Online Encyclopedia

VALAIS (Ger. Wallis, Ital. Vallese)

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V27, Page 840 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
VALAIS (Ger. Wallis, Ital. Vallese), one of the cantons of southern Switzerland. Its name has been explained as meaning the " Walsch " (i.e. non-Teutonic) land. But it is pretty certainly derived from vallis or vallensis pagus, for the region is simply the old Vallis Poenina, or upper valley of the Rhone from its source in the Rhone glacier to the gorge of St Maurice, together with the left bank of the Rhone from that gorge to the Lake of Geneva. The spelling " Vallais " prevailed till the end of the 18th century, and was officially superseded early in the 19th century by " Valais," a form that is very rarely found previously. The total area of the canton is 2016.6 sq. m. (exceeded only by that of the Grisons and of Bern), of which, however, only 1107 is reckoned as " productive " (forests covering 297.4 sq. m. and vineyards 10.7 sq. m.), while of the rest no fewer than 375 sq. m. (the most considerable stretch in Switzerland) is occupied by glaciers, and 41; sq. m. by the cantonal share of the Lake of Geneva. It is therefore naturally one of the poorest cantons in the confederation. It would be still poorer were it not for its excellent wines, and for the fact that in summer-time it is visited by many thousands of travellers, for whom inns have been built in nearly every glen and on many high pastures (Zermatt, Saas, Riffel Alp, Evolena, Arolla, Zinal, Champery, in the Val de Bagnes, in the Lotschen valley, the Bel Alp, the Rieder Alp, the Eggishorn, Binn, and near the Rhone glacier). It consists of a deep and long trench, which becomes a mere gorge between Niederwald and Brieg, the general direction being south-west, till at Martigny the valley makes a sharp bend to the north-west. The loftiest point in the canton is the culminating summit or Dufourspitze (15,217 ft.) of Monte Rosa, which rises on a short spur projecting from the watershed, but the highest mountain which is wholly situated in the canton is the Dom (14,942 ft.), the culminating point of the Mischabel range. A railway line runs through the canton from Le Bouveret, on the Lake of Geneva, to (73 m.) Brieg, at the N. mouth of the magnificent Simplon tunnel (121 m., opened in 1906), the line from St Maurice (about 14 m. from Bouveret) onwards forming the through line from Lausanne towards Milan. There are also mountain railways from Visp up to Zermatt (thence a branch up to the Gornergrat), and from Vernayaz (near Martigny) past Salvan towards Chamonix, while the new tunnel, begun in 1906, beneath the Lotschen Pass or Lotschberg, connects Kandersteg, in the Bernese Oberland, with Brieg, and thus opens up a new direct route from London and Paris to Italy. As the canton is shut in almost throughout its entire length by high mountain ranges it is as a rule only accessible by foot paths or mule paths across this lofty Alpine barrier. But there are excellent carriage roads over the Great St Bernard Pass (8111 ft.), as well as over the Simplon Pass (6592 ft.), both leading to Italy. At the very head of the Rhone valley two other finely engineered carriage roads give access to Uri over the Furka Pass (7992 ft.) and to the canton of Bern over the Grimsel Pass (7100 ft.). Being thus shut in it was almost impossible for the canton to extend its boundaries, save in 1536, when it won the left bank of the Rhone below the gorge of St Maurice. But at early though unknown dates it acquired and still holds the upper bit of the southern slope of the Simplon Pass, as well as the Alpine pastuees on the northern slope of the Gemmi. The mineral waters of Leukerbad, and, to a lesser degree, those of Saxon, attract some summer visitors, the vast majority of whom, however, prefer the glorious scenery of the various high Alpine glens. The canton forms the diocese of Sion (founded in the 4th century), and has St Theodule (or Theodore) as its patron saint. Till 1513 the diocese was in the ecclesiastical province of Moil-tiers in the Tarentaise (Savoy), but since then has been immediately dependent on the pope. Within its limits are the three famous religious houses (all now held by Austin Canons) of St Maurice (6th century), of the Great St Bernard, and of the Simplon. Since 184o the abbot of St Maurice has borne the title of bishop of Bethlehem " in partibus infidelium." Ecclesiastical affairs are managed839 without any control or interference on the part of the state, though the cantonal legislature presents to the pope as bishop one of four candidates presented by the chapter of Sion. In 'goo the population was 114,438, of whom 74,562 were French-speaking, 34,339 German-speaking, and 5469 Italian-speaking, while 112,584 were Romanists, 1610 Protestants, and 25 Jews. The linguistic frontier has varied in the course of ages. Nowadays from Sierre (10 m. above Sion) upwards a dialect of German is generally spoken (though it is said that the opening of the Simplon through route has given a considerable impetus to the extension of French among the railway officials), while below Sierre a French dialect (really a Savoyard patois) is the prevailing tongue. To a considerable degree the history of the Valais is a struggle between the German element (pre-dominant politically till 1798) and the French element. Good wines are produced in the district, especially Muscat and Vin du Glacier. Otherwise the inhabitants of the main valley (at least from Brieg onwards) are engaged in agriculture, though suffering much from the inundations of the Rhone, against which great embankments have been constructed, while many swampy tracts have been drained, and so the plague of malarial fever abated to a certain extent. In the higher valleys the inhabitants are employed in pastoral occupations. The number of " alps " or mountain pastures is 547 (319 in the Lower Valais and 228 in the Upper Valais, the line of division being drawn a little above Sierre), capable of sup-porting 50,735 cows (33,192 and 17,543 respectively) and of an estimated capital value of 10,873,900 fr. (7,969,500 and 2,904,400 respectively), so that, as might be expected for other reasons, the lower portion of the valley where the climate is less rigorous is richer and more prosperous than the upper portion where other conditions prevail. The capital is Sion (q.v.). Next in point of population came (in 1900) Naters (3953), on account of the numbers of Italian workmen engaged in•piercing the Simplon tunnel. The neighbouring town of Brieg had then 2182 inhabitants, and the wide commune of Monthey 3392. The canton is divided into 13 administrative districts, which comprise 166 communes. The cantonal constitution was little advanced till 1907 when it was entirely remodelled. The legislature (Grand Conseil or Gross Rath) is composed of members elected in the proportion of one for every woo (or fraction over 500) citizens, and holds office for four years. The executive (Conseil d'Etat or Staatsrath) is composed of five members, named by the Grand Conseil, and holds office for four years. The "obligatory referendum prevails, while 4000 citizens (6000 in the case of a revision of the cantonal constitution) have the right of " initiative " as to legislative projects. The two members of the Federal Stdnderalh are named by the Grand Conseil, but the six members of the Federal Nalionalrath are elected by a popular vote. The 1907 cantonal constitution has a curious provision (art. 84) that while members of the cantonal legislature are ordinarily elected by all the voters of a Bezirk or district, yet if one or several communes (numbering over 500 inhabitants) demand it, this commune or these communes form a kreis, or cercle and elect a member or members. The Vallis Poenina was won by the Romans after a great fight at Octodurus (Martigny) in 57 B.C., and was so thoroughly Romanized that the Celtic aboriginal inhabitants and the Teutonic Burgundian invaders (5th century) became Romance-speaking peoples. According to a tradition which can be traced back to the middle of the 8th century, the " Theban legion " was martyred at St Maurice about 285 or 302. Valais formed part of the kingdom of Transjurane Burgundy (888), which fell to the empire in 1032, and later of the duchy of Burgundia Minor, which was held from the emperors by the house of Zahringen (extinct 1218). In 999 Rudolph III. of Burgundy gave all temporal rights and privileges to the bishop of Sion, who was later styled " praefect and count of the Valais," and is still a prince of the Holy Roman Empire; the pretended donation of Charlemagne is not genuine. The bishops had much to do in keeping back the Zhhringen, and later the counts of Savoy. The latter, however, succeeded in winning most of the land west of Sion, while in the upper part of the valley there were many feudal lords (such as the lords of Raron, those of La Tour-Chatillon, and the counts of Visp). About the middle of the 13th century we find independent communities or " tithings " (dizains or Zehnten) growing up, these, though seven in number, taking their name most probably from a very ancient division of the bishop's manors for administrative and judicial purposes. In the same century the upper part of the valley was colonized by Germans from Hasli (Bern), who thoroughly Teutonized it, though many Romance local names still remain. In 1354 the liberties of several of the seven "tithings " (Sion, Sierre, Leuk, Raron, Visp, Brieg and Conches) were confirmed by the Emperor Charles IV. A little later the influence of Savoy became predominant, and the count secured to his family the bishopric of Sion, of which he was already the suzerain. His progress was resisted by the tithings, which in 1375-76 crushed the power of the house of La Tour-Chatillon, and in 1388 utterly defeated the forces of the bishop, the count and the nobles at Visp, this being a victory of the Teutonic over the Romance element in the land. From 1384 the Morge stream (a little below Sion) was recognized as the boundary between Savoyard or Lower Valais and episcopal or Upper Valais. In 1416-17 the Zehnten of the upper bit of the valley made an alliance with Lucerne, Uri and Unterwalden, with a view partly to the conquest of the Val d'Ossola, which was finally lost in 1422, and partly to the successful crushing of the power of the lords of Raron (1420). By the election of Walther von Supersax of Conches as bishop in 1457 the Teutonic element finally won the supremacy. On the outbreak of the Burgundian War the bishop of Sion and the tithings made a treaty with Bern. In November of the same year (1475) they seized all Lower or Savoyard Valais up to Martigny, and in 1476 (March), after the victory of Grandson, won St Maurice, Evian, Thonon and Monthey. The last three districts were given up in 1477, but won again in 1536, though finally by the treaty of Thonon in 1569 Monthey, Val d'Illiez and Bouveret alone were permanently annexed to the Valais, these conquests being maintained with the help of thdir old allies, Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden. These conquered districts (or Lower Valais) were always ruled as subject lands by the bishop and tithings of Upper Valais. The Valais took part in the Milanese war of 1512-16, and henceforth was reckoned as an " ally " of the Swiss Confederation. In 1533 a close alliance was made with the Romanist cantons; but by 1551 the Protestants had won so much ground that toleration was proclaimed by the local assembly. 131 1586 Upper Valais became a member of the Golden League, and finally in 1603-04 the four tithings of Conches, Brieg, Visp and Raron carried the day in favour of the old faith against those of Leuk, Sierre and Sion. In 1790-91 Lower Valais rose in revolt; but it was not finally freed till 1798, when the whole of Valais became one of the cantons of the Helvetic Republic. Such- prolonged and fierce resistance was, however, offered to French rule by the inhabitants that in 1802 Bonaparte declared Valais an independent state under the name of the " Rhodanic Republic," yet in 181o, for strategic reasons, he incorporated it with France as the " department of the Simplon," and it was not freed till the Austrians came in 1813. In 1815 a local assembly was created, in which each of the seven tithings of Upper and each of the six of Lower Valais (though the latter had nearly double the population of the former) elected four members, the bishop being given four votes. This constitution was approved by the Federal Swiss Diet, which thereupon (1815) received the Valais as a full member of the Swiss Confederation. In 1832 the Valais joined the League of Sarnen to maintain the Federal Pact of 1815. In 1839-40 it was convulsed by a struggle between the Conservative and Radical parties, the split into two half cantons being only prevented by the arrival of Federal troops. The constitution was revised in 1839, the local assembly was to be elected according to population (1 member for every r000 inhabitants), and the bishop was given a seat instead of his four votes, while the clergy elected one deputy. In 1844 civil war raged, many Liberals being slain at the bridge of Trient (May 1844), and the Valais becoming a member of the Sonderbund. By the 1844 constitution the clergy elected a second deputy. The introduction of the Jesuits embittered matters, and the Valais was the last canton to submit in the Sonderbund War (1847); it contented itself, however, with voting steadily against the acceptance of the Federal constitutions of 1848 and 1874. By the constitution of 1848 all ecclesiastical exemptions from taxation were swept away, and the bishop lost his seat in the assembly. New constitutions were framed in 1852, in 1875 and in 1907.
End of Article: VALAIS (Ger. Wallis, Ital. Vallese)

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.