Alps, Christianity, feudalism, and Napoleonic wars

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The Alps are one of the great mountain range systems of Europe stretching approximately across eight Alpine countries from Austria and Slovenia in the east, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and south east Germany, to the west. Monaco and Italy to the south. The mountains were formed over tens of millions of years as the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided. Extreme shortening caused by the event resulted in marine sedimentary rocks rising by thrusting and folding into high mountain peaks such as Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. Mont Blanc spans the French–Italian border, and at is the highest mountain in the Alps. The Alpine region area contains about a hundred peaks higher


Christianity was established in the region by the Romans, and saw the establishment of monasteries and churches in the high regions. The Frankish expansion of the Carolingian Empire and the Bavarian expansion in the eastern Alps introduced feudalism and the building of castles to support the growing number of dukedoms and kingdoms. Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy, still has intricate frescoes, excellent examples of Gothic art, in a tower room. In Switzerland, Château de Chillon is preserved as an example of medieval architecture.

Much of the medieval period was a time of power struggles between competing dynasties such as the House of Savoy, the Visconti in northern Italy and the House of Habsburg in Austria. In 1291 to protect themselves from incursions by the Habsburgs, four cantons in the middle of Switzerland drew up a charter that is considered to be a declaration of independence from neighboring kingdoms. After a series of battles fought in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, more cantons joined the confederacy and by the 16th century Switzerland was well-established as a separate state.

During the Napoleonic Wars in the late 18th century and early 19th century, Napoleon annexed territory formerly controlled by the Habsburgs and Savoys. In 1798 he established the Helvetic Republic in Switzerland; two years later he led an army across the St. Bernhard pass and conquered almost all of the Alpine regions.

In the 19th century, the monasteries built in the high Alps during the medieval period to shelter travelers and as places of pilgrimage, became tourist destinations. The Benedictines had built monasteries in Lucerne, Switzerland, and Oberammergau; the Cistercians in the Tyrol and at Lake Constance; and the Augustinians had abbeys in the Savoy and one in the center of Interlaken, Switzerland. The Great St Bernard Hospice, built in the 9th or 10th centuries, at the summit of the Great Saint Bernard Pass was shelter for travelers and place for pilgrims since its inception; by the 19th century it became a tourist attraction with notable visitors such as author Charles Dickens and mountaineer Edward Whymper.

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