Monday, February 22, 2016

On Foot down the BrennerPass

The Brenner Pass or the Passo Del Brennero (1371 m) has been a major gateway between the central Alpine countries and the Italian Peninsula since ancient times. The Romans marched their legions across the Brenner and traders for thousands of years plied their goods across this route. Viewing the Brenner from the south, it does not look too impressive, but its relatively low altitude made it a critical passage point between south and north.
In 1867, this mountainous terrain was all part of Austria, but today, the Austrian/Italian border is right at the Brenner Pass. As a child, I remember driving over the Brenner with the family and having to stop at the customs booth for an inspection of passports and car contents. But now, both countries are part of the EU and the border stations are unmanned (although the migrant crisis may force Austria to re-institute border controls).
On a blisteringly hot day in August 2013, I walked (trudged) southwards across the border. I was tired and thirsty and a modest restaurant beckoned. A modest snack? It's so nice to be in Italy, they are so civilized, and they believe in good food! After this "small" lunch, chased down with several glasses of wine, I continued south down the Eisacktal.
The Brenner Railway (German: Brennerbahn; Italian: Ferrovia del Brennero) was one of the major railroad engineering feats of the Hapsburg Empire. The line climbs steadily southwards from Innsbruck up the Wipptal (Wipp Valley), traverses over the Brenner Pass, and descends down the Eisacktal to Bolzano/Bozen. As written in Wikipedia, "The railway line was designed under the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the mid-19th century to ensure rapid and safe transport between Tyrol and northern Italy, especially Lombardy–Venetia. It was thus strategically important not only for economic but also for military reasons, as Austria was strongly committed to maintaining its borders south of the Alps." The 127-km route took three years to build and opened on August 24, 1867. The railroad has recently been rerouted through new tunnels, and the old right-of-way is now a paved bicycle/rollerblade/walking trail. This is also part of the "Jakobsweg," the medieval Road to Santiago, which ends at Santiago de Compostela  in northwest Spain. I saw some pilgrims carrying crosses - were they intending to walk all the way to Spain?
Some of the old railroad work sheds and stations remain, now abandoned. This stone workers' hut was in Commune Brenner.
A little further south, I came across this old station at Moncucco Schelleberg or La stazione di Moncucco.  Note that the name was still shown in German, although this area had not been part of Austria for decades. But many traditional German names linger in the South Tirol. We forget how many borders shifted in the 20th century.
I finally reached the town of Gossensass, and I was beat. It was a charming town with old mansions dating to the Hapsburg era. The temperature was about 35°C, and I wanted an air-conditioned hotel and a beer.
Well, no air-conditioning, but I got a beer and a fish. I love Italy....

Photographs taken with a Nexus 4 phone (sorry, no real camera this time).

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