Swiss showcase transport heritage

Historic mountain passes and bridges are getting pride of place.

Switzerland celebrated this year’s European Heritage Days on September 11 and 12 by highlighting its 2,000-year history as an important transit hub.

This content was published on September 10, 2004

It was the tenth anniversary of the event devised by the Council of Europe to promote conservation of monuments and sites, and to highlight cultural diversity.

“We want to present a diverse programme in order to attract a broad public during this anniversary year,” said Gurli Jensen, head of the Swiss national office for monument conservation.

Following castles, monasteries and stained-glass windows, it is now the turn of old boats, bridges and trains – living testaments to the industrial age.

This year’s theme is “Next Stop, Heritage Days – History of Transportation in Switzerland”.

The country’s railway history is being given pride of place over the two days when many sites normally off limits to the public will be open.

Among the many events taking place, the Swiss Federal Railways heritage foundation in Bern will be opening its extensive archives (see video).

But the Heritage Days will also shed light on historic mountain-pass roads and their bridges.

Alpine passes

Even though alpine passes have been used as key north-south links since Roman times, Swiss cantons only completed an inventory of transit routes designated as historically important at the end of last year.

“The period we are focusing on begins in early history and ends in the middle of the 20th century,” Jensen told swissinfo.

Steam trains, historical trams and mountain railways are expected to attract the lion’s share of interest.

Railway enthusiasts are being invited to the train depot in the town of Delémont, built in 1890, to see how locomotives were once manually turned on a turntable.

In Kerzers in canton Fribourg, the points and signals still need to be manipulated by hand. However, a new signal box being built there will ensure that all operations in future will be automated and activated by remote control.

Brownfield site

Many of the early steam and diesel engines were built at the Sulzer factory in Winterthur, north of Zurich. When the industrial era for Sulzer came to an end in the 1980s, the factory became one of Switzerland’s first brownfield sites.

During the Heritage Days event, visitors will be able to see how the former factory was given a complete makeover and transformed into apartments, offices, shops and green spaces, while retaining key historical elements.

The last of Geneva’s “lake boats” – large sailing boats used to transport stone and gravel – will be the focus of events in the city.

The “Neptune” was saved from the scrapyard by the city in 1971, and its restoration was completed four years later.

It will make its last voyages on September 11 and 12 before it undergoes another major restoration.

In the 17th century, the Swiss planned to build canals to ensure a continuous waterway between the Rhine and Rhone rivers, which would have enabled goods to be transported by boat from the North Sea to the Mediterranean.

The ambitious project was never completed. However, visitors are invited to explore the remnants of a short section of the Entreroches canal north of Lake Geneva, where they can also learn about pre-industrial lake and river transport.

swissinfo, Andreas Keiser

Key facts

The European Heritage Days take place each year in September – this year on September 11 and 12.
On these days, visitors are given access to cultural monuments and sites not normally open to the public.
Switzerland’s theme this year is transportation.

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