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The Gotthard massif is part of the mountain range known as the Alps (named for the high-altitude meadows created by Swiss farmers as summer pastures). Major peaks in the massif include Piz Centrale (2999m), Piz Rotondo (3192m), Chastelhorn (2973m), and Piz Blas (3019m). It lies on the borders of the cantons of Grisons/Graubunden, Uri, Valais, and Ticino. Geologically, the massif is almost entirely gneiss and granite. The Reuss, Rhone, Ticino and Rhine rivers all have their sources in the Gotthard massif.

The Gotthard pass is a winding road 30 km in length which reaches a height of 2109m and runs from Goschenen to Airolo. It is a strenuous, yet scenic bicycle ride and the Tour de Suisse bike race runs through the pass every year. The pass is generally closed for 6 months of the year due to weather conditions. Historically it is of great significance because it lies on the shortest route between the Rhine valley in Germany and Lombardy (Italy). The entire north south route of the pass became well-known only in the 13th century. Part of the difficult in crossing the pass is the northern approach through the Schollenen, a deep gorge carved by the Reuss river as it flows to Interlaken.

The Gotthard rail tunnel (15km) was built between 1872 and 1882, 310 workers died during it's construction and almost 900 were injured. It was the world's longest rail tunnel when finished. During the project the firm responsible for the construction went bankrupt and had to be bailed out. This tunnel links Goschenen (Uri, 1106m) with Airolo (Ticino, 1141m).

The Gotthard road tunnel is 16.9 km long and links Goschenen with Airolo and was completed in 1980. When built, it was the longest road tunnel in the world

A new tunnel called the Gotthard Base Tunnel is scheduled to be completed in 2010, it will pass through both the Gotthard and the Aar massifs. At 57km it will be the longest rail tunnel in the world (the Channel Tunnel is 50km, and the Seikan in Japan is 53.9km) and will connect Erstfeld (Uri, 472m) with Bodio (Ticino, 320m). The plans are to provide three emergency egresses via shafts used for the construction. As part of the AlpTransit project, it will shave an hour off the train trip between Zurich and Milan and bring Switzerland into the core of the European high-speed rail network. There is a second tunnel being built at Lotschberg as part of the rail project. Goods trains on the tunnel will carry standard shipping containers to and from Italy, removing most of the heavy truck traffic through Switzerland.


Sources: Brilliant maps from the Swiss Federal Topographical Commission, www.alptransit.ch

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