felbertauern TunnelMittersill to LienzAustria5.3
Tauern Road TunnelEben im Pongau to Sankt Michael im LungauAustria6.4

Notable other tunnels:

namelocationcountrieslength (km)
Arlberg TunnelLangen am Arlberg to St. Anton am ArlbergAustria13.976
Karawanks TunnelVillach to JeseniceAustria, Slovenia7.864

Railway passes and tunnels

Main chain, from west to east:

nametypelocationcountrieslength (km)elevation (m)
Colle di CadibonapassSavona to CevaItaly436
Tunnel de TendetunnelTende to CuneoFrance, Italy8.1
Fréjus Rail TunneltunnelModane to SusaFrance, Italy13.7
Simplon TunneltunnelBrig to DomodossolaSwitzerland, Italy19.8
Gotthard Rail TunneltunnelGöschenen to AiroloSwitzerland15
Bernina PasspassPontresina to TiranoSwitzerland2323
Brenner PasspassInnsbruck to SterzingAustria, Italy1370
Tauern tunneltunnelBad Gastein to ObervellachAustria8.6
SchoberpasspassLiezen to LeobenAustria849
PräbichlpassEisenerz to LeobenAustria1204

Notable other railway passes and tunnels:

nametypelocationcountrieslength (km)elevation (m)
Arlberg Railway TunneltunnelLangen am Arlberg to St. Anton am ArlbergAustria10.61303
Karawanks TunneltunnelVillach to JeseniceAustria, Slovenia8.0
Lötschberg Base TunneltunnelSpiez to BrigSwitzerland34.6
Lötschberg TunneltunnelSpiez to BrigSwitzerland14.6
Oberalp PasspassAndermatt to DisentisSwitzerland2044
SemmeringtunnelGloggnitz to MürzzuschlagAustria1.5965


Places where the Alps were crossed are called passes, and are points at which the alpine chain sinks to form depressions, up to which deep-cut valleys lead from the plains & hilly pre-mountainous zones. The oldest names for such passes are Mont (still retained in cases of Mont Cenis and Monte Moro), for it was many ages before this term was applied to mountains themselves, which with a few very rare exceptions (e.g. Monte Viso was known to the Romans as Vesulus) were for a long time disregarded.[1]

Native inhabitants of the Alps were naturally the first to use the passes. The passes first became known to the outside world when the Romans crossed them to raid or conquer the region beyond. Romans, once having found an "easy" way across the chain, did not trouble to seek for harder and more devious routes. Hence, passes that can be shown as certainly known to them are relatively few in number: they are, in topographical order from west to east, the Col de l'Argentiere, the Col de Montgenèvre, the col du Mont Cenis, the two St Bernard passes (Little St Bernard Pass and Great St. Bernard Pass), the Splügen Pass, the Septimer Pass, the Reschen Pass, the Brenner Pass, the Plöcken Pass, the Pontebba Pass (or Saifnitz Pass), the Radstädter Tauern Pass and the Solkscharte Pass or Sölk Pass.[1]

Of these the Montgenèvre and the Brenner were the most frequented. In the Central Alps only two passes (the Splügen and the Septimer) were certainly known to the Romans. In fact the central portion of the Alps was by far the least Romanised region until the early Middle Ages. Thus the Simplon is first definitely mentioned in 1235, the St Gotthard in 1236, the Lukmanier in 965, the San Bernardino in 941; of course they may have been known before, but authentic history is silent as regards them till the dates specified. Even the Mont Cenis (from the 15th to the 19th century the favourite pass for travellers going from France to Italy) is first heard of only in 756.[2]

In the 13th century many hitherto unknown passes came into prominence, even some of the easy glacier passes. In the Western and Central Alps there is only one ridge to cross, to which access is gained by a deep-cut valley, though often it would be shorter to cross a second pass in order to reach the plains, e.g. the Montgenèvre, that is most directly reached by the Col du Lautaret; and the Simplon, which is best reached by one of the lower passes over the western portion of the Bernese Oberland chain. On the other hand, in the Eastern Alps, it is generally necessary to cross three distinct ridges between the northern and southern plains, the Central ridge being the highest and most difficult to cross. Thus the passes which crossed a single ridge, and did not involve too great a detour through a long valley of approach, became the most important and the most popular, e.g. the Mont Cenis, the Great St Bernard, the St Gotthard, the Septimer and the Brenner.[3]

As time went on the Alpine passes were improved to make travel easier. A few passes (e.g. the Semmering, the Brenner, the Col de Tende and the Arlberg) had carriage roads constructed before 1800, while those over the Umbrail and the Great St Bernard were not completed till the early years of the 20th century. Most of the carriage roads across the great alpine passes were thus constructed in the first half of the 19th century, largely due to the Napoleon's need for such roads as modes of military transport. As late as 1905, the highest pass over the main chain that had a carriage road was the Great St Bernard (2,472 m (8,111 ft)), but three still higher passes over side ridges have roads—the col de l'Iseran, the Stelvio Pass (2,760 m (9,040 ft)), the Col du Galibier (2,658 m (8,721 ft)), in the Dauphiné Alps, and the Umbrail Pass (2,512 m (8,242 ft)).[3]

Railway lines, like the Brenner and the Pontebba lines, were added to speed travel through the passes and tunnels supplemented passes at the Col de Tenda, the Mont Cenis, the Simplon and the St Gotthard.[3]

See also


  1. 1 2 Knox 1911, p. 740.
  2. Knox 1911, pp. 740–741.
  3. 1 2 3 Knox 1911, p. 741.


Further reading

Coordinates: 47°36′12″N 11°38′08″E / 47.60333°N 11.63556°E / 47.60333; 11.63556

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