Once an ordinary mountain village, an Egyptian billionaire’s vision to construct Switzerland’s largest tourist resort changed the landscape of the central Swiss town of Andermatt and the lives of the people there. Two photographers have highlighted the area's humbler roots.
The mega-resort was billed to be different from other Alpine holiday destinations: more luxury, up to six top-class hotels, 500 apartments, and even a congress centre with an indoor pool. A ‘grand deluxe suite’ at the Chedi Hotel, which opened in 2013, will set you back by about CHF1,700 ($1,710.00) per night, depending on the season.
To date, around CHF1 billion have been invested so far, and the resort is still not fully finished.
A military history
In 2004 the Swiss military was pared down and the specialist training centres, through which a steady flow of recruits once passed, were reduced in number, for instance in Andermatt. For decades, the Swiss army had been a source of wealth for the village in the Ursern valley, between the Oberalp, Furka and Gotthard passes, and had provided work for 200 employees. The only other activity was farming and some small businesses. Andermatt needed rejuvenating.
In 2005, Egyptian billionaire Samih Sawiris was invited to invest in the cash-strapped village. A year later the defence ministry sold packages of military land in Andermatt for CHF10 million to Korporation Ursern, a corporation under public law which is made up of all the citizens of the valley. It extends over the three municipalities of Andermatt, Hospental and Realp. It is the largest landowner in the valley: just under 93% of land belongs to it. The corporation acts as a relief to the tasks carried out by the municipalities and the canton, who in turn bought the land to re-sell to Sawiris at the same price.
The setting up of the project was controversial and met with some local resistance from farmers, until Sawiris persuaded them to part with their land. In hindsight, the project must have seemed too good to be true: a billionaire appears from ‘nowhere’, promising a future without any further financial worries. One particular retired ex-military resident complained that there wasn’t enough affordable accommodation for local people. There were concerns that the army sold the land for less than it was worth, and if they hadn’t Sawiris would never have been interested.
Photographers Franca Pedrazzetti and Beat Brechbuehl, decided to document the transformation of Andermatt and chronicle the changes in the form of a book, ‘Andermatt im Umbruch, vom Waffenplatz zum Luxusresort', by Robert Kruker and Verena Meier. swissinfo.ch has chosen a selection of these images.End of insertion
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