How the Ofen Pass got its name

Valentin Pitsch

Valentin Pitsch.
When hearing the word "Ofenpass", many people have asked themselves what was cooked here that gave the hill its name. Valentin Pitsch, former primary school teacher from Val Müstair, nature lover and amateur photographer, knows exactly: he regularly takes interested guests to the old mines above Buffalora. Iron ore was mined here for centuries, smelted in blast furnaces and sold far and wide.

Buffalora - a focal point

The tour with Valentin begins in Buffalora. It is hard to believe that this idyllic plain with a fen, where today there is only an inn and an alp, was once a settlement with around 35 huts. Between the 14th and 18th centuries, workers in the mines and associated trades such as blacksmiths, woodcutters, charcoal burners, transporters and farmers made their living here at the foot of the Ofen Pass. Some remains of this village can still be discovered.

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Ascent into another world

The leisurely hike from Buffalora and past the alp to the tunnels takes about 1.5 hours. The former mines are located on a hill in front of the mighty Munt Buffalora. The flora slowly becomes sparser up here, with individual pines and stone pines protruding from the alpine flower meadows and between boulders. In summer, local farmers' cows graze in front of the panorama of the surrounding, often snow-covered mountain peaks. A little further along the trail is the border to the Swiss National Park.

Auf dem Weg zu den alten Minen.
Auf dem Weg zu den alten Minen.

A real bone job

In front of the tunnels, Valentin hands his guests an original lace iron. "You have to imagine that a squire in the mine used seven of these irons every day. Sweaty work!" the tour guide explains. Once the ferrous lumps of rock were picked out, they were smashed and melted in the blast furnace. The pig iron could thus be separated from the rock waste and sold in all directions. The re-melting and cleaning of the raw material as well as the processing into tools, weapons etc. took place elsewhere.

Valentin zeigt das Originalwerkzeug.
Valentin zeigt das Originalwerkzeug.

Off to the tunnel!

What you see here in the dim light gives you an idea of how elaborate iron extraction was: centimetre by centimetre, the workers literally cut their way through into the interior of the mountain. The traces of the pointing irons in the rock are still partly visible, and sections of track more than 500 years old have also been preserved. At the moment, three tunnels are accessible. The fourth tunnel, the "Zarcla" tunnel, is currently being restored. Valentin hopes to be able to visit all four mines with his guests soon.

Valentin zeigt, wie mit Hammer und Meissel das Gestein abgetragen wurde.
Valentin zeigt, wie mit Hammer und Meissel das Gestein abgetragen wurde.

Volunteering underground

The fact that the mines are accessible today is thanks to the association "Amis da las minieras Val Müstair". The president and a few colleagues are regularly at work on a voluntary basis with pickaxe and shovel to penetrate deeper, piece by piece, into the history of the mines in the Ofenpass area. And they are not finished yet: above the tunnels to be visited, they have found a huge mine that extends over eight vertically connected floors. Whatever other exciting things they discover - Valentin Pitsch is sure to enthrall his guests in this world.

Erkundung des Stollens im Schein der Taschenlampe.
Erkundung des Stollens im Schein der Taschenlampe.

Valentin, the phenologist

Valentin has another passion, which he also documents photographically - the flora of Val Müstair. This has earned him an exciting side job as a phenologist for MeteoSwiss. "I use a checklist to report which plants start to flower, sprout leaves or reach fruiting maturity at specific locations in Lü." His observations serve climate research, which is based on long data series. "The plant world in Val Müstair fascinates me and I enjoy sharing my knowledge with guests - be it on guided tours or during lectures," enthuses the amateur biologist and his eyes sparkle.

Oberhalb des Dorfes Lü prüft Valentin die Verfärbung der Lärchen.
Oberhalb des Dorfes Lü prüft Valentin die Verfärbung der Lärchen.

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