Eastern Alps

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Eastern Alps
Tschierva glacier rework.jpg
Piz Bernina (centre-left) with the Biancograt to the left, Piz Scerscen (centre-right) and Piz Roseg (right), seen from Piz Corvatsch
Highest point
Peak Piz Bernina
Elevation 4,049 m (13,284 ft)
Coordinates 46°22′56.6″N9°54′29.2″E / 46.382389°N 9.908111°E / 46.382389; 9.908111
Area130,000 km2 (50,000 sq mi) [1]
Alps - EastWest.JPG
Delimitation of Western and Eastern Alps
CountriesSwitzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy and Slovenia
Range coordinates 46°34.5′N12°13.9′E / 46.5750°N 12.2317°E / 46.5750; 12.2317 Coordinates: 46°34.5′N12°13.9′E / 46.5750°N 12.2317°E / 46.5750; 12.2317
Parent range Alps
Borders onWienerwald, Transdanubian hills, Dinaric Alps, Venetian Plain, Po plain and Western Alps
Orogeny Alpine orogeny

Eastern Alps is the name given to the eastern half of the Alps, usually defined as the area east of a line from Lake Constance and the Alpine Rhine valley up to the Splügen Pass at the Alpine divide and down the Liro River to Lake Como in the south. The peaks and mountain passes are lower than the Western Alps, while the range itself is broader and less arched.



The Upper Engadin valley near St Moritz Sils.jpg
The Upper Engadin valley near St Moritz

The Eastern Alps include the eastern parts of Switzerland (mainly Graubünden), all of Liechtenstein, and most of Austria from Vorarlberg to the east, as well as parts of extreme Southern Germany (Upper Bavaria), northwestern Italy (Lombardy), northeastern Italy (Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia) and a good portion of northern Slovenia (Upper Carniola and Lower Styria). In the south the range is bound by the Italian Padan Plain; in the north the valley of the Danube river separates it from the Bohemian Massif. The easternmost spur is formed by the Vienna Woods range, with the Leopoldsberg overlooking the Danube and the Vienna basin, which is the transition zone to the arch of the Carpathian Mountains.

Zuers at the Flexenpass in Vorarlberg Zuers zoom.jpg
Zuers at the Flexenpass in Vorarlberg

The highest mountain in the Eastern Alps is Piz Bernina at 4,049 m (13,284 ft) in the Bernina Group of the Western Rhaetian Alps in Switzerland. [2] The sole four-thousander of the range, its name is taken from the Bernina Pass and was given in 1850 by Johann Coaz, who also made the first ascent. The rocks composing Piz Bernina are diorites and gabbros, while the massif in general is composed of granites (Piz Corvatsch, Piz Palü). [3] Excepting other peaks in the Bernina range, the next highest is the Ortler at 3,905 m (12,812 ft) in Italian South Tyrol and third the Großglockner at 3,798 m (12,461 ft), the highest mountain of Austria. The region around the Großglockner and the adjacent Pasterze Glacier has been a special protection area within the High Tauern National Park since 1986. [4]

Platteinspitze in Lechtal Alps 012 Lechtaler Alpen in Austria - Hintere and Vordere Platteinspitze.jpg
Platteinspitze in Lechtal Alps

Mount Sulzfluh is well frequented by climbers and is situated in the Rätikon range of the Alps, on the border between Austria and Switzerland. On the eastern side is a mountain path, of grade T4, [5] allowing non-climbers to reach the 2817 metre summit. There are six known caves in the limestone mountain, with lengths between 800 and 3000 or more yards, all with entrances on the Eastern side, in Switzerland. [6]

Mount Grauspitz (Vorder Grauspitze or Vorder Grauspitz on some maps) is the highest summit of the Rätikon, located on the border between Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

The Rätikon mountain range, in the Central Eastern Alps, derives its name from Raetia.

Only about 30% of Graubünden is commonly regarded as productive land, of which forests cover about a fifth of the total area. [7] The canton is entirely mountainous, comprising the highlands of the Rhine and Inn river valleys. [7] In its southeastern part lies the only official Swiss National Park. In its northern part the mountains were formed as part of the thrust fault that was declared a geologic UNESCO World Heritage Site, under the name Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona, in 2008. Another Biosphere Reserve is the Biosfera Val Müstair adjacent to the Swiss National Park whereas Ela Nature Park is one of the regionally supported parks.


AVE classification of the Eastern Alps:
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Northern Limestone Alps
Central Eastern Alps
Southern Limestone Alps
Western Limestone Alps AVE Ostalpen.png
AVE classification of the Eastern Alps:
  Northern Limestone Alps
  Central Eastern Alps
  Southern Limestone Alps
  Western Limestone Alps


The ranges are subdivided by several deeply indented river valleys, mostly running east–west, including the Inn, Salzach, Enns, Adige, Drava and Mur valleys. According to the traditional Alpine Club classification of the Eastern Alps (AVE) widely used by Austrian and German mountaineers, these mountain chains comprise several dozen smaller mountain groups, each assigned to four larger regions:

For the breakdown of these regions into mountain groups see the List of mountain groups in the Alpine Club classification of the Eastern Alps. The Swiss Alpine Club (SAC) has a slightly different classification of the ranges, based on the political borders in the canton of Graubünden. In Italy the 1926 Partizione delle Alpi concept is quite common, recently superseded by the SOIUSA attempt to combine the different approaches. Other specific, especially hydrographical arrangements are also in use.


The Alps comprise four main nappe systems:


Ice age

During the Würm glaciation, the Eastern Alps were drier than the Western Alps, with the contiguous ice shield ending in the region of the Niedere Tauern in Austria. This allowed many species to survive the ice age in the Eastern Alps where they could not survive elsewhere. For that reason, many species of plants are endemic to the Eastern Alps.

Early history

A Bronze Age settlement at the site goes back as far as the Pfyn culture [8] (3900–3500 BC), [9] making Chur one of the oldest settlements in Switzerland. In ancient times, the area of what is today Ticino was settled by the Lepontii, a Celtic tribe. Later, probably around the reign of Augustus, it became part of the Roman Empire. By 259, Alamanni tribes had overran the Limes and caused widespread devastation of Roman cities and settlements. The Roman Empire succeeded in re-establishing the Rhine as the border, but it was now a frontier province. The late Roman influx from the north by the Alemanni also influenced the makeup of the Principality of Liechtenstein and is also evidenced by the remains of a Roman fort at Schaan.

Most of the lands of the region were once part of a Roman province called Raetia, which was established in 15 BC. The current capital of Graubünden, Chur, was known as Curia in Roman times. The area was later part of the diocese of Chur. A Roman road crossed Liechtenstein from south to north, traversing the Alps by the Splügen Pass and following the right bank of the Rhine at the edge of the floodplain, for long uninhabited because of periodic flooding. Some Roman villas have been excavated in Schaanwald and Nendeln. Nearly 2000 years later, some of the population of Graubünden still speak Romansh which has descended from Vulgar Latin.

In the 4th century Chur became the seat of the first Christian bishopric north to the Alps. Despite a legend assigning its foundation to a legendary British king, St Lucius, the first known bishop is one Asinio [10] in AD 451.

In ancient times, the region had long been inhabited by the Celts before it became part of the ancient Roman provinces of Raetia and Noricum. In the 6th century the Slavs settled the area, and the local dioceses collapsed. This is shown in archaeological culture. A Slavic language group was established in the area. The Alpine Slavs, who are reckoned to be ancestors of present-day Slovenes, also settled in the easternmost mountainous areas of Friuli, known as the Friulian Slavia, as well in as the Kras Plateau and the area north and south of Gorizia. At this time, Chur was also conquered by the Franks. [11] By the 590s AD, today's East Tyrol and Carinthia had come to be referred to in historical sources as Provincia Sclaborum (the Country of Slavs). [12] [13] The territory settled by Slavs, however, was also inhabited by remnants of the indigenous Romanised Celtic and Pannonian population, who preserved the Christian faith and helped convert the Slavs of Carantania.

After the fall of the Ostrogothic Kingdom in 553, the Germanic tribe of the Lombards invaded Italy via the Tyrol and founded the Lombard Kingdom of Italy, which no longer included all of Tyrol, but only its southern part. The northern part of Tyrol came under the influence of the Bavarii, while the west was probably part of Alamannia.

Carantania was absorbed into the Frankish Empire in 745. The province of Lower Rhaetia was formed in 814. [14] Liechtenstein's borders have remained unchanged since 1434, when the Rhine was established as the border between the Holy Roman Empire and the newly formed Swiss cantons.

The city of Chur suffered several invasions: by the Magyars in 925–926, when the cathedral was destroyed, and by the Saracens (940 and 954), but afterwards it flourished thanks to its location, where the roads from several major Alpine transit routes come together and continue down the Rhine river. In 926 more Magyar raiders attacked the abbey and the nearby town of St Gallen.

Medieval history

Vaduz Castle, built during the Middle Ages Schlossvaduz.jpg
Vaduz Castle, built during the Middle Ages

In the years 1007 and 1027 the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire granted the counties of Trento and Vinschgau to the Bishopric of Trent and the Bishopric of Brixen the county of Norital in 1027 and the Puster Valley in 1091 by the county of Milan and Como. By about 1100 Ticino was the centre of struggle between the free communes of Milan and Como.

The upper Rhine river had been visited by traders since Roman times, but acquired greater importance under the Ottonian dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire. Emperor Otto I appointed his vassal Hartpert as bishop of Chur in 958, and awarded the bishopric numerous privileges. In 1170 the bishop became a prince-bishop and kept total control over the road between Chur and Chiavenna. After the fall of the Western Empire, Ticino was ruled by the Ostrogoths, the Lombards and the Franks. Liechtenstein was under the Alamannii.

From upper Valais, the Walser began to spread south, west and east between the 12th and 13th centuries, in the so-called Walser migrations (Walserwanderungen).

In the 13th century Chur had some 1,300 inhabitants, and was surrounded by a line of walls. In 1367 the foundation of the Three Leagues in the area was a first step towards Chur's autonomy: a burgmeister (mayor) is first mentioned in 1413, and the bishop's residence was attacked by the inhabitants. Chur was the chief town of the Gotteshausbund or Chadé (League of the House of God), and one of the regular meeting places of the assemblies of the Leagues. As the power of the bishops, now increasingly under the influence of the nearby Habsburg County of Tyrol, decreased, in 1464 the citizens wrote a constitution which was adopted as the rule for the peoples of the local guilds and political positions.

The medieval county of Vaduz was formed in 1342 as a small subdivision of the Werdenberg county of the dynasty of Montfort of Vorarlberg.

In 1367 the League of God's House (Cadi, Gottes Haus, Ca' di Dio) was founded to resist the rising power of the Bishop of Chur. This was followed by the establishment of the Grey League (Grauer Bund), sometimes called Oberbund, in 1395 in the Upper Rhine valley.

In the 14th century it was acquired by the Visconti, Dukes of Milan. In the 15th century the Swiss Confederates conquered the valleys south of the Alps in three separate conquests.

Modern history

When Graubünden became a Swiss canton in 1803, Chur was chosen as its capital.

Mt. Piz Bernina (4,049 m) was given its name in 1850 by Johann Coaz, who also made the first ascent. [15]

The completion of the final portion of the FO railway occurred in 1926. It thus opened up the Cantons of Valais and Graubünden to further tourist development. This led to the introduction of Kurswagen (through coaches) between Brig and Chur, and between Brig and St. Moritz. [16]


Tourism in Graubünden is concentrated around the towns of Davos/Arosa, Flims and St. Moritz/Pontresina. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

Swiss Alps Portion of the Alps that lies within Switzerland

The Alpine region of Switzerland, conventionally referred to as the Swiss Alps, represents a major natural feature of the country and is, along with the Swiss Plateau and the Swiss portion of the Jura Mountains, one of its three main physiographic regions. The Swiss Alps extend over both the Western Alps and the Eastern Alps, encompassing an area sometimes called Central Alps. While the northern ranges from the Bernese Alps to the Appenzell Alps are entirely in Switzerland, the southern ranges from the Mont Blanc massif to the Bernina massif are shared with other countries such as France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein.

Main chain of the Alps

The main chain of the Alps, also called the Alpine divide is the central line of mountains that forms the water divide of the range. Main chains of mountain ranges are traditionally designated in this way, and generally include the highest peaks of a range. The Alps are something of an unusual case in that several significant groups of mountains are separated from the main chain by sizable distances. Among these groups are the Dauphine Alps, the Eastern and Western Graians, the entire Bernese Alps, the Tödi, Albula and Silvretta groups, the Jura Mountains, Ortler and Adamello ranges, and the Dolomites of South Tyrol, as well as the lower Alps of Vorarlberg, Bavaria and Salzburg.

Grisons Largest and easternmost canton of Switzerland

The Grisons or Graubünden, more formally the Canton of the Grisons or the Canton of Graubünden, is one of the 26 cantons forming the Swiss Confederation. It is composed of eleven districts and its capital is Chur. The Alpine ibex is the heraldic symbol of the canton.


Raetia was a province of the Roman Empire, named after the Rhaetian people. It bordered on the west with the country of the Helvetii, on the east with Noricum, on the north with Vindelicia, on the south-west with Transalpine Gaul and on the south with Venetia et Histria.

Alpine Rhine

The Alpine Rhine Valley is a glacial alpine valley, formed by the part of the Alpine Rhine between the confluence of the Anterior Rhine and Posterior Rhine at Reichenau and the Alpine Rhine's mouth at Lake Constance. It covers three countries and the full length of the Alpine Rhine is 93.5 km.


The Rätikon is a mountain range of the Central Eastern Alps, located at the border between Vorarlberg, Liechtenstein and Graubünden. It is the geological border between the Eastern and Western Alps and stretches from the Montafon as far as the Rhine. In the south, the Prättigau is its limit, and in the north, it is the Walgau. In the east, it borders the Silvretta groups. The Rätikon mountain range derives its name from Raetia, a province of the Roman Empire, named after the Rhaetian people.

Central Eastern Alps Portion of the Eastern Alps mountain range through Austria and parts of surrounding countries

The Central Eastern Alps, also referred to as Austrian Central Alps or just Central Alps comprise the main chain of the Eastern Alps in Austria and the adjacent regions of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy and Slovenia. Below it are the Southern Limestone Alps.

High Tauern A mountain range of the eastern Alps

The High Tauern are a mountain range on the main chain of the Central Eastern Alps, comprising the highest peaks east of the Brenner Pass. The crest forms the southern border of the Austrian states of Salzburg, Carinthia and East Tyrol, with a small part in the southwest belongs to the Italian province of South Tyrol. The range includes Austria's highest mountain, the Grossglockner at 3,798 metres (12,461 ft) above the Adriatic.

Samnaun Alps

The Samnaun Alps are a mountain range of the Central Eastern Alps, named after the Swiss municipality of Samnaun. They are located at the border of the Austrian state of Tyrol and the Graubünden canton of Switzerland.

Piz Bernina

Piz Bernina is the highest mountain in the Eastern Alps, the highest point of the Bernina Range, and the highest peak in the Rhaetian Alps. It rises 4,048.6 m (13,283 ft) and is located south of Pontresina and near the major Alpine resort of St. Moritz, in the Engadin valley. It is also the most easterly mountain higher than 4,000 m (13,000 ft) in the Alps, the highest point of the Swiss canton of Graubünden, and the fifth-most prominent peak in the Alps. Although the summit lies within Switzerland, the massif is on the border with Italy. The "shoulder" known as La Spedla is the highest point in the Italian Lombardy region.

Rhaetian Alps

The Rhaetian Alps are a mountain range of the Eastern Alps. The SOIUSA classification system divides them into the Western and Eastern Rhaetian Alps, while the Alpine Club classification of the Eastern Alps places most of the Rhaetion subranges within the Western Limestone Alps.

Geography of the Alps

The Alps cover a large area. This article describes the delimitation of the Alps as a whole and of subdivisions of the range, follows the course of the main chain of the Alps and discusses the lakes and glaciers found in the region.

Grison Alps

The Grison Alps are the mountains of the Graubünden canton of Switzerland. There are many significant peaks in the Grison Alps, including the Tödi and the highest peak, Piz Bernina. Many of the mountain ranges feature extensive glaciers, such as at the Adula, the Albula, the Silvretta, the Bernnina or the Rätikon range. The Grison Alps include parts of both the Eastern Alps and the Western Alps. The Eastern Alps located in Graubünden are the Rhaetian Alps, which is part to the Central Eastern Alps.

Alpine Club classification of the Eastern Alps

The Alpine Club classification of the Eastern Alps is a common division of the Eastern Alps into 75 mountain ranges, based on the Moriggl Classification (ME) first published in 1924 by the German and Austrian Alpine Club. The present-day division established for the German-speaking world was compiled by the German, Austrian and South Tyrol Alpine Clubs and published in 1984 and is also used for the basic numbering of Alpine Club maps for mountaineering.

Western Rhaetian Alps

The Western Rhaetian Alps are a mountain range in the central part of the Alps.

Val Roseg

The Val Roseg is a valley of the Swiss Alps, located on the north side of the Bernina Range in the canton of Graubünden (Engadin). The valley is drained by the Ova da Roseg, a tributary of the Flaz, at Pontresina. Most of the valley is part of an exclave of the municipality of Samedan. Only the bottom of Val Roseg lies in the municipality of Pontresina.

Johann Coaz

Johann Wilhelm Fortunat Coaz was a Swiss forester, topographer and mountaineer from Graubünden. In 1850 he made the first ascent of Piz Bernina, the highest mountain in the Eastern Alps. He also gave Piz Bernina its name, after the eponymous pass.

Raetia Curiensis

Raetia Curiensis was an Early medieval province in Central Europe, named after the preceding Roman province of Raetia prima which retained its Romansh culture during the Migration Period, while the adjacent territories in the north were largely settled by Alemannic tribes. The administrative capital was Chur in the present Swiss canton of Grisons.

Austria–Switzerland border

The modern states of Austria and Switzerland share a border with a length of 180 km (110 mi) in two parts, separated by Liechtenstein, the longer stretch running across the Grison Alps and the shorter one following the Alpine Rhine to its mouth at Lake Constance.


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