Großglockner High Alpine Road / Großglockner Hochalpenstraße
Federal Ministry for the Arts, Culture, Constitution and Media of the Republic of Austria
Provinces of Carinthia and Salzburg
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The Großglockner High Alpine Road is a mountain pass road and, together with the Schloss Schönbrunn, one of the most important touristic landmarks in Austria. The impressive setting of this alpine scenic route combines the art of mountain road construction with a singular nature and landscape experience, running through the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park, protected since 1992, one of the largest nature reserves in Central Europe.
Completed in 1935 the alpine road made accessible Austria's highest mountain, the Grossglockner (3,798 m) and the longest glacier of the Eastern Alps, the Pasterze. With an altitude of 2,504 meters at the Hochtor Pass, it is the highest surfaced mountain road in Austria. Totalling 48 kilometres, the road has a continuous width of 7.5 meters, 36 hairpin curves and two side roads to spectacular vantage points.
Planned from 1924 onwards and built between 1930 and 1935, the road was the prototype of scenic routes in Europe. Planned and implemented as a toll road in a pristine alpine setting with the objective of offering a spectacular experience for the visitor, the road continues to retain its original function as a self-sustaining tourist attraction: 800,000 to 1,000,000 tourists from all over the world visit the Großglockner High Alpine Road each year. Tourists experience the Hohe Tauern landscape, the Kaiser Franz Josefs Höhe, the view of the glacier at an altitude of 2,369 meters above sea level, and the 360° panoramic view of the Edelweißspitze. Since its opening 80 years ago, the High Alpine road has been consistently among the top ten of most visited attractions in Austria.
This visual school of nature was consciously planned by the civil engineer Franz Wallack (1887-1966) in harmony with the high alpine landscape, the rocky environment and meadows. Wallack was charged as well with the conduct of the works. The result was a homogenous scenic visitor experience harmoniously integrated into a fully planned tourism concept with restaurants, inns, hotels, viewpoints, information tables, nature trails, an alpine nature show house and exhibitions, all conceived in a coherent aesthetic architectural language.
The opening of Carinthia’s Hohe Tauern National Park in 1981 reinforced and renewed the Grossglockner High Alpine Road’s primary function: to provide access for motorised traffic to a high alpine region and to link it to an exceptional nature experience.
The main focus during the construction of the Großglockner High Alpine Road was to improve the accessibility and usability of the road for the motorized traffic of this part of the Alps, and offer an additional North-South connection. The route adopted for this road still ranks as one of the most accessible in the alpine region. The road was inaugurated in August 1935 after twenty-six construction months. Construction took only place during the snow-free months: 870,000 cubic meters of earth and rock were moved, 115750 cubic meters of masonry created and 67 bridges constructed.
In the inter-war period this state-of-the-art road immediately became a model for other roads built in the alpine region. Wallack implemented here for the first time an integrated planning covering all aspects of road building and management: materials, structures, buildings, signposts and advertisements like billboards together with a coherent corporate identity. Wallack’s overall concept focused on the motorised traffic to come, unlike traditional carriage roads in the Alps at the time, designed for horse-drawn vehicles. At the time of its completion the road was already seen as national attraction. This was based on its relevance to Austrian history and the construction materials and details such as the use of natural stones for embankments and boundary markers. The significance was amplified through continued development and adaption, such as the Wallack rotary snowplough, designed in the after war period for the Großglockner High Alpine Road and still in use today. These values make the site outstanding and are well preserved today, a fact that was recognised in 2015, when the road was listed on the Austrian national monuments list.
To build, exploit and maintain the road, a public company, the The Großglockner Hochalpenstraßen Aktiengesellschaft (GROHAG), was established at the time that is still wholly responsible for the road and guarantees its long term management. The GROHAG has proven a lasting constructor and manager of the road. This is illustrated not only in the use of traditional building methods as formulated by the planner Franz Wallack but as well as the fact that the GROHAG is profitable in exploiting and maintaining the road.
Another focus and motivation of this large socio-economic project in the context of Austria in the inter-war period was the creation of jobs during an economically difficult time, the global economic crisis followed by the collapse of the banking system. The construction work on the road took 3,200 workers 1.8 million shifts to complete. The historical context with the mobilized work force, singular in the Alpine region, and the connected planning and the financial risk taken on behalf of the Austrian state, make the road a unique monument in Austrian history. The road was one of the major representational projects in the First Republic and a symbol of the country’s economic will to survive.
Being the model and prestige project of the then young Austrian Republic, the Großglockner High Alpine Road was chosen as centre piece for the World’s Fairs 1935 in Brussels and 1937 in Paris. At the World’s Fair in Milan in 2015 the road, together with the Hohe Tauern National Park, was again chosen as the core piece of the Austrian representation with the theme on sustainability and air quality, illustrating its singular role as monument.
The construction of the Grossglockner High Alpine Road is inseparably connected to the name of Franz Wallack. The engineer, still young when he started this project, was highly motivated when he took on the contract to plan and build a panoramic road. In 1925 he studied, travelled to and compared more than 43 alpine roads before he began with the ambitious project: To build the “most beautiful road in the Alps” with a focus on nature and its environment.
Unlike many other high mountain roads that may simply be classed as the fastest, easiest or most pragmatic crossings from North to South, the Großglockner High Alpine Road was planned to offer a lasting and impressive driving and observation experience. The choice of the “long way” over a high plateau became a deliberate one. This way the experience offered as many views as possible on the surrounding mountain tops and valleys. Each hairpin curve opens a new view, the most prominent being the Fuscher Törl (2428m), offering parking spaces and a monument to remember those workers who lost their lives during the construction. Different to other mountain pass roads, the High Alpine road does not culminate in one pass, but with two side roads offering two complementing spectacular visual experiences: The 360° round view of the Edelweißspitze and the glacier experience with the Großglockner view at the Kaiser Franz Josefs Höhe. The coherent aesthetic architectural language reinforces harmoniously the setting, found in particular in the structural engineering at the Edelweißspitze or the parking spaces and hotel facilities.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The Grossglockner High Alpine road is the prototype of scenic road building in the European alpine region.
It is the best example of a still functioning historic panoramic road in the Alps, built after a holistic concept. Its construction displays high scenic qualities and represents the newly acquired and increasing vehicular mobility of the 1920s and ’30s: The Road is a manifestation and document for the popularisation of tourism in the High Alpine region in Europe, the upcoming motorised tourism industry and the conquest of the mountains. In Austria, the site has an additional function and historic role: it is an important part of the new definition of Austrian identity in an economically difficult time.
The Großglockner High Alpine Road presents one of the most interesting mountain roads of its time from a technical point of view, in particular in the homogeneity and simplicity of its applied solutions. It may be categorized as a technical construction that was defined out of the natural environment.
The road is singular in the way it consciously shapes and forms the reception and experience of all those who take the road: The 48 kilometres and 36 hairpin curves were consciously designed to offer a refined view into a pristine alpine landscape, today recognized and protected as Hohe Tauern National Park. The road was built to make accessible to a larger public the landscape as well as many vegetation zones of the high alpine region.
This new approach to the perception of the alpine region establishes the basis for a kind of “visual school for nature”. The visitor’s field of view is shaped by the route planning. The routing integrated as harmoniously as possible into the environment using the most advanced technical achievements in the road building technology of the era.
The specific route planning – 20kilometres above 2000m sea level - had as its objective to stage the landscape as pristine alpine panorama. The extraordinary sensibility of the civil engineer, Franz Wallack, in order to follow the natural preconditions of the surrounding landscape with respect to the original setting, offer a rare combination of technical and natural experience. Franz Wallack’s work is to be considered as an outstandingly sensitive achievement in linking entrepreneurship, management of a complex technical construction site and profound engineering skills in a natural pristine area in the alpine region.
The deep understanding and consideration of the surrounding landscape can be illustrated at the Fuscher Törl and the two side roads to viewpoints: they offer breath-taking views of the mountains. Both side roads provide additional features for individual motorised traffic to the mountain pass road, unlike at any other road.
The technical engineering is exceptional: technical structures were conceived to make as little impact as possible on the environment. Unlike many other engineering works of the time, the Großglockner Hochalpenstraße does not put the structures, tunnels and bridges in the center, but rather downplays, where possible, their impact, using natural stones to conceal civil engineering works. Hairpin curves, bends and serpentines are set into the mountain rather than staging and setting them apart. The homogeneity of the technical implementation was additionally reinforced through the branding and specifications in material and form Franz Wallack developed for the GROHAG (the PLC managing the site until today) and any construction to be built in conjunction with the road, like hotels and inns. This led to a high artistic and built quality in the structures alongside the road, making it a holistic piece of art.
The leisure experience in a mountainous environment played an increasing role in the developing tourism industry of the first half of the twentieth century. From the construction of the road until today, the visitors experience is unique and in the centre of the values of the management of this impressive heritage. The road is a historic document to the change in European lifestyles towards a mobile society: making leisure accessible to a larger public using motorised vehicles not only for transport but to experience recreation. The personal spatial range that was available in the free-time increased dramatically and the High Alpine Road provided the perfect stage.
Being the model project of the then young Austrian Republic, the Großglockner High Alpine Road was chosen as centre-piece for the World’s Fairs in 1935 in Brussels and in 1937 in Paris. The place the road was given in 2015 at the World’s Fair in Milan illustrates the continuing importance and fascination of the site.
Another aspect is the place that the road played in the technical development of automobiles: based on its technical characteristics, like the steady ascent of twelve percent and characteristic large turning radii, the road was chosen as a “test site” for many car manufacturers. The Großglockner Hochalpenstraße is a document to the automobile and tourism history with the exceptional attribute that these values are still in place, are in use, and sustain the site’s original purpose.
Criterion (i): The Großglockner High Alpine Road is a holistic piece of art and a civil engineering and technical masterpiece of Franz Wallack (1887-1966). From the start of the project, Wallack was responsible for its integrated planning, construction, execution and management. Furthermore he developed a corporate identity and an exploitation concept that is still being implemented and serves as guide for all works. The road was planned and built into a pristine mountain landscape offering a visual school of nature to a large public.
The road became the model and example for many other alpine roads: it presents an innovative planning and management achievement and a landmark in Europe in scenic alpine road building. The Großglockner High Mountain Road was planned and built after an extensive study by Franz Wallack of over 40 alpine crossings throughout Europe. It is a manifestation and the archetype of two developments: the technical development of high mountain road building and the management of tourism sites in the early twentieth century. Not striving for the most impressive technical and engineering solutions, the ones that best integrated into the landscape and environment were sought. The road is the “best-practice” model for its time. The innovations may be found down to technical details. The, until today lasting economic success of the toll road is founded in the holistically planned management and marketing concept of the GROHAG.
The work of Franz Wallack was unique in the way it integrated and respected natural and cultural values to maximise the landscape experience.
Criterion (ii): The Großglockner High Alpine Road presents an important interchange of human values in terms of development in architecture, technical innovation and landscape design. The Großglockner High Alpine Road is an exceptional example of a landscape aesthetic construction or ensemble, staging the surrounding High Alpine landscape. The road’s construction had a substantial influence on scenic road building in Europe. The monument played an important role after the First World War period for the young Austrian Republic to present the country as tourist destination. The road was the centre-piece of the Austrian presentation in the World’s Fairs of 1935 and 1937. At a time when tourism became a central part of the Western European lifestyle, the Road was the symbol of mobile recreational activity.
Criterion (iv): The Großglockner High Alpine Road is the prototype for panoramic road building based on a holistic planning, from design and construction to exploitation. The Alpine Road reflects and illustrates important moments in the history of the motorisation of the society.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The Großglockner High Alpine Road is an authentic construction: All the characteristics inherent to its exceptional and universal value are found within the defined perimeter along the route. Both, the road layout and the buildings have been preserved almost entirely in their original state. Its structures as well as economic foundation as a toll road, have functioned continuously since its opening to the public in 1935. The road can be seen as a “living monument”, like a cultural landscape. Franz Wallack’s original plans still guide any works today, and improvements necessary are made with great care. The Road beneﬁts from an exemplary management and conservation programme, with use of material specified from the original planning period. Features like the natural stones to be used to flank and secure the road on the side were strictly given in Wallack’s original planning documents and are still followed. The works are supported by the archive of the management authority documenting and guiding right from the start any adaption made in the ensemble. The coherent holistic approach is reinforced by the “corporate identity” developed in the 1930s that is still in place and has, as many of the signposts and countless information displays demonstrate, not only survived but been in continuous use.
Integrity:The Großglockner High Alpine road fully includes all the attributes that express the Outstanding Universal Value. The protected site includes the two toll houses and runs continuously to the mountain crossing and includes both side roads as well as some protected buildings and movable heritage, like the Wallack rotary-snowploughs, that date from the beginning of the Großglockner High Alpine Road. The road and its setting do not suffer from the adverse effects of development or neglect. It rises above all development, and still sets a benchmark for other mountain roads, and its condition is good, as highlighted and recognised by the Federal Monuments Office: the entire road and several other features were inscribed on the National Monument List in 2015 and a common monument management plan, the first in Austria, has been established and signed by all stakeholders.
Comparison with other similar properties
The Grossglockner High Alpine Road was planned by Franz Wallack in the 1920s and built in the 1930s after an extensive study of 43 alpine roads. The objective was not the most technically spectacular road, but simply the most beautiful alpine road offering the best nature experience. As Franz Wallack pointed out already in the 1920s, no comparable concept had yet been implemented. While there are many other alpine crossings, they differ from the Großglockner Hochalpenstraße as their main purpose was the crossing of the Alps from North to South. The tourism and landscape experience that was at the core of the Großglockner High Alpine road was a new and upcoming concept copied and developed for many other sites at the time, as for example the German Alpine Road and the Wiener Höhenstraße.
The Großglockner is not only the first example of such a road but as well features outstanding and unique values in high integrity and authenticity. The homogeneity and consistency of the applied 12 percent ascending is unique compared to many or most of the historic crossings like the Stilfserjoch and the Col d’Iseran. None of them has such a high homogeneity in planning and execution. The Großglockner High Alpine Road set new standards and served as model for other roads, such as the Sustenpass. The Sustenpass misses the holistic concept of exploitation, management and the two dead end access roads in order to have similar attributes and the touristic use.
There are scenic roads in many other countries, either in the mountains or at coasts (e.g. Costa Brava/Spain). But they had not been planned for leisure and landscape experience but in order to connect two points (locations). They lack the specific concern in road building that form the High Alpine road.
There are also roads in regions where there are today national parks (e.g. Peneda-Gerês NP/Portugal), but only the scenic roads in the US (scenic byways) with their own designations and regulations law can be compared to the Grossglockner High Alpine Road regarding the origin in their construction.