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A stroll into the past

Ballenberg (see top story) is not the only open-air museum in the country. Here is a short guide to some of Switzerland's open-air museums which provide a peak into the past.

The Eco museum Simplon is not an enclosed area but a natural and man-made landscape that stretches along the old Simplon Pass between canton Valais and Italy.

It explores the relation previous inhabitants of the area had with the natural surroundings in different periods. Before the advent of the train, the old Simplon was one of the main routes across the Alps. Many of the buildings the museum has restored are a witness to this past.

"Visiting" the museum, or even part of it, takes time and effort. Walking trails link most exhibits. Some meander past Alpine summer settlements, medieval peasant dwellings, a 17th century chalk mine, over bridges and by military defences and barracks established by the French and Swiss armies early in the 19th century.

An 18th century asphalt mine in La Presta in the Travers valley west of Neuchâtel is another witness to Switzerland's largely forgotten industrial culture of mining. The asphalt from La Presta was exported and used to cover streets in Paris, London, New York and Sydney. At the height of its production, the mining tunnels were more than 100 kilometres long. Some of them can now be visited. (Information: 032 863 3010).

The textile factories in the Zurich Oberland were the founding stone of the industrial revolution in Switzerland in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Most of them have unfortunately been pulled down, but some 30 buildings have survived and have been linked by a walking trail that starts in the Uster town centre 20 kilometres southeast of Zurich.

by Markus Haefliger


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