Gotthard Pass: a Swiss mountain pass

Holidaymakers to Italy often choose the north-south connection (A2) through Switzerland to get to Italy. This north-south connection goes over or through the Gotthard massif in the form of the Gotthard Pass or the Gotthard Tunnel. The tunnel has existed since 1982, but the pass was already used in the Middle Ages.

The Gotthard Pass is one of the many Swiss mountain passes. It is also possible to travel through the Gotthard Massif by train. The first train connection already existed in 1882 and the Gotthard Base Tunnel opened in 2016.

  • The Gotthard Pass
  • Gotthardstrasse
  • Gotthard Massif
  • Mountain passes
  • Mountain peaks
  • Traffic Gotthard
  • Schöllenenschlucht
  • History Gotthard Pass
  • Fortifications
  • Tremola – old step
  • New Gotthard Pass
  • Gotthard railway tunnel
  • Train route Andermatt-Göschenen (Schöllenenbahn)
  • Gotthard tunnel for traffic
  • Fire in 2001 and therefore determined dosage
  • Safety
  • Gotthard Base Tunnel
  • Gotthard landslide

The Gotthard Pass

The Gotthard Pass is, in addition to the Albula Pass, the Simplon Pass, the Furka Pass (where the Rhône Glacier is), the Grimsel Pass, the Great St. Bernard Pass, the Bernina Pass and Susten Pass, a Swiss mountain pass.

The pass has existed since the Middle Ages and was already used for trade to and from Italy. The Gotthard Pass connects the cantons of Uri and Ticino. The pass goes from Hospental in the canton of Uri to Airlo in the canton of Ticino (vice versa) and is part of the Gotthardstrasse.


The Gotthardstrasse is about 110 kilometers long and goes from Fluelen in canton Uri to Chiasso in canton Ticino. In Ticino they speak Italian and there the road is called Via san Gottardo. The road has existed since 1877.

Gotthard Massif

As the name suggests, the Gotthard Pass falls under the Gotthard Massif. But what is the Gotthard Massif and where exactly is it located? The Gotthard Massif is a mountain range in central Switzerland and borders a number of cantons.

These cantons are: Valais, Uri, Ticino and Graubünden. The rivers Rhine, Rhône, Reuss-Aare and Ticino all originate in the Gotthard massif. The massif includes a number of Swiss mountain passes and mountain peaks.

Mountain passes

In addition to the Gotthard Pass, the following passes are also part of the massif:

  • in the west the Nufenenpass in the canton of Valais
  • in the north the Furka Pass (on the border of canton Uri and Valais) and the Oberalp Pass in Uri
  • to the east the Lukmanier Pass in Graubunden

Mountain peaks

A number of mountain peaks that fall under the Gotthard massif are:

  • Pizzo Rotondo
  • Pizzo Centrale
  • Pizzo Gallina
  • Piz Gannaretsch
  • Pizzo del Sol
  • Pizzo Lucendro
  • Piz Badus
  • Piz Blas
  • Pizzo Molare
  • Piz Alv

Traffic Gotthard

The Gotthard is an important north-south connection (Switzerland-Italy) and was already used in the Middle Ages. In the past, you could only cross the Gotthard Pass on foot.

Later it became possible to do this by stagecoach (first stagecoach in 1824) and even later by car. Nowadays you can cross the pass in several ways. You can use the old pass road – Via Tremola – (very worthwhile) or opt for the newer road over the pass. If you want to go faster, you can use the Gotthard tunnel.

Although this is not always faster during the holiday period due to the sometimes long waiting times for the tunnel!
Schöllenenschlucht / Source: ©ottergraafjes


The run-up to the Gotthard Pass actually starts at the Schöllenen Gorge. This gorge is located in the canton of Uri between Andermatt and Göschenen. The Reuss River flows through this narrow gorge.

In the Middle Ages this gorge was impassable, but traders on their way to Italy still wanted to pass through it because the route was shorter. Two wooden bridges were built around 1200: the Twärrenbrücke (60 meters long) and the Teufelsbrücke.

That way, traders could cross the divide more easily. Later the Twärrenbrücke was replaced in a tunnel called Urnerloch. This tunnel is still there (2020) and traffic drives through the Urnerloch immediately after crossing the Teufelsbrücke.

History Gotthard Pass

As mentioned earlier, the pass already existed in the Middle Ages and was considered an important north-south connection. The pass was used as a mule path by traders to bring their goods to and from Italy.

The trade towards the north (Switzerland) consisted of: silk, tobacco, tropical fruits and grain. The trade towards the south (Italy) consisted of cheese, leather, wool, linen and cattle.

Since the arrival of the first train in 1882, things immediately became a lot quieter on the pass road. From that moment on, goods could be transported by train. But the Gotthard Pass was also a place over which invaders could easily enter Switzerland.


The Swiss decided around 1890 to protect the north-south connection against possible invaders. They did this by building fortifications, all close to each other: Fort Motto Bartola at the old pass road (at an altitude of 1,527 meters and put into use in 1890), Forte di Airolo at the south portal of the Gotthard tunnel (at 1,300 meters altitude and opened in 1889) and Fort Hospiz on top of the Gotthard Pass at the junction to the dam and old pass road (opened in 1894).

Motto Bartola is still used by the army in 2020 (army barracks). Forte di Airolo and Fort Hospiz are both museums. The fortifications were also used during WWI and WWII.

Tremola – old step

Part of the old Gotthard Pass is still passable. From Airolo, the old Via Tremola pass road climbs – over cobblestones – with 24 hairpin bends, eventually reaching the pass height. It is also possible to drive along the old pass road from the pass height towards the canton of Uri. For this you take Strasse Vecchia .

The old pass road was partly rebuilt in 1951, but the old stone walls still exist. The road is the longest monument in Switzerland. To preserve the old appearance, horse-drawn carriages travel from top to bottom (via the old postal route) especially for tourists during the summer period.

New Gotthard Pass

When it turned out that the old pass road was no longer suitable for all traffic, it was decided to build a new road. The construction of the wider road over the pass was done by two different engineers.

One was involved in the construction of the road in the canton of Uri, while the other was involved in the construction of the road in the canton of Ticino. In the canton of Uri, the road from Göschenen to Hospental (beginning of the pass) was further constructed.

A few years earlier, the stretch of road between Amsteg and Göschenen had already been completed. In the canton of Ticino the road to the pass height was built and from the pass height the stretch of road further down towards Göschenen (canton of Uri) was built.

From that moment on it was possible to drive over the new Gotthard Pass from both the canton of Uri and the canton of Ticino. Both sections of the road were built in the period 1826-1830.
Gotthard railway tunnel (2017) / Source: ©ottergraafjes

Gotthard railway tunnel

In 1882 it was possible to travel from Andermatt to Göschenen by train. For this purpose, the Gotthard railway tunnel was built over a 15-kilometre stretch. As many as 199 people died during the construction of the tunnel.

Until 1905, that tunnel was the longest railway tunnel in the world. The Simplon Tunnel then took over. After that, other railway tunnels have been the longest in the world, but the Gotthard Base Tunnel is the longest railway tunnel in the world (as of 2020). The Gotthard rail tunnel is still used by train traffic in 2020, because it is an important rail connection.

Train route Andermatt-Göschenen (Schöllenenbahn)

In 1917 the train line from Andermatt to Göschenen was opened. The route was operated by the railway company Schöllenenbahn (named after the Schöllenenschlucht through which the train route passes).

In 1961 it fell into the hands of the Furka-Oberalp-Bahn (FO), which was later taken over by the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn. A cogwheel is used because the route is quite steep. From the train you can briefly take a look at the Schöllenenschlucht with the Teuffelsbrücke before entering the tunnel. The tunnel is located parallel to the Urnerloch.

Gotthard tunnel for traffic

The Gotthard Tunnel is an important connection for car and freight traffic between the canton of Uri in the north and the canton of Ticino in the south, from there to Italy. The tunnel has been open to traffic since September 1980 and falls under the A2 motorway (Basel to Chiasso). 19 people died during construction.

The tunnel is 16.9 kilometers long. You do not have to pay a separate toll for this tunnel, but you do need a motorway vignette. Many people use this tunnel every day. It is a single-lane tunnel, so you will encounter oncoming traffic.

Metering lights are used to control passage. There are long traffic jams in front of the Gotthard tunnel, especially during the holiday period. The north portal is at Göschenen in canton Uri and the south portal is at Airolo in canton Ticino (Ticino). In the past there have been many collisions in the tunnel, dozens of them fatal.

Fire in 2001 and therefore determined dosage

In 2001, a major fire broke out in the Gotthard Tunnel when two trucks collided head-on. That fire killed 10 people. The tunnel has been closed to traffic for some time. The tunnel was known to be quite safe, but after this fire (and also the fire in the Mont-Blanc tunnel in 1999, in which 39 people died) it was decided that only a limited number of cars/trucks could use the Gotthard tunnel per hour. allowed to make.

1,000 PW units per hour (both from the north portal and from the south portal) are allowed to drive through the tunnel, which is why dosing lights are used. PW units stands for passenger car units. A car counts as 1 PW, but a truck counts as 3 PWs. When it is very busy with trucks, the 1,000 PWs are quickly reached.

To solve this, special parking areas for trucks have been set up far in front of the tunnel, so that trucks are admitted into the tunnel in doses. This can sometimes lead to very long waiting times. But also during the holiday period the number of 1,000 PWs is quickly reached. Then there are often long traffic jams in front of the tunnel with waiting holidaymakers.


To keep the tunnel safe, sufficient attention is paid to safety. For example, there are refuge areas every 750 meters towards the south and every 1,500 meters towards the north. The SOS stations have fire extinguishers and telephones to call in an emergency.

Every 250 meters there are special air-supplied rooms where people can escape to safety in the event of an emergency (fire). It is very wise to tune the radio to Radio DRS 1, Rete Uno or Radio Central before entering the tunnel.

These radio stations can still be listened to even though you are driving in the tunnel. In the event of an emergency, a report will be made immediately via the radio stations.

Gotthard Base Tunnel

To relieve freight traffic, the Gotthard Base Tunnel was opened for train traffic in 2016. In German this tunnel is called Gotthardtunnel and in Italian Galleria del San Gottardo. The tunnel consists of two single-track tunnel tubes. Both passenger trains and freight trains run through the tunnel. The route goes from Erstfeld (canton of Uri) to Bodio (canton of Ticino).

Gotthard landslide

In January 2018, a landslide – due to heavy snowfall – blocked the A2 motorway over a length of 50 meters. The Gotthard Tunnel was temporarily closed to traffic. In June 2019, heavy rainfall caused another landslide north of the Gotthard Tunnel.

The road was temporarily closed. Landslides and/or floods have occurred before at the Gotthard. In 2002, the Gotthard Tunnel was closed due to heavy snow. In June 2006, boulders fell for several days in a row. A German couple died as a result. It took a total of 3 weeks before the road was opened to traffic again.