View from Timmelsjoch to the South
|Elevation||2,474 m (8,117 ft)|
|Location||Austria / Italy|
The Timmelsjoch connects the Ötztal valley in the Austrian state of Tyrol to the Passeier Valley in the Italian province of South Tyrol, as it bridges the saddle point between the Jochköpfl (3,141 m, 10,305 ft) and Wurmkogl (3,082 m, 10,112 ft) peaks to its northeast and southwest, respectively. The pass is sometimes called the "secret passage" because it is little-used compared to the much easier and lower Brenner Pass some 25 km (15 mi) to its east, and Reschen Pass some 60 km (40 mi) to its west.
During the Stone Age, shepherds and their livestock lived in the Obergurgl area from 6,300 BC onwards. By 3,000 BC, the glaciers of the last Ice Age were retreating, but the Alps remained grim and forbidding. Solitary hunters, fugitives, and scattered tribes were the only people who ventured this high. The lure of treasure, however, brought adventurers from the early Bronze Age to extract the copper. The discovery of a brooch from the La Tène period around 300 BC near the Schönbodenlacke is evidence that people walked over the pass during the pre-Christian era.
In the Middle Ages, mining influenced the development of a road network in the area. Marble quarries, semiprecious stones, and oil shales were all exploited. The ancient path over the Timmelsjoch was one of many such routes in the Tyrol. Not only did these paths facilitate trade, they were also of great social, cultural, political, and religious significance. The Timmelsjoch was a particularly important route since it offered one of the most direct links between the upper Inntal valley and the regional capital at the time, Meran, as well as Tirol Castle and St. Leonhard in Passeier, where the road forks to the Jaufenpass, down to Sterzing, and on to the Brenner Pass road. At that time, cart tracks were few and travelers, peddlars, and people leading pack animals chose the shortest route. Saint Leonhard is the patron saint of carters and was also venerated by peddlers.
From the end of the thirteenth century until the beginning of the fifteenth century, trade flourished via the Timmelsjoch. The famous Ötztaler Kraxenträger (basket bearers) earned their living by exchanging flax, livestock, cured bacon, and lard for wine, spirits and vinegar. They laid the basic foundations for modern Alpinism. The Ötztal valley is one of the cradles of mountaineering.
The Timmelsjoch is the deepest non-glaciated indentation in the main Alpine ridge between the Reschen Pass and Brenner Pass. Its name is older than that of the Brenner, first documented in 1241 as "Thymelsjoch" in a letter written by the Bavarian Counts of Eschenlohe. For centuries, the spelling "Thimmeljoch" prevailed, only changing to "Timmelsjoch" during the construction of the paved road in the twentieth century, when modern surveying techniques were applied to earlier cartographic ideas to determine the best route.
The first plans to build a road across the Timmelsjoch were drawn up in 1897, when the Tyrolean Landtag (regional assembly) established a construction agenda which comprised the building of several "rival roads" including a road over the Timmelsjoch. Work would not begin until the autumn of 1955. On July 7, 1959, after four years of construction, the 12-kilometre road was finally opened to the public. The Timmelsjoch Hochalpenstrasse was well-engineered and integrated into the landscape.
While the road up from the Ötztal valley was built for tourism purposes, the situation in the Passeier Valley (on the southern side) was very different. As in many other parts of the Italian Alps, Mussolini, the ruler from 1922 to 1945, had numerous military roads built up towards Italy's international borders. Construction of the road from Moos in Passeier, 10 km southeast from the pass, commenced in the 1930s. After the meeting between Mussolini and Hitler on the Brenner in 1939, construction work ceased. The road was narrow and rough, but had almost been completed. The last 700-m tunnel had been dug through; just the remaining 2 km stretch from its end to the pass had not been built. The tunnel partly collapsed in the following years. From 1939 to the mid-1960s, the unfinished, grassed-over road was only used for forestry purposes. Construction work resumed in the mid-1960s and the road was completed to the pass and opened to through traffic in 1967.
The road on the Ötztal valley side is called the Timmelsjoch Hochalpenstrasse. The pass is now popular with car and motorbike tourists. Due to its elevation, steepness, and narrow road, the pass is closed to lorries and vehicles with trailers. The pass road is open to traffic from approximately the first half of June to the second half of October (the exact dates depend on snow conditions) daily from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm. The Ötztal valley side is subject to a toll charge.
With its dramatic scenery, particularly on the southern side, the road has become popular with cyclists. On the last Sunday in August, several thousand cyclists take part in the Ötztaler Cycling Marathon crawl up the 29 km section from St. Leonhard in Passeier (672 m) to the pass, gaining 1,800 m (6,000 ft)—the fourth and final pass included in the grueling 238 km marathon.
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