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Along Suvorov’s path
Photo: Portrait of Alexander Suvorov drawn by J H Schmidt from life, 1800
This year marks the 220th anniversary of the Russian army under command of Alexander Suvorov crossing the Alps. The map with the route of the military operation, which became the part of world history and elevated Suvorov to the rank of genius commanders, can be found in textbooks, and not only the Russian ones. But the path of the Suvorov’s army in the mountains of Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein could be followed all over again only at the turn of the XIX and XX centuries.
At first, only experienced travellers with mountaineering skills dared to do this, but for the last couple of decades, after construction of roads and huts for staying overnight, a lot of tourists without any special training walk along the Suvorov’s path. Get a good guide, and everything will be fine.
The journey takes 10 days (Suvorov’s march took almost twice as long). There are those who cover the distance more than once. According to the organizers of such Suvorov tours, the participants include Russians, residents of the CIS countries and Europeans of various ages. Most of them follow the Suvorov’s path to sense the history rather than enjoy beauty of Switzerland and famous alpine meadows. They do it, as one frequent visitor put it: “To experience the Russian history with hands and feet. And you know, upon completion of the route, we are overwhelmed with pride for Suvorov and his army. ”
Suvorov in monuments and museums
If you generate a map of monuments, memorial plates and museums of Alexander Suvorov in Switzerland, it will coincide with the route of the Russian army in 1799. The entire path is marked by identifiers, which in 1899 (the centenary of the crossing) were plotted by the scientist Vasily Engelhardt. He identified houses, where Suvorov stayed, in nearly every town and village found along the route (back then local residents still remembered it) and installed memorial plates. Today, both houses and plates are Swiss landmarks, and they are included in local guide books.
The first monument a traveler, who follows Suvorov’s footsteps, will encounter, is a copper bas-relief with the inscription “Europe is grateful to Alexander Suvorov” in four languages. Tourists will meet Suvorov in an unusual form at the St. Gotthard Pass. There is a monument installed for the 200th anniversary of crossing the Alps. It depicts the commander as a tired old man. His horse is led by a mountain guide holding its bridle. And when mist comes down onto the Pass, the artwork can be mistaken for the sculpture of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. There is another monument of Suvorov, also on horseback, in the town of Elma.
Monument to Suvorov at St. Gotthard Pass. Photo credit: rg.ru
Then travellers will go over the Devil’s bridge (Schöllenen Gorge). Suvorov’s Army went over it fighting their way further. The French expected that narrowness of the bridge would give them an easy win; but their hopes failed. Suvorov’s stratagem gave the Russians option to move round the bridge and attack the enemy from the rear. The bridge, which had witnessed those battles, collapsed in the end of the 19th century, but its ruins can still be seen. Today people walk over another bridge but with the same name. A huge stone cross was carved off in the rock opposite the Devil’s bridge. A small plot of land, where the cross is located, was granted to Russia as a gift by Switzerland and is considered to be a Russian territory.
The cross next to the Devil’s bridge. Photo credit: nashagazeta.ch
There are several Suvorov Museums in the Canton of Uri and other adjacent areas, where the path of the Russian Army ran through. The bed on which Alexander Vasilyevich slept can be seen in the museum of the city of Altdorf. But the largest museum of Alexander Suvorov in Switzerland has been open in the town of Riedern. Its collection comprises of cores, bayonets, soldiers' buttons and buckles, found at the battle sites with a metal detector.
What do ordinary Swiss think of Suvorov-related topics and pilgrimage of the commander’s admirers? The Russian Swiss Maria Krishat, who has organized and personally guided tours along the Suvorov route for more than three years, told the Russkiy Mir that Alexander Suvorov was a well-known and honored person among the local population. The Swiss warmly welcome contemporary Russian guests and consider Russian soldiers of Alexander Suvorov times to be liberators.
It seems that’s the way things are going to be as long as the Alpine Mountains stand, as well as the Russian cross carved into them at the Devil's Bridge does.
Safety is above everything
We have to admit that in its current condition the route of Suvorov’s troops (even if it has been touched by the tip of civilization only) is very different from the one, which the Russian army experienced more than two centuries ago. Nowadays tourists travel part of the route by vehicles, the crossings are short (3 to 4 hours), they have frequent rest halts and stay overnight in more or less comfortable conditions of rural hotels or campgrounds.
Most of all, the participants wait for the Panix Pass, which Vasiliy.Surikov depicted on his famous March of Suvorov through the Alps: the canvas shows a very narrow place and a steep mountain, which Russian soldiers fearlessly storm, inspired by their commander on a white horse. Today this pass still can be crossed only on foot – it is not possible to bring a horse here and, obviously, cars are also out of question. At some spots the pass is pretty steep, but it does not pose much difficulty once assistance of fellow travellers is available. Groups cross it in three to four hours.
Photo 3. March of Suvorov through the Alps by V.Surikov, 1899
The Russkiy Mir reporter asked Maria Krishat if some participants of the Suvorov tour were disappointed by the ease of crossing. They came to feel the hardships Suvorov and his Army had gone through, but their experience was all about walking around the dollish-like, beautiful and absolutely safe Switzerland.
According to Maria, the route is not that simple - some of the Suvorov’s paths are used for training by the Swiss military, which tourists sometimes encounter on their way. “When we go along the route, I ask the group members to imagine that the soldiers were fully equipped, they were dragging their weapons and supplies; moreover, they were in a hurry, because enemies were following them,” she said. “In addition, you need to understand that the Suvorov‘s Army crossed the pass in September. We do not walk over the route in autumn - the wind blows high, it is damp and slippery.”
Can Suvorov be considered a brand?
Alexander Suvorov’s name can be seen in all towns and villages along the Suvorov route, and not only on monuments and memorial plates. A traveler can spend a night in the house where Suvorov stayed, have lunch at a restaurant with the Russian commander’s surname on the signboard and try some wine with the same name. But Maria Krishat frowns hearing the word "brand."
“No way. Suvorov is not a brand,” she is confident. “The concept of a brand involves making profit, but Suvorov-related ideas do not bring any substantial money. Too few tourists come to follow Suvorov tracks; in fact, it is kind of sporadic rather then mass phenomenon. I personally know people who work on development of Suvorov-related ideas. Such people are enthusiastic and do not seek any profit. They open museums, collect rarities. And from time to time they go to sponsors with a begging bowl. Most of them are Swiss and elderly people. No one can say what will happen to Suvorov’s history in Switzerland, when they are not here anymore.”
Some of them have already passed away. Baron Eduard Oleg Alexandrowitsch von Falz-Fein is an iconic person for all those obsessed with personality and campaigns of Alexander Suvorov. He died in November 2018 at the age of 106. The baron came from an eminent noble family, and at the age of five he was watching the events of the October Revolution from a window in the Petrograd house of his grandfather, General Yepanchin.
Photo 4. Eduard von Falz-Fein. Photo credit: www.bfrz.ru
Just a few years ago he used to welcome participants of the Suvorov route in his house. He was the one who once had mapped that very route. In the days of his youth, his father told him about the feat of the Russian army. Then he found out maps and went along the route on his own, marking its main points. Later on he took part and supported opening of Alexander Suvorov museums and memorial plates.
Elena Burova, who once was at an audience with the baron, shares: “While we were waiting to be received in the front yard of the villa, someone asked the guide which category he would place the coming meeting. 'It is a historical event,' he replied. The Baron welcomed us reclining on his couch near a wide window overlooking a town located below. He had a beautiful face of aristocratic origin and exquisite Russian speech without any accent. The Baron told us about his recent trip to St. Petersburg to open the page corps and about his ties with Russia.”
The key events dedicated to the 220th anniversary of the Suvorov’s Army crossing the Alps will be held in Switzerland in the autumn of 2018. People who relate to these places and the tourist route, and are concerned about preserving the memory of Suvorov, expect that the anniversary will increase the number of guests, but also attract attention to this bright thread on the reel of Russian history.
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