Principal passes of the Alps

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

Main passes

The following are the main paved road passes across the Alps. Main indicates on the main chain of the Alps, from south west to east. Passes on subsidiary ranges are listed where the ridge leaves the main chain - N/W indicates north or west of the main chain, S/E on the south or east side. Heights in brackets indicate true pass height, not the high point of the road.

areanamelocationcountrieselevation (m)
Colle di CadibonaSavona to CevaItaly436
Colle del MelognoFinale Ligure to CevaItaly1028
Giogo di ToiranoToirano to BardinetoItaly801
Colle ScravaionAlbenga to CalizzanoItaly814
Colle San BernardoAlbenga to GaressioItaly957
Passo di PraleCisano sul Neva to OrmeaItaly1258
Colle di NavaImperia to OrmeaItaly934
Colle San Bernardo di MendaticaTriora and Mendatica to Ormea (through Colle di Nava)Italy1262
MainCol de TendeTende to CuneoFrance, Italy1870
MainCol de la LombardeIsola to VinadioFrance, Italy2350
N/WCol de la BonetteJausiers to Saint-Etienne-de-TinéeFrance2715
MainMaddalena Pass/Col de LarcheBarcelonnette to CuneoFrance, Italy1996
MainCol AgnelQueyras to SampeyreFrance, Italy2744
MainCol de MontgenèvreBriançon to SusaFrance1854
MainCol de l'ÉchelleBriançon to BardonecchiaFrance, Italy1762
N/WCol du GalibierSaint-Michel-de-Maurienne to Col du LautaretFrance2642
N/WCol du LautaretBourg d'Oisans to BrianconFrance2058
MainCol du Mont CenisModane to SusaFrance2084
N/WCol de l'IseranVal d'Isere to Bonneval-sur-ArcFrance2764
S/ECol du NivoletNoasca to Courmayeur (no through road)Italy2641
mainLittle St Bernard PassBourg-Saint-Maurice to Prè-Saint-DidierFrance, Italy2188
N/WCol des MontetsMartigny to ChamonixFrance1461
mainGreat St Bernard PassMartigny to AostaSwitzerland, Italy2469
mainSimplon PassBrig to DomodossolaSwitzerland2009 (1996)
mainNufenen PassUlrichen to AiroloSwitzerland2478
N/WFurka PassRealp to OberwaldSwitzerland2429
N/WGrimsel PassInnertkirchen to GletschSwitzerland2164
N/WSusten PassInnertkirchen to WassenSwitzerland2224
MainSt Gotthard PassAndermatt to AiroloSwitzerland2106
N/WOberalp PassAndermatt to DisentisSwitzerland2044
N/WKlausen PassAltdorf to LinthalSwitzerland1948
MainLukmanier PassDisentis to BiascaSwitzerland1915
MainSan Bernardino PassSplügen to BellinzonaSwitzerland2065
MainSplügen PassSplügen to ChiavennaSwitzerland, Italy2115
N/WJulier PassTiefencastel to SilvaplanaSwitzerland2284
N/WAlbula PassFilisur to La PuntSwitzerland2075
N/WFlüela PassDavos to SuschSwitzerland2383
N/WBielerhöheSt. Gallenkirch to GaltürAustria2036
N/WArlberg PassBludenz to LandeckAustria1793
N/WFlexen PassWarth to KlostertalAustria1773
N/WHochtannbergpassDornbirn to WarthAustria1679
MainMaloja PassSilvaplana to ChiavennaSwitzerland1815
MainBernina PassPontresina to TiranoSwitzerland2328
MainLivigno PassPoschiavo to LivignoSwitzerland, Italy2315
MainFoscagno PassBormio to LivignoItaly2291
S/EUmbrail PassVal Müstair to BormioSwitzerland, Italy2501
S/EGiogo dello StelvioBormio to VinschgauItaly2757
S/EGavia PassBormio to Ponte di LegnoItaly2621
S/ETonale PassPonte di Legno to Val di SoleItaly1883
S/ECampo Carlo MagnoMadonna di Campiglio to Val di SoleItaly1655
S/EPasso d'Aprica Valtellina to Val CamonicaItaly1172
MainFuorn PassZernez to Val MüstairSwitzerland2149
MainReschen PassNauders to MeranAustria, Italy1507
MainTimmelsjochÖtztal valley to MeranAustria, Italy2491
MainBrenner PassInnsbruck to SterzingAustria, Italy1370
MainHochtorZell am See to LienzAustria2505 (2576)
MainRadstädter Tauern PassRadstadt to MauterndorfAustria1739
MainSölk PassSchöder to GröbmingAustria1788
MainTriebener Tauern PassJudenburg to TriebenAustria1274
MainSchober PassLiezen to LeobenAustria849
PräbichlEisenerz to LeobenAustria1204
Aflenzer SeebergMariazell to Bruck an der MurAustria1254
Niederalpl PassMürzsteg to GußwerkAustria1221
LahnsattelMürzsteg to MariazellAustria1006
OchsattelSchwarzau im Gebirge to HohenbergAustria820
Kalte KuchlSchwarzau im Gebirge to Rohrbach an der GölsenAustria728
Gerichtsberg PassAltenmarkt an der Triesting to HainfeldAustria581

Other passes

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

Road tunnels

Main chain, from west to east:

namelocationcountrieslength (km)
Col de Tende Road TunnelTende to CuneoFrance, Italy3.2
Fréjus Road TunnelModane to SusaFrance, Italy12.9
Mont Blanc TunnelChamonix to CourmayeurFrance, Italy11.6
Great St Bernard TunnelMartigny to AostaSwitzerland, Italy5.9
St. Gotthard TunnelGöschenen to AiroloSwitzerland17
San Bernardino TunnelSplügen to BellinzonaSwitzerland7.7
Felbertauern TunnelMittersill to LienzAustria5.3
Tauern Road TunnelEben im Pongau to Sankt Michael im LungauAustria6.4

Notable other tunnels:

namelocationcountrieslength (km)
Arlberg TunnelLangen am Arlberg to St. Anton am ArlbergAustria13.976
Karawanks TunnelVillach to JeseniceAustria, Slovenia7.864

Railway passes and tunnels

Main chain, from west to east:

nametypelocationcountrieslength (km)elevation (m)
Colle di CadibonapassSavona to CevaItaly436
Tunnel de TendetunnelTende to CuneoFrance, Italy8.1
Fréjus Rail TunneltunnelModane to SusaFrance, Italy13.71123
Simplon TunneltunnelBrig to DomodossolaSwitzerland, Italy19.8705
Gotthard Rail TunneltunnelGöschenen to AiroloSwitzerland151151
Gotthard Base TunneltunnelErstfeld to BiascaSwitzerland57.1549
Bernina PasspassPontresina to TiranoSwitzerland2323
Brenner PasspassInnsbruck to SterzingAustria, Italy1370
Tauern TunneltunnelBad Gastein to ObervellachAustria8.6
Schober PasspassLiezen to LeobenAustria849
PräbichlpassEisenerz to LeobenAustria1204

Notable other railway passes and tunnels:

nametypelocationcountrieslength (km)elevation (m)
Arlberg Railway TunneltunnelLangen am Arlberg to St. Anton am ArlbergAustria10.61303
Karawanks TunneltunnelVillach to JeseniceAustria, Slovenia8.0
Lötschberg TunneltunnelSpiez to BrigSwitzerland14.61240
Lötschberg Base TunneltunnelSpiez to BrigSwitzerland34.6828
Oberalp PasspassAndermatt to DisentisSwitzerland2044
SemmeringtunnelGloggnitz to MürzzuschlagAustria1.5965


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


  1. Knox 1911, p. 740.
  2. Knox 1911, pp. 740–741.
  3. Knox 1911, p. 741.


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

Further reading

  • Pyatt, E. C. (1984). The Passage of the Alps: From Hannibal to the Motorway. London: Robert Hale. ISBN 0-7090-1750-2.
  • Matthew, Donald (1992). Atlas of Medieval Europe. New York: Facts on File. ISBN 0-87196-133-4.

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