February 2 2009

Back to a pre-crisis world.

Sanatoria, hotels, a railway, electricity, the telephone and skiing arrive in Davos.

How many Davos participants realise that Landquart is on the Rhine? Or practically on it?

Landquart is the nondescript village where, having ascended by train from Zurich, you change to take the narrower-gauge railway up to the highest town in Europe, Davos.

You are in eastern Switzerland. In Graubünden. The Grisons, Grischun, i Grigioni. The Grey Leagues: the name comes from the merging in 1524 of three Alpine alliances, the League of God’s House, the Grey League and the League of Ten Jurisdictions. They joined federal Switzerland as a canton in 1803.

To the north are Liechtenstein, Austrian Vorarlberg and Austrian Tirol. To the east Trentino. To the south Lombardy. Landquart is at the bottom of the Prättigau valley, through which runs the Landquart river. Near the top of the valley is Klosters. Davos is in the valley of the Landwasser river.

And further south in the canton is the Engadine valley, which follows the Inn river northeast from its headwaters at the Maloja Pass until it flows into Austria.

We met a Russian, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, getting off the train in Landquart in November 1884 and spending the night there in a “rather miserable little room”, before making an eight-hour ascent to Davos by carriage.

When was the railway extended? Soon afterwards.


The Times, Thursday October 7 1886. Click for better resolution.


The journey now takes an hour.

Phthisis means TB. Wikipedia has a page on the Rigi mountain railway.


I wondered in the Tchaikovsky post when hotels had appeared in Davos. A picture from 1870 showed a quiet-seeming village, presumably dependent on cows. Yet, before the railway, Tchaikovsky found “a row of first class hotels, and shops where you can get whatever you like”.

John Addington Symonds, suffering from tuberculosis, stayed in Davos from August 1877 to April 1878 and then settled there. He published impressions of it, Bacchus in Graubünden and Winter Nights at Davos, at the end of a book about Italy, Italian Byways (1883).

The two essays are reprinted in Our Life in the Swiss Highlands (1892), which he wrote with his daughter Margaret. Further material there, some of which had appeared in reviews, dates back to 1878, including a piece called Davos in Winter, to which he adds a postscript dated January 1892:

“I have allowed this essay to stand almost exactly as I wrote it nearly fourteen years ago, because it possesses some small historical interest, as having powerfully stimulated the formation of an English colony in Davos.“When I found, after several experiments, that I could not hope to settle down again in my own home, I built a house here. The experience I have gained during this considerable space of time has not shaken my faith in the principle of what is called the Alpine cure. But it has to a large extent modified my opinion about Davos as a health resort. The rapid development of the place, which has brought a railway up the Prättigau, and bestowed upon us the blessings of electrical illumination and the telephone, besides multiplying the resident and floating population, I dare not say how many times, has naturally increased the dwelling-houses to a very serious – I might say dangerous – extent. They stand too closely packed together, and in winter the heating apparatuses of all these houses render it absurd to speak of ‘flawless purity of air’. [The Times had used the phrase “the well-known purity of its air”. The Victorians were far more conscious of air quality than we are, because the range of quality was far wider.]

“Still, the climate, irrespective of these drawbacks, due to the swift expansion of the village, has not altered in any essential respect. It must be added, also, that the authorities of Davos show great spirit as well as an enlightened intelligence in doing all they can for its conveniences and sanitary requirements.

“Under my eyes the village has become a town. Modest hotels have grown into huge European caravanserais. Prices have risen, and the wine current in houses of entertainment has deteriorated. Social life imitates upon a small scale the manners of a city. Not a few points in my article of 1878 are almost ludicrously out of date now. The modest information I was then able to communicate regarding the method of treatment for invalids, the atmospheric condition of the valley, and so forth, have lung ago become the common property, not only of experts, but also of the general public.

“Nevertheless, I let this essay take the first place in our book, partly because in the main my old impressions are not altered, and partly because it indicates the real beginning of ‘Our Life in the Swiss Highlands.’

January 1892.

J. A .S.”


Robert Louis Stevenson also wrote an essay called Davos in Winter, for the Pall Mall Gazette of February 21 1881.

The Times correspondent (above) says that the summer season ended in the first week of September, and he/she mentions a winter season. But the winter season was for patients, not skiers, because skiing had not even begun to get under way as an Alpine activity. It hadn’t even been adopted in the Alps as a method of getting around.

Arthur Conan Doyle arrived in Davos in October 1893 with his tubercular wife and became a pioneer. He engaged two local guides, the Branger brothers, one or both of whom had first seen Norwegian skis in Paris in 1889 (I presume at the Exposition Universelle).

On March 23 1894, accompanied by the Brangers, he became the first Englishman to cross the 2,440 meter Maienfelder Furka pass above Davos and ski down to Arosa on the other side. He had recently killed off Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls in the Bernese Oberland. He wrote about Davos and skiing in the Strand Magazine, and no doubt elsewhere.

What about “Dr Ruedi”, who had feared the approaching railway? (The correct spelling is Rüedi, three syllables.) The web (why are we still surprised?) has a page on him.

He was Dr Carl Rüedi. His father, Lucius, had been Landschaftsarzt in Davos and the first doctor in history to report on the healing effect of the Alpine climate on consumptives. In May 1844, in a letter to Dr Meyer-Ahrens in Zürich, he reported that children suffering from phthisis in varying degrees had been healed after having undergone his treatment at Davos. Previously, people had been sent to warm places. He died in 1870.

Carl was born in Davos in 1848. He spent some time in America, studied in Switzerland, Germany and Austria, and in 1874 was called to Davos to fill the position his father had held, and, in addition, that of Bezirksarzt. In 1875, he was elected to the committee of the newly-established Kurverein. In 1876 he became a member of the Bündner Ärzteverein.

At the end of 1878 Rüedi resigned from his post as a country doctor and restricted his work to that of a Kurarzt who could devote his attention entirely to the treatment of visiting invalids. He gained a particular reputation among the English-speaking patients. His wife was a Scotswoman. He treated Symonds. Perhaps he treated Tchaikovsky’s friend.

He also treated Robert Louis Stevenson, who came to Davos for treatment in the winters of 1880-81 and 1881-2. In the first year RLS stayed in the Belvedere Hotel, in the second in a villa. In the dedication of his book of poetry of 1887 called Underwoods, RLS called Rüedi “the good genius of the English in his frosty mountains”.

The Belvedere, now Steigenberger Belvedere, was one of three hotels in Davos in 1880. But when was the first dedicated sanatorium opened? The first in the world was the Brehmerschen Heilanstalt für Lungenkranke in Görbersdorf (now Sokołowsko) in the Suche Mountains in Silesia, opened by Hermann Brehmer in 1863.

In 1891, Rüedi departed again for America, intending to settle in Denver, but he returned in 1896, to practice not in Davos but in Arosa, where he seems to have overcome his worry about railways, arguing for the construction of an electric railway link with Chur, the capital of Graubünden. Perhaps the cleaner technology persuaded him. The railway opened in December 1914, but Carl Rüedi died in Arosa in June 1901.

Here is the whole Times page on which the Davos article appears (will download to desktop).




Places mentioned

6 Responses to “Landquart-Davos”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Mountaineering in Switzerland began nearly a century before skiing. As with skiing, many of the pioneers were British. Swiss tourism – in fact, mountaineering itself – began with British climbers in the Bernese Alps in the early nineteenth century (Jungfrau peak 1811, Finsteraarhorn 1812). An Alpine Club was founded in London in 1857.

    Alpine Club:

    Golden age of alpinism:

  2. […] Landquart-Davos, about the arrival of sanatoria, hotels, a railway, electricity, the telephone and skiing. […]

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  4. […] Landquart-Davos. Sanatoria, hotels, a railway, electricity, the telephone and skiing arrive in Davos. […]

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