in praise of Glurns

We are back from an Alpine driving vacation. I don’t post travelogues on my blog, but I will mention a highlight to give a flavor of our trip. The little Italian town of Glurns is missing from many guidebooks but is amazingly appealing. Part of Austria until 1919, it is still German-speaking. It is at 900 meters and surrounded by much higher mountains. Six miles away is Switzerland, and over the border is a valley where the main language is Romansch.

Each of the three roads into Glurns passes through a gothic gate bearing the two-headed Hapsburg eagle. The city wall is mostly complete, and outside rushes a steep mountain stream.

In the middle of town, there’s a picture-perfect square with a fountain. The plan (with a forum at the center and radiating streets) presumably dates to Roman times, when Colurnus was a stop on the Roman road across the Alps.

The Laubengasse or Via dei Portici is completely lined with low porticoes on both sides, so that it’s possible to walk its whole length without facing the elements. Most of the buildings probably have long and complex histories of construction and reconstruction, but the dominant period for visible facades is the 16th century. The church towers bear onion domes.

Today’s population is less than 1,000. For backpackers, skiers, and climbers, there are magnificent Italian and Swiss national parks to the south: Alpine wilderness areas. For history buffs, there’s the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Convent of St. John in Müstair, Switzerland, just hiking distance away. We found the Convent itself to be rather modest, but it has been a continuous religious community for 1,230 years and it houses remarkable murals painted around 800–extraordinarily early examples of Christian art in what must have been wild country when Charlemagne passed through on his way to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome.

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