Great St Bernard Hospice
The Great St. Bernard Hospice is located for almost 1000 years at the top of the Great St. Bernard Pass at an altitude of 2473 metres, which is one of the major communication routes between the South and the North of the Alps.
Although the dogs of the hospice are the emblematic figures of the pass, there are a multitude of curiosities near the hospice:
- Hospice (tomb and treasure)
- Hospice Inn
- Souvenir shop
- Old customs
- Swiss-Italian border
- Bernard of Menthon statue
Parking just before the hospice or just after along the lake or on the Italian side near the Statue of Bernard of Menthon.
The use of the Great St. Bernard Pass is very old and dates back to before the Romans, but it was the Romans who built a road with bridges, trenches and tunnels as well as several buildings at the summit. The pass is open from May to mid-October before being covered by snow.
Together with the Gotthard Pass in Switzerland and the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy, the Great St. Bernard Pass is one of the most important Alpine passes for crossing the Alps on the north-south axis. The Great St. Bernard Pass is the third highest road pass in Switzerland after the Umbrail Pass (2503 m) and the Nuffenen Pass (2480 m). The Umbrail Pass is located in Graubünden on the Italian border and the Nufenen Pass is entirely within Switzerland between the cantons of Valais and Ticino.
Great St Bernard Hospice
The monuments built by the Romans disappeared at the end of their empire around the 500’s. It was around the year 1000 that Bernard of Menthon (1021-1080) had a hospice built to help and rescue travellers. It is in his honour that the pass then takes its name, the pass was previously called Col du Mont-Joux, Joux meaning Jupiter in Latin. Bernard became a Saint at his canonization in 1123.
It should be noted that Bernard de Menthon had another hospice built at the pass between the Val d’Aoste in Italy and Savoy in France, which also took his name and was called Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard because the pass is lower (2188m) than its counterpart in Switzerland.
In the Great St Bernard hospice, one can visit:
- The treasury, which has been open to the public since 1992 and houses objects from the 11th century.
- The tomb of the French general Louis Desaix (1764-1800).
Desaix was a soldier who distinguished himself in Egypt before dying in the battle of Marango in Italy against the Austrians. In 1806 Napoleon had a tomb sent to him from Paris, which is now on the stairs between the first and second floors. Desaix’s body is buried in the chapel.
The pass is entirely within Switzerland, the border is 100 meters below and is symbolized by a stone marker. The Swiss border post, which no longer appears to be in operation, is located just before the boundary marker on the lakeshore. Indeed, the Schengen agreements, of which Switzerland is a part, have abolished border controls at the borders of their members.
Located in Italy and Switzerland at 2444 m, the lake flows on the Italian side to form the Great Saint Bernard torrent.
Bernard of Menthon statue
On the Italian side, there are a few small houses selling tourist products and a pretty peninsula where you can enjoy picnic tables. The statue of Bernard of Menthon is standing on a small hillock. He holds the devil at his feet on a leash.
The Great St Bernard hospice is connected to the Inn by a covered passageway on the road to the pass. On the ground floor there is a souvenir shop.
Adjacent to the hostel is the entrance to the monastic store with the Kennel and the Museum.
The monastic shop allows you to find some souvenirs and gives access to the Kennel and the museum.
The museum adjacent to the hostel presents the history of the pass and its hospice on several floors. It contains a lot of information, such as the local weather records with a total snowfall of 24 m in 1914 and winds of 268 km/h in 1990.
Napoleon is the emblematic figure who crossed the pass in May 1800 accompanied by 40’000 armed men to link Italy. The museum shows the various people who crossed the pass with a notorious mistake, that of Hannibal, who is now known not to have used the pass to fight the Romans.
The Lombards coming from Italy crossed it to help the troops of the Duke of Burgundy during the Burgundian Wars at the end of the 15th century.
The presence of the Dogs at the Great St. Bernard Hospice dates back to the 17th century and was intended to help or find lost travellers. Breeding from farm dogs from the region led to the current breed, which was recognized at the end of the 19th century and took the name of the pass.
In 2005 the canons handed over the dog breeding to the Barry Foundation. Since then, the dogs no longer live permanently on the pass but only during the summer opening of the pass to perpetuate the tradition and the tourist symbol. The dogs live in Martigny in the Barryland, a name that comes from an emblematic dog, Barry, who lived in the early 1800s and saved dozens of people.
Slightly higher than the museum are the remains of the departure station of the old cable car, which operated from 1954 to 1986 and allowed, in summer, to enjoy the view of Mont Blanc.
A 6 km long tunnel was dug in 1964 between Bourg-St-Pierre and Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses in Italy in order to allow crossing the Alps in all seasons. Unlike the St Gotthard, the tunnel is not free of charge.
A video about the pass site.
A video about the attractions located at the pass.