Principal passes of the Alps

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This article lists the principal mountain passes and tunnels in the Alps, and gives a history of transport across the Alps.

Road passes[edit]

Main chain[edit]

Paved road passes across the main chain of the Alps, from west to east:

name location countries elevation (m)
Colle di Cadibona Savona to Ceva Italy 436
Colle del Melogno Finale Ligure to Ceva Italy 1028
Giogo di Toirano Toirano to Bardineto Italy 801
Colle Scravaion Albenga to Calizzano Italy 814
Colle San Bernardo Albenga to Garessio Italy 957
Passo di Prale Cisano sul Neva to Ormea Italy 1258
Colle di Nava Imperia to Ormea Italy 934
Colle San Bernardo di Mendatica Triora and Mendatica to Ormea (through Colle di Nava) Italy 1262
Col de Tende Tende to Cuneo France, Italy 1870
Col de la Lombarde Isola to Vinadio France, Italy 2350
Maddalena Pass/Col de Larche Barcelonnette to Cuneo France, Italy 1996
Col Agnel Queyras to Sampeyre France, Italy 2744
Col de Montgenèvre Briançon to Susa France 1854
Col de l'Échelle Briançon to Bardonecchia France, Italy 1762
Col du Mont Cenis Modane to Susa France 2084
Little St Bernard Pass Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Prè-Saint-Didier France, Italy 2188
Great St Bernard Pass Martigny to Aosta Switzerland, Italy 2469
Simplon Pass Brig to Domodossola Switzerland 2009
Nufenen Pass Ulrichen to Airolo Switzerland 2478
Grimsel Pass Innertkirchen to Gletsch Switzerland 2164
Furka Pass Realp to Oberwald Switzerland 2429
Susten Pass Innertkirchen to Wassen Switzerland 2224
St Gotthard Pass Andermatt to Airolo Switzerland 2106
Oberalp Pass Andermatt to Disentis Switzerland 2044
Lukmanier Pass Disentis to Biasca Switzerland 1915
Klausen Pass Altdorf to Linthal Switzerland 1948
San Bernardino Pass Splügen to Bellinzona Switzerland 2065
Splügen Pass Splügen to Chiavenna Switzerland, Italy 2115
Maloja Pass Silvaplana to Chiavenna Switzerland 1815
Julier Pass Tiefencastel to Silvaplana Switzerland 2284
Albula Pass Filisur to La Punt Switzerland 2075
Flüela Pass Davos to Susch Switzerland 2383
Bernina Pass Pontresina to Tirano Switzerland 2328
Livigno Pass Poschiavo to Livigno Switzerland, Italy 2315
Bielerhöhe St. Gallenkirch to Galtür Austria 2036
Hochtannbergpass Dornbirn to Warth Austria 1679
Flexen Pass Warth to Klostertal Austria 1773
Foscagno Pass Bormio to Livigno Italy 2291
Arlberg Pass Bludenz to Landeck Austria 1793
Fuorn Pass Zernez to Val Müstair Switzerland 2149
Umbrail Pass Val Müstair to Bormio Switzerland, Italy 2501
Giogo dello Stelvio Bormio to Vinschgau Italy 2757
Reschen Pass Nauders to Meran Austria, Italy 1507
Timmelsjoch Ötztal valley to Meran Austria, Italy 2491
Brenner Pass Innsbruck to Sterzing Austria, Italy 1370
Hochtor Zell am See to Lienz Austria 2505
Radstädter Tauern Pass Radstadt to Mauterndorf Austria 1739
Sölk Pass Schöder to Gröbming Austria 1788
Triebener Tauern Pass Judenburg to Trieben Austria 1274
Schober Pass Liezen to Leoben Austria 849
Präbichl Eisenerz to Leoben Austria 1204
Aflenzer Seeberg Mariazell to Bruck an der Mur Austria 1254
Niederalpl Pass Mürzsteg to Gußwerk Austria 1221
Lahnsattel Mürzsteg to Mariazell Austria 1006
Ochsattel Schwarzau im Gebirge to Hohenberg Austria 820
Kalte Kuchl Schwarzau im Gebirge to Rohrbach an der Gölsen Austria 728
Gerichtsberg Pass Altenmarkt an der Triesting to Hainfeld Austria 581

Other passes[edit]

Detailed lists of passes are given by Alpine subdivision, see the following articles:

Road tunnels[edit]

Main chain, from west to east:

name location countries length (km)
Col de Tende Road Tunnel Tende to Cuneo France, Italy 3.2
Fréjus Road Tunnel Modane to Susa France, Italy 12.9
Mont Blanc Tunnel Chamonix to Courmayeur France, Italy 11.6
Great St Bernard Tunnel Martigny to Aosta Switzerland, Italy 5.9
St. Gotthard Tunnel Göschenen to Airolo Switzerland 17
San Bernardino Tunnel Splügen to Bellinzona Switzerland 7.7
Felbertauern Tunnel Mittersill to Lienz Austria 5.3
Tauern Road Tunnel Eben im Pongau to Sankt Michael im Lungau Austria 6.4

Notable other tunnels:

name location countries length (km)
Arlberg Tunnel Langen am Arlberg to St. Anton am Arlberg Austria 13.976
Karawanks Tunnel Villach to Jesenice Austria, Slovenia 7.864

Railway passes and tunnels[edit]

Main chain, from west to east:

name type location countries length (km) elevation (m)
Colle di Cadibona pass Savona to Ceva Italy 436
Tunnel de Tende tunnel Tende to Cuneo France, Italy 8.1
Fréjus Rail Tunnel tunnel Modane to Susa France, Italy 13.7 1123
Simplon Tunnel tunnel Brig to Domodossola Switzerland, Italy 19.8 705
Gotthard Rail Tunnel tunnel Göschenen to Airolo Switzerland 15 1151
Gotthard Base Tunnel tunnel Erstfeld to Biasca Switzerland 57.1 549
Bernina Pass pass Pontresina to Tirano Switzerland 2323
Brenner Pass pass Innsbruck to Sterzing Austria, Italy 1370
Tauern Tunnel tunnel Bad Gastein to Obervellach Austria 8.6
Schober Pass pass Liezen to Leoben Austria 849
Präbichl pass Eisenerz to Leoben Austria 1204

Notable other railway passes and tunnels:

name type location countries length (km) elevation (m)
Arlberg Railway Tunnel tunnel Langen am Arlberg to St. Anton am Arlberg Austria 10.6 1303
Karawanks Tunnel tunnel Villach to Jesenice Austria, Slovenia 8.0
Lötschberg Tunnel tunnel Spiez to Brig Switzerland 14.6 1240
Lötschberg Base Tunnel tunnel Spiez to Brig Switzerland 34.6 828
Oberalp Pass pass Andermatt to Disentis Switzerland 2044
Semmering tunnel Gloggnitz to Mürzzuschlag Austria 1.5 965


Places where the Alps were crossed are called passes, and are points at which the alpine chain sinks to form depressions, up to which deep-cut valleys lead from the plains & hilly pre-mountainous zones. The oldest names for such passes are Mont (still retained in cases of Mont Cenis and Monte Moro), for it was many ages before this term was applied to mountains themselves, which with a few very rare exceptions (e.g. Monte Viso was known to the Romans as Vesulus) were for a long time disregarded.[1]

Native inhabitants of the Alps were naturally the first to use the passes. The passes first became known to the outside world when the Romans crossed them to raid or conquer the region beyond. Romans, once having found an "easy" way across the chain, did not trouble to seek for harder and more devious routes. Hence, passes that can be shown as certainly known to them are relatively few in number: they are, in topographical order from west to east, the Col de l'Argentiere, the Col de Montgenèvre, the col du Mont Cenis, the two St Bernard passes (Little St Bernard Pass and Great St. Bernard Pass), the Splügen Pass, the Septimer Pass, the Reschen Pass, the Brenner Pass, the Plöcken Pass, the Pontebba Pass (or Saifnitz Pass), the Radstädter Tauern Pass and the Solkscharte Pass or Sölk Pass.[1]

Of these the Montgenèvre and the Brenner were the most frequented. In the Central Alps only two passes (the Splügen and the Septimer) were certainly known to the Romans. In fact the central portion of the Alps was by far the least Romanised region until the early Middle Ages. Thus the Simplon is first definitely mentioned in 1235, the St Gotthard in 1236, the Lukmanier in 965, the San Bernardino in 941; of course they may have been known before, but authentic history is silent as regards them till the dates specified. Even the Mont Cenis (from the 15th to the 19th century the favourite pass for travellers going from France to Italy) is first heard of only in 756.[2]

In the 13th century many hitherto unknown passes came into prominence, even some of the easy glacier passes. In the Western and Central Alps there is only one ridge to cross, to which access is gained by a deep-cut valley, though often it would be shorter to cross a second pass in order to reach the plains, e.g. the Montgenèvre, that is most directly reached by the Col du Lautaret; and the Simplon, which is best reached by one of the lower passes over the western portion of the Bernese Oberland chain. On the other hand, in the Eastern Alps, it is generally necessary to cross three distinct ridges between the northern and southern plains, the Central ridge being the highest and most difficult to cross. Thus the passes which crossed a single ridge, and did not involve too great a detour through a long valley of approach, became the most important and the most popular, e.g. the Mont Cenis, the Great St Bernard, the St Gotthard, the Septimer and the Brenner.[3]

As time went on the Alpine passes were improved to make travel easier. A few passes (e.g. the Semmering, the Brenner, the Col de Tende and the Arlberg) had carriage roads constructed before 1800, while those over the Umbrail and the Great St Bernard were not completed till the early years of the 20th century. Most of the carriage roads across the great alpine passes were thus constructed in the first half of the 19th century, largely due to the Napoleon's need for such roads as modes of military transport. As late as 1905, the highest pass over the main chain that had a carriage road was the Great St Bernard (2,472 m (8,111 ft)), but three still higher passes over side ridges have roads—the col de l'Iseran, the Stelvio Pass (2,760 m (9,040 ft)), the Col du Galibier (2,658 m (8,721 ft)), in the Dauphiné Alps, and the Umbrail Pass (2,512 m (8,242 ft)).[3]

Railway lines, like the Brenner and the Pontebba lines, were added to speed travel through the passes and tunnels supplemented passes at the Col de Tenda, the Mont Cenis, the Simplon and the St Gotthard.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Knox 1911, p. 740.
  2. ^ Knox 1911, pp. 740–741.
  3. ^ a b c Knox 1911, p. 741.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainKnox, Howard Vincent (1911). "Alps § 5. Principal Passes" . In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 740–741.

Further reading[edit]

  • Pyatt, E. C. The Passage of the Alps: From Hannibal to the Motorway. London: Robert Hale, 1984.
  • Matthew, Donald. Atlas of Medieval Europe. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0-87196-133-4.

Coordinates: 47°36′12″N 11°38′08″E / 47.60333°N 11.63556°E / 47.60333; 11.63556