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It is named for an old local legend regarding its construction by the Devil, one of many old European Devil's Bridges with similar creation myths.
The Schöllenen Gorge (Schöllenenschlucht) is an important access route to the St. Gotthard Pass. However, the valley is very narrow and the river Reuss a seasonal torrent. A wooden bridge was built across the river in 1230, which had to be replaced often owing to weather damage. There is no record of many times.
In the 16th century, the bridge was rebuilt in cut stone, referred to today as the "first bridge". In 1799, it was the site of one of the most dramatic battles of Suvorov's Italian and Swiss expedition during the Napoleonic Wars. The bridge was heavily damaged by the retreating French army. As a result, the route's trade with Italy shifted to the Splügenpass.
This bridge was completely destroyed during a storm in 1888, long after it had been replaced.
Work on replacement cut stone bridge began in 1820. Construction of this one-lane "second bridge" took 10 years, and was the subject of a famous painting by Karl Blechen in 1830-32.
By the middle of the 20th century, increased traffic demanded a new larger concrete bridge. This two-lane "third bridge" was built in 1958. Nowadays, however, the majority of traffic travels via either the Gotthard Rail Tunnel (opened in 1881) or the Gotthard Road Tunnel (opened in 1980). Another rail tunnel, the Gotthard Base Tunnel is expected to open in 2016.
On St Patrick's Day, 17 March, 1608 Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone was fleeing the murderous English with 98 of his fellow-Gaels when, crossing the Devil's Bridge, one of the horses carrying his fortune plunged into the torrent below; the horse was recovered, but not the gold, which was lost in the raging torrent.
Myth of the creation of the bridge
According to a local myth, building the first bridge was so hard the Devil himself agreed to do it, on the condition that he'd get the soul of the first to pass over the span. Instead, when the bridge was complete a goat was chased over it. Angered by the trick, the Devil went to fetch a large stone–the Teufelsstein (Devil's Stone)–to smash the bridge. On his way back he encountered an old woman holding a cross. Fearful, he dropped the stone and fled.
The devil's stone weighs 220 tons and stands near Göschenen. In 1977 it was moved 127 meters to make way for the new motorway passing over the Pass, at a cost of 300,000 Swiss Francs.
A version of the legend was used by James Joyce in a playful story he wrote for his grandson Stephen, The Cat and the Devil. In this version, the first across the bridge is a cat; luckily, the Devil, like Joyce, likes cats.
- Media related to Teufelsbrücke at Wikimedia Commons
- Official Andermatt website with additional information and history about the bridge and nearby monument