History in The Alps: Fluela Pass

The Fluela Pass in the Canton of Grisons in Switzerland connects Davos to Susch in the Lower Engadin Valley. The pass is open only in summer. In winter, it is highly exposed to avalanches from the surrounding mountains. And make no mistake; travelers have been caught in snow storms on that pass in August. 

The Fluela Pass starts in Davos in the West at 1,560 m (5,100 ft) and ends in the East in Susch at 1,426 m (4,700 ft). It is the connection of two high altitude valleys. Its highest point is at 2,383 m (7,800 ft) marked by the Hospice on the shores of  two lakes. The lakes mark the European water divide. They eventually shed their water into the Black Sea on one side and the North Sea on the other. 

Both Davos and Susch had definitely been permanently settled as early as the middle Bronze Age and the pass was the nearest connection between the two. Weapons from the time have been found in the valleys as well as on the pass. The Engadin and the region to the West with Davos and Chur were conquered by Roman Empress Livia’s sons Tiberius and Drusus in 15 BC. The population was romanized and still speaks its own language of Romansh today. 

The area later fell to the Western Goths and from them reverted to the Franks and later the Duchy of Swabia. Charlemagne reorganized the local power set-up and stabilized it by instituting a Barony at Tarasp to control the vital passes including the Fluela Pass. By inheritance, the Barony came into the hands first of the Counts of Tyrol; and later, title and lands reverted to the Hapsburg family. All these inheritances and various gifts to the powerful monasteries in the area made a mess of administration as landownership, tax rights, and legal administration got inextricably tangled. After the passing away of the baronial family, the Lower Engadin organised its military defense through the Confederation of Ten Courts (Zehnerbund). 

The 16th century saw the beginning of almost permanent contention between the factions of the Bishops of Chur and the Hapsburg Imperial family. Reformation and Counter-Reformation brought armies into the area even before the 30-years war. The villages of the Lower Engadin were burnt down several times during that time and the locals often used the Fluela Pass to escape to Davos for security. 

If you follow the pass from Davos to Susch, the ascent from Davos to the Hospice is marked by the stark contrast from the green and woody valley to a bare and stony wasteland in the higher reaches of the pass. Descending on the other side, the lush green will welcome you to the Engadin. On a day with sunny weather, you’ll be able to see the imposing Castle of Tarasp in the distance. But a lot of the descent you’ll be passing through the green and lush alpine woods that characterize the Lower Engadin. 

Coming towards Susch, you’ll notice that each of the lower hills around the villages bears traces of fortification covering any age from the middle Bronze Age to Late Medieval times. These fortifications are ample prove of the importance of the pass through time.