Mont Cenis Pass
- a Time Machine
Val Cenis is a mid-size ski resort at the South-western Alps of France. It is not widely known, but a secret gem to those who do know it. However, the valley has been famous for thousands of years. It has been the starting point to the most important pass over the Alps to Italy.
2017 / 10:00:00
I seat myself on the Ramasse ski lift in Val Cenis ski resort. In my mind I transform the skilift to a TIME MACHINE, that squeezes 2235 years into one hour.
218 B.C. / 10:00
"Yth alonim ualonuth sicorathi symacom syth 930
chy mlachthi in ythmum!" A military commander wearing an ancient uniform yells at his troups.
Not a word is comprehensible, but his language must be Carthaginian and the man Hannibal Barca.
Why? Because the general goads one hundred elephants, hundreds of horsemen and thousands of infantry to climb a steep path marked by only hoofprints of ibices.
The Carthaginians, beaten by the Romans in the First Punic war, try to attack Romans from behind and scare them with their elephants.
Hannibal’s elphants hardly recognize the whiplashes on their thick skin. Dragged by horses and oxen they
finally start to move. Would Hannibal turn back,
if he knew, that one third of his troops will never
cross theAlps. Some of them will fall off the
narrow path. Avalanches of stones will crush others. Tens will freeze to death. Only seven elephants will survive. However, they will gain many victories, but they will never attack the city of Rome, but settle in southern Italy for some twenty years.
2017 / 10:11:30
I reach the top of the Ramasse ski lift.
In its peaceful lull I’ve been wondering
how come no bones or tusks of those
tens of perished elephants have been
found in any of the twelve passes that all claim to have
been Hannibal’s route to glory. Some bacteria typical in dung of Carthaginian horses have been found.
322 / 10:14:30
30,000 soldiers of Constantine I, the emperor of Western Rome rattle in rhythmical march past me on their way across Mont Cenis Pass to fight Maxentius. After two defeats Maxentius drowns when escaping.
Constantine, now the Great, ceasar of the whole Roman empire continues his march to the coast of what we today know as Turkey. He drags along the capitol of the empire to the town of Byzantia and calls it New Rome. That’s the beginning of Byzantium, that will live for a thousand years. After his death the name of the town is changed to Constatinople, much later it's known as Istanbul.
2017 / 10:14:30
Nobody queuing to the Mont Cenis Poma ski lift. So it doesn’t move. I walk to the dog sledge station and
watch Claire, the dog trainer give instruction to two
The dogs bark like mad. The official explanation is
their feverish ecstacy to get running. I know that they, with their super-sense of smell and time make them
bark at Hannibal’s elephants or Constantine’s horses.
395 / 10:16:27
Eastern and Western Rome are separated. As a part
of Western Rome, Mont Cenis Pass remains as an important passage between Cisalpina and Transalpina.
476 / 10:18:38
Western Rome collapses to tens of small and larger city states. Some of them will unite. No traffic worth mentioning takes place across the Val Cenis Pass. Most of the time it’s split into two by two kingdoms or something.
2017 / 10:25:38
I walk to the restaurant close to the top of the Ramasse chairlift for a coffee.
744 / 10:25:50
Nearing hoofbeat turns everybody’s head towards the trail. Charlemagne himself rides avant-garde his troops on this trying journey from France to Italy.
His noble intention is to protect the pope from attacks by the Lombards. Doing this he annexes Papal States with his Frankish Empire.
800 / 10:27:20
Charlemagne is coronated Roman Emperor in 800. Some historians consider this the birth of Holy Roman Empire. The emperor himself evidently considers the whole empire simply the Frankish Empire, for he keeps calling himself the King of the Franks.
2017 / 10:27:50
I prolong my coffee break and enjoy the sun. Some men are without shirt, topless. A lady is wearing the bikini bra. They all look like SCIJ members.
1032 / 10:33:33
There’s nothing left of Charlemagne’s troops but a suffocating cloud of dust.
Konrad II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire joins Burgundy with the empire.
Through centuries thousands of pilgrims wander
from Western and North-Western Europe to
Rome through the Mont Cenis Pass.
2017 / 10:42:10
A few people look like they had fallen asleep
leaning on the wall of the café. Wonder if they
have sun protection.
1378 / 10:42:51
The Papal Schism splits the Catholic Church in
1378. Three men simultaneously claim to be the true pope. The original Pope stays in Avignon,
France. Poor pilgrims don’t know where to go.
Benedictus XII staying in Avignon
consideres himself the real thing.
On Val Cenis Pass there seems to be traffic into
both directions according to which pope they
Oh dear, some people seem to fight, even those
going eastwards. Some evidently are in support
of Gregorius XII staying in Rome, the others
kind of prefer Johannes XXIII in Pisa.
Those pilgrims are like soccer fans.
Papal Schism ends in 1417, when Martinus V
is elected to replace the three rivalling popes.
Seven popes had stayed in Avignon.
Well, the debate continues until the 19th century. Anyway, at least the pilgrims, again, know
with direction to head to on Mont Cenis Pass.
2017 / 10:46:33
I startle out of my sleep with half a full
cup of cold coffee in front of me. Two men
leaning on the café wall are still sleeping.
1516 / 10:46:33
Hundreds of years have passed.
An old man is riding on a donkey and a younger man leading two packed donkeys advance from the east.
The old man with long hair and beard steps down the donkey and enters a sedan held steady by two sturdy men. His travelling companion takes care of the beasts and the small company start the steeply descending
road to Val Cenis.
Among their luggage they have some rolled-up paintings, e.g. John the Baptist and La Giogonda, Mona Lisa.
The old man is Leonardo da Vinci. He is now
officially the royal architect of Francis I, the young king of France, who is enthused overItalian renaissance.
Pope Leo X introduced the artist to the king in his
palace in Bologna.
Leonardo had lost orders to an ever encreasing extent
to Michelangelo and Tizian, and is now willingly
moving to a Place in Amboise. The long and heavy journey from Val Cenis will still take two months.
2017 / 10:54:22
I buy a bottle of water and wash away the taste of
sleep of my mouth. Then I add some sun tan lotion
on my nose and cheeks, collect my gear, and start
walking towards the Mont Cenis Poma ski lift.
1807 / 10:54:22
The rumble of marching feet of thousands of soldiers draws my attention. A plump, but somehow fascinating officer on a donkey follows his troops two days later.
Napoleon Bonaparte has had this road built for his visit to Italy, because English warships are on patrol outside southern France. The road will be the basics for very advanced travelling from France to Italy.
2017 / 10:54:57
The Poma ski lift throws me five meters uphill, almost stops, pushes me on a bit gentler and continues a steady but rather steep rise.
1829 / 10:54:57
A stagecoach from Italy struggles though deepening snow on the Napoleon road.
In his diary, a young Englishman describes a funny little elderly gentleman, who keeps popping his head of the window to sketch the scenery: “ He is evidently some kind of an artist. The name on his trunk is J.M.W Turner”.
Coincidentally, in his biography, England’s most beloved artist William Turner describes crossing the Alps:
"…crossed Pass Mont Cenis on a sledge – bivouacked in the snow with fires lighted for 3 hours on Mont Tarate (?) while the coach was righted and dug out, for a bank of snow saved it from upsetting – and in the same night we were again turned out to walk up to our knees in new fallen drift to get assistance to dig a channel through it for the coach…"
Is he the same man?
2017 / 10:55:36
The ski trail on the lift line is broken, but I can manage. It’s not easy to use a Poma ski lift with a snowboard, and the ski trail suffers. I know, I’ve tried it and been falling of the lift.
1853 / 10:55:36
Only 39 seconds later I see another stagecoach of the British Post pass by on its way to Italy. In my time machine eyes it plunges right through the one coming from Italy.
Anthony Trollope, one of the most successful English novelists of the Victorian era is also an inspector at British Post. Among other things he invented the red mail box.
Mr. Trollope travels all around the world in Postal business. He is a clever man. On a working journey he also visits his mother and brother living in Italy.
He also contributes to a periodical of the British Post Office. He writes about the Mont Cenis Pass, travelling by a stagecoach. Building a railroad in general, and the principal of the so-called Fell Mountain Railroad he describes in thousands of word. He e.g. explains the altitude of the Pass to his lowland readers:
“Mont Cenis Pass is 6,658 feet above the sea level. What does this mean?
The staircase height of an ordinary town house in London is about 60 feet, a fatiguing ascension even for the lightest of us. The summit of the Mont Cenis Pass is exactly 111 times 60.
The top of St. Paul’s Cathedral is 404 feet from the ground at St. Paul’s Churchyard. The summit of the Mont Cenis Pass is sixteen and a half times higher”.
Mr. Trollope does not get the promotion he ran for in the P.O. So he gave his notice. He was evidently annoyed, when he, in his next novel “He knew he was right” describes the inconveniences on travel and the rudeness of the staff at the St. Michel stagecoach station.
2017 / 10:55:58
I’ve only advanced c. 100 meters, when “Toot toot” draws my attention.
1867 / 10:55:58
The earth rumbles when the first mountain train of the world rushes through the much slower stagecoach. It’s designed and built by Englishmen, because it’s main purpose is to replace the stagecoach taking mail from England to India. Anthony Trollope is aboard this train, but only on holiday, because he left British Post a year before.
During the years 1867–71 the little train transports nearly 100,000 travelers. Some of them are very illustrious such as María Eugenia Ignacia Agustina de Palafox-Portocarrero de Guzmán y Kirkpatrick, marquise d’Ardales, marquise de Moya, comtesse de Teba, comtesse de Montijo. In short she is Empress Eugenie, married to Napolen III, emperor of France, who had strongly supported building the railway line.
Another traveller is king-to-be Edward II, at the time of travel Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales.
2017 / 10:57:56
I reach the top of Mont Cenis Poma ski lift. I enjoy the great view onto Lake Mont Cenis as recommended on the skimap, provided by the efficient French members of SCIJ.
From my vantage point I can see the sledge dogs lying on the snow close to Lake Mont Cenis. The sledgers are taking pictures and selfies.
1940 / 10:57:56
It’s pitch dark. Clouds lie low on Lake Mont Cenis. It’s one minute past midnight on June 21st. From the clouds, rattle and clatter of caterpillars of Italian tanks mix with rumble of lorries carrying thousands of Italian soldiers. Italy has declared war against France.
The Italian troops invade the French territory through seven passes. One of them is Mont Cenis Pass.
A Franco-Italian armistice is signed on June 24th, and a 50 km demilitarized zone is formed between the countries.
French casualties: c. 37 killed, c. 60 wounded, c. 150 reported missing
Italian casualties c. 640 killed, c. 2,630 wounded,
c. 616 reported missing. A further 2,151 men suffer from frostbite.
A great victory, declares Mussolini. A great victory!
What they gained: useless mountains: minor industry, no farming land, one tourist town. What a great victory!
2017 / 10:58:10
I ski down the Goulet piste towards the Relais du Col restaurant by the roadside.
1949 / 10:58:10
The roadsides of Napoleon route through Mont Cenis Pass are full of cycling fans. They follow the 15th stage of Tour de France, that goes from Val Cenis to Italy. Furious Frenchmen throw tomatoes at leading Italians Gobbi and Bartali. The Italian occupation of the region is still fresh in their memory. The Time Machine difference between the occupation and Tour de France is only 14 seconds, so they throw tomatoes at the Italian tanks and other military vehicles.
2017 / 10:59:53
The sledge dogs are barking eagerly again, ready to run back. One of them has had his constitutional. Does the dog trainer take care of the output? I wouldn't like that kind of waxing under my skis.
2013 / 10:59:53
Service cars of Giro d’Italia, motorcycles carrying TV cameramen and cyclists coming from Italy to Val Cenis rush through the Tour de France 1949, 1961 and 1992 cyclists…
No! They don’t! The stage has been cancelled because of avalanche danger…
No! It’s not! The Giro d'Italia has just confirmed that Mont Cenis is back in the race shortened by 4000 horizontal and 350 vertical meters.
2017 / 10:59:58
Relais du Col restaurant looks very closed. I must come back in summer.
2016 / 10:59:58
It’s getting harder and harder to distinguish anything in this mess.
Hundreds of runners hurry through the tanks, cycles, motorcycles, cars and cheering crowds.
The cross-country runners of EDF Cenis Tour cross the Napoleon route in front of Le Relais du Col restaurant. They have four courses to choose from: 20, 27, 45 of 73 km, with verticals varying from 1160 to 3370 meters.
The runners make the mess even worse by repeating it once a year since 2013. If you take part every year, you follow yourself four times, always within two seconds.
2017 / 10:59:59
I’m standing alone at the Relais du Col restaurant. Not many people ski down the Goulet piste. They may think that the Poma lift is closed and doze off on the terrace of the restaurant. Getting tanned. Getting burnt.
You should have listened to your Mom, you morons.
2016 / 10:59:59
It hasn’t exactly been very quiet till now, but now the world explodes:
Twenty 2-cylinder Harley Davidsons stop at the restaurant. Twenty black helmets, twenty black outfits.
The beautiful Mont Cenis Pass has become one of the most popular roads for motocyclists.
The Harleys cannot decide whether to stop or to continue to Italy. So, they don’t stop their engines, but negotiate by yelling to each other over the noise of their machines.
Then two Italian Ducatis and a Honda made in Japan stop and go inside. The three riders wear tight, multicolored leather overals like straight from MotoGP races.
“This place ain’t big enough for those and us”, the Harleys decide and leave.
Time to close the Time Machine. Should I have given it two hours?
Tanks, lorries, cyclists, supporters, motorcycles and runners disappear in the fog of history.
It’s quiet. Soft wind whirls light snow.
I take a few skating steps, push with the ski poles and glide towards the zigzag of the Napoleon route.
Lets see now… How do I get to that La Fema restaurant. I think I’ll have the same excellent mushroom soup I had two days ago… and a Leffe beer… and a chocolate cake…
Where did I put my map?
Pieter Brueghel II: Return of the pilgrimage
Mr. Trollope even invented the British red mail box.
Text: Rauli Storm, GOM
Proofreading: Claire Moreau-Shirbon
Constantine I. Later the Great
St. Michel – Susa stagecoach
The Unknown Harleymen
The Battle of the Milvian Bridge
Barco, the sledge dog
Most of this article is true.
Some of it may be true.
The rest could be true,
but probably isn't.
Text & lay-out: Rauli Storm