Switzerland - Martigny and Haute Nendaz

by Kimp 29. September 2012 03:15

Photo Blog

Martigny is a quaint little town in Switzerland. The south western part of Switzerland is full of people who love art. Martigny hosts two world class art exhibits each year. This fall's was dedicated to Van Gogh, Picasso and Kardinski. There's an ancient Roman ruins in Martigny, that Julius Caesar liked to visit. In 2007 they opened a very nice museum dedicated to the History of St Bernards. All that was really nice, but that isn't why I went there. Those were just nice bonuses. I was there to watch "cow wrestling". Yea that's right, "cow wrestling".

The Swiss canton of Valis, breed's Eringer cattle. Eringer females are the most aggressive cows in the world. There are many cow wrestling events in Valis, but the cow wrestling championship is always in the ancient roman amphitheater at Martigny. The winning cow is usually sold for a pretty good dollar. The Valis region has always been kind of a renegade place. There was a time when the Swiss government wanted to reduce the quality of its cheese so that they could produce more, thereby yielding a bigger tax gain. It was the farmers in Valis, that flat out refused to lower the cheese quality, even though it was much harder to make, and brought in less money. 

Martigny sits at the cross roads between France and Italy. A road named the "Col de la Forclaz", goes through a mile high pass in the Alps, and into France. Another named "Grand St Bernard Pass" that goes through a 1 1/2 mile high pass, via the Alps, into Italy.

The "Grand St Bernard pass" is the lowest point between the two highest peaks in the Alp's. There has been a road going through it since the bronze age (2000 B.C.) . Today that road is only open for about 4 months in the summer, because the rest of the time, the weather is too bad (However, now there is a tunnel for cars at a lower elevation that is open all year around). Up until 1049, this pass was heavily patrolled by bandits who would force people to pay a large fee to use the pass. In 1049 a noble man with the last name of Bernard, built a monastery and hospice at the top of the pass. The purpose was to secure this road from the bandits, and to help travelers who traveled it.  They were successful, and 100 years after nobleman Bernard died, he was canonization as "St Bernard", the patron saint of the Alps.

The monks breed and used dogs to patrol the pass road, until the snow was to thick for that. One dog would be lead down each edge of the road to search for the scent of a human. When they found one, they would follow the scent and then start digging in the snow for the person. These dogs were very powerful diggers, and became known as St Bernard's. In the summer when the monks were bringing supplies up to the hospice, they made special back packs, for the dogs, that were used to haul supplies. They also put a keg on their collar for hauling Brandy up to the monastery. In the 1800's travelers to this area, started spreading word about the dogs with Brandy kegs under their chin, and they became world famous.

The hospice is well above the tree line. and monks only had 4 months to gather enough wood for the 8 months of snow.  All the wood had to be hauled in from quite a distance, yet somehow they were able manage. In 1800, Napoleon used this pass to move his army into Italy. To sneak up on Italy, he carved out wood logs,put his cannon's inside, and he himself, crested the pass on a donkey.

Martigny is more of a local's town, then a tourist town, so I ended up staying in a mountain resort town named Haute-Nendaz, that was about 1 mile above sea level. It was pretty deserted when I arrived, but in about 2 months, Haute-Nendaz will be jam packed with skiers.




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