A diverse flora and fauna has settled around the ice flow of the Aletsch Glacier. Numerous pioneer plants grow on the moraine, preparing the ground for later forest cover, including saxifrage and alpine flax. The most important tree species in the light Aletsch Forest above the glacier is the Swiss stone pine, one of the oldest tree species in Switzerland. According to pharmacylib, it can live to be over 800 years old, but grows very slowly due to the extreme conditions in the high mountain region. The dry valleys around the Bietschhorn are home to the rare animals and plants of the Valais rock steppe, including, for example, feather grass, which originally comes from the Asian steppe areas, as well as the Alpine ibex and the green lizard. So steppe and eternal ice exist here only a few kilometers apart. In addition to plants and animals, peaks and glaciers, the World Heritage region also has some waterfalls that are well worth seeing. In the Staubbach Falls near Lauterbrunnen, the water pours down almost 300 meters with a loud roar. Another famous waterfall is located between Lauterbrunnen and Stechelberg: Ten glacier rivers, fed by the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, come together in the Trümmelbach Falls. There, up to 20,000 liters of water fall around 140 meters per second. The special feature: The waterfalls are located inside the Schwarzer Mönch mountain and are accessible to visitors via an elevator.
“Key and Gate to Italy”
Bellinzona, capital of the Swiss canton of Ticino, has long been a bridge between Central and Southern Europe, a transit area for peoples and armies, and the crossroads of transalpine traffic. Here, where the Ticino valley widens to the fertile Magadino plain, several trade routes and roads converge, coming from the Alpine passes of St. Gotthard, Lukmanier, San Bernardino and Nufenen. In the shadow of the three mighty castles Castello Grande, Castello di Montebello and Castello di Sasso Corbaro, the city developed into a landmark and widely visible evidence of a fortified past. Those who called this valley point their own could participate in the trade in goods and influence the course of history.
The area around Bellinzona was already settled in the Stone Age. Around 1000 BC Ligurians moved north from northern Italy and settled in the valleys of the Alps. They were followed by Celts and Etruscans. The Romans, who lived as early as 196 BC. BC as far as the Bellinzona area were the first to recognize the strategic importance of this bottleneck. They built a fort on a rock ridge, which served as the starting point for their campaigns of conquest against the “barbarians” in the north. In 568 the Lombards advanced across the Alps to northern Italy and founded an empire with the capital Pavia.
The Frankish king Charlemagne, called for help by the Pope, moved south, conquered the Longobard Empire in 774 and incorporated it into the Frankish Empire as the kingdom of Lombardy. From then on, the passes over the Alps and their security were of central importance for the German emperors of the Holy Roman Empire during their 300-year rule in Upper and Central Italy. Since the 13th century, Ticino has repeatedly been the scene of armed conflicts between loyal to the emperor and loyal to the papacy: the Guelphs, who, under the leadership of the pope, fought against the strengthening of central imperial power in imperial Italy, tried to extend their rule over the alpine valleys ruled by the imperial Ghibellines and – to expand passes.
After a long siege, Bellinzona came under the rule of the Visconti family from Milan. They began to develop the city into an impregnable fortress. They expanded the two older castles and connected them with a wide defensive wall that reached as far as the course of the Ticino river. Around 1400 a tower was built on the eastern mountain flank, which formed the core of the Castello di Sasso Corbaro. However, construction of this fortress did not begin until 1478, after the Swiss Confederates who were pushing south had defeated the Milanese army in the Battle of Giornico in 1478.
The dukes of Milan – the Sforza family had replaced the Visconti – tried in a great hurry to close the gap in their defense system. But after a short siege by the French, the citizens of Bellinzona voluntarily placed themselves under the protection of the Confederates in 1500 without them having to attack the fortress. The French renounced the county of Bellinzona in 1503 in favor of the Confederates.
The three castles were divided among the cantons: Castello Grande went to Uri, Castello di Montebello to Schwyz and Castello di Sasso Corbaro to Unterwalden. As a result, Bellinzona lost its strategic importance and the castles fell into disrepair over time. Only at the beginning of the 20th century did the thorough renovation of the former fortresses, which are now owned by the Canton of Ticino, begin.