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Historic hints on the path

THE OLD VIA BASSA TO THE SPLUGA PASS


Year 1800: the XIX century opens under Napoleon’s star, the splendour of whom is imposed in Europe after the brilliant battle of Marengo. Through this battle, he smites the Austrians while regaining Lombardy. The genial strategist is set to put an end to the contest with the Hapsburgs and their Russian allies, imposing France as a hegemonic power in the European continent. He is aware that he can overcome them only by threatening a claw-style manoeuvre on Vienna.

The conditions seem to mature: in fact on 5th December, his general Moreau defeats the Russians at Hohenlinden, creating the conditions for an operation against Austria starting from Bavaria. The second route must be the Tyrol, and Napoleon decides to group the necessary troops by summoning even the Grigioni army, under the command of General MacDonald, and constituted of about 15,000 men. The marshal decides to reach Chiavenna by passing through the Spluga Pass, to subsequently rejoin with the Italian army.

So as to gain time, he chooses to exploit the mule track which from Montespluga descends to Isola going down to the gorge of Cardinello. A risky choice, during the month of December, and this choice was paid for with a high yield of human lives. Therefore men, animals and pieces of artillery start descending along the track carved, in various points, in the bare rock and exposed on overlooking rocks with a sheer drop on the bottom of the narrow valley carved by the Liro torrent. The vibrations provoked by the passage of the army very quickly create some avalanches, which knock down several soldiers and animals. Panic does the rest: horses and mules get frightened; the soldiers try to calm them down as best as they can, however without avoiding that other beasts slip in the exposed tracks. At the end they get to Isola, but at the cost of numerous losses.

In 1800 the mule track of Cardinello was one of the two roads availed of to reach the Spluga pass from Campodolcino: it was the road below, the eldest one, of Roman origin, to which, starting from 1226, the road above started running side by side. This passed through the Andossi di Medesimo and ended up by almost supplanting entirely, at the beginning of the modern age, the first one. During the XVI century the latter regained importance, since by the Grigioni’s will, who were extending their domain on Valtellina and Valchiavenna, this road was widened and adapted for the transit of wagons, with numerous works which contributed to render safe the most exposed traits. Then it was inserted in the historic Via dello Spluga, which from Como led to the pass.