Making ends meet: Opening of the Gotthard tunnel

More about this object

First train through the St Gotthard tunnel, Switzerland, 1880

On February 29, 1880, an announcement was made to the world via telegraph that a breakthrough had taken place at the Gotthard Tunnel.

"Live" images and reports were soon printed all over Europe. Deep in the tunnel, a German-speaking and an Italian-speaking engineer embraced through the bore hole between the north and south sides. Workers were issued with special commemorative medals with the date on one side, with the Latin inscription "Germania–Helvetica–Italia: viribus unitis" (Germany–Switzerland–Italy: men united). Two years later, the tunnel was finally opened, in yet another widely reported event, where dignitaries traveled in a ceremonial train from Lucerne to Milan.

The flags of the three nations – none of which had existed when the first Alpine railway tunnel was started – filled the streets of Lucerne and festooned the trains that brought the ceremony's dignitaries to Milan. The work of engineering was touted primarily as a work of peace that would bring the young nations together. The President of the Swiss Federal Council, Simeon Bavier announced that the hole that had passed through the 'old wall' of the Alps let a breeze of the 'Springtime of the nations' blow through.

With all of its international splendor, it was a much-needed moment of optimism for Swiss railways. In the years running up to the event, a lot of railway development in the country had stopped and some railway companies had gone bankrupt.

How to cite this page


Alexander Badenoch, 'Making ends meet: Opening of the Gotthard tunnel', Inventing Europe,


  1. Schueler, Judith. Materialising Identity: The Co-Construction of the Gotthard Railway and Swiss National Identity. Amsterdam: Aksant, 2008

About this tour


From Network to Nation? The Gotthard Tunnel

The Gotthard Tunnel, completed in 1882, was an international project and an important symbol of Swiss national pride. This first Swiss Alpine tunnel made Switzerland a north-south passageway through Europe. But what does it mean to put a nation on the map of Europe?

What's like this?

The Gotthard Tunnel

Back to top