The Stelvio Pass: Italy’s highest vehicle pass

A brief history, from the start of the 19th century to the present

The Stelvio Pass, Italy's highest vehicle pass and Europe's second, is located between Trentino Alto Adige, Lombardy and Switzerland, reaching 2,758 metres at sea level. Considering its altitude, it is obvious why it is also known as "Italy's Roof" or "the Queen of the Roads". To this day, it is still considered, after almost two centuries from its construction, a real work of art in the road construction sector. The Stelvio Pass measures 24.7 kilometres (North-Eastern side) and 22 kilometres on the other (South-Western side). And, if the side moving through Lombardy can count 36 sharp U-bends, the one passing through Alto-Adige can count 48 of them, therefore bringing great joy to all motorcyclists, cyclists, photographers and instagrammers.

In reality, the Stelvio Pass sides are 3: In fact, 3 km downhill on the Lombardy side one can in fact encounter a road that starts at the Umbrail Pass (In Italy it is more widely known as "Giogo di Santa Maria), the highest Swiss pass located at 2,503 metres. It was built in 1901 on the Italian-Swiss border. Due to its height, the Stelvio Pass must remain closed for the entire winter season: this vehicle pass is in fact usually closed from October to May, even if it can still snow there during summer. When this happens, the road is temporarily closed for a short time.

A particularly cherished pass

The fact that this pass is cherished by so many people must not come as a surprise. Located between the mountain tops of the Western Rhaetian Alps, it remains within the Stelvio National Park, connecting Bormio to Valtellina and Trafoi to the Venosta Valley. And may reasons do come to mind for why this spectacular area is loved so much. The Stelvio is very dear to all skiiers for its glacier. In fact, the ice that can be found there, safeguarded by the mountain tops of the Ortles Cevedale, guarantees the largest and most extended alpine summer ski resort to all ski fans, offering 20 km of open ski tracks when all the other ones in Italy are closed, generally from April to November. It's also possible to cross-country ski in summer here. This is why the Stelvio Pass is a precious place for all Italian and international ski athletes, but also for many other people.

In fact, the Pass is also a temple for all bicycle fans because they can challenge themselves as they climb the extremely steep winding roads with their two wheeled vehicles, absorbing, through their eyes, a unique beautiful scenery, while enjoying an overall great experience. To make everything even more precious, the Pass was given the Cima Coppi title in honour of the famous Italian cyclist Coppi and of his brilliant victory at the Stelvio. Without mentioning the alpinists and the excursionists who reach the Stelvio Pass to climb the many mountains that can be reached from there. Also, tourists who take advantage of this panorama to move from one part of Alps to the other. Many say that the Pass must be visited at least once in everyone's lifetime.

A brief history of the Stelvio Pass

The Stelvio Pass was obviously not built the other day. The Stelvio Pass is only second to the highest European pass, the Col de l'Iseran, inaugurated in France in 1937, which only measures 12 metres more, but was built in the Alps when not many machines were available to ease man's work. We are speaking of the first decades of the 19th century. At the time, Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor, decided to connect Milan, then under the Habsburg influence, to the Venosta Valley, passing through the shortest route: i.e. Valtellina. The task was certainly not an eay one, considering the harshness of the mountain sides, the height of the Pass and the length of the road to build. The project was awarded to an engineer from Sondrio, named Carlo Donegani. An expert of high-mountain road engineering, he had already shown his skill by building the Spluga Pass road, at 2,117 metres. The Stelvio Pass, already used in Medieval times and, before, in Roman ones, was crossed by merchants passing through the "Giogo di Santa Maria", to trade goods between Switzerland and the Duchy of Milan. Nothing existed, at the time, to aid the building of the road connecting the Venosta Valley to Valtellina. The number of workmen needed from when works started, in 1822, to when they finished, in 1825, (the total approximate cost amounted to 3,000,000 florins), is not therefore surprising.

As soon as the Pass had been completed, it was immediately safeguarded by four military fortifications. On the Austrian side, the Gomagoi barrage was built, with Fort Gomagoi, Fort Kleinboden and Fort Weisser Knott. The Goldsee Fort was built on the actual Pass. Its remains can still be seen there.

The Pass currently closes during the winter season. During the '800s and up to when the Great War took place, the Stelvio Pass was said to also be open, thanks to the continous work of the shovellers present, so that stagecoaches could always pass.

During the First World War, the Stelvio Pass became a real battlefield with the Italians fighting off the Austrians, as they tried to block their advancement. These could not, in any case, do much at an offensive level, considering the territory in which they had found themselves in. It was therefore a very cold war, fought in trenches, with the greater deaths caused not as much from weapons, but from the extreme cold temperature and snowslides.