Goldau landslide 1806 – the largest rockslide in Switzerland

Lake Lucerne Region

Various landslides occurred on the Rossberg in historic and prehistoric times, the most famous being the Goldau landslide in 1806. This occurred below the Gnipen and almost completely destroyed the villages of Goldau and Röthen.

The Rossberg range stretches across the cantons of Schwyz and Zug and comprises three peaks. The highest of the three peaks is the Wildspitz (1580 m), followed by the Chaiserstock (1426 m), which is mostly forested, and the barren Gnipen (1567 m) in the west.

Rossberg with rockslide area

Rossberg with rockslide area

In the collapse niche of the Goldau landslide, you can gain a fascinating insight into the stratification of the Lower Freshwater Molasse with its characteristic sequence of Nagelfluh, sandstone and marl. A unique series of forest development stages can also be observed on the Rossberg, which has developed on the block debris area since the fall of the Goldau landslide.

Switzerland’s largest landslide on the Rossberg in 1806

Anyone visiting the Rigi or the Goldau Nature and Animal Park can still get an idea of the catastrophe that took place in the canton of Schwyz on September 2, 1806. Clearly visible is the barren demolition site from which an estimated 36 million cubic meters of rock came loose on that fateful day.

The layers of Nagelfluh, sandstone and marl that make up the Rossberg were formed 25 million years ago from coarse stream debris. The marl can soften under the influence of water and cause the solid Nagelfluh to slide away.

Today's village of Goldau lies around 30 meters above the old village before 1806

Today’s village of Goldau lies around 30 meters above the old village before 1806

The Goldau landslide only lasted three minutes, but the effects were devastating. The rock avalanche claimed the lives of 457 people and 323 head of cattle. 111 homes, 220 stables and four churches and chapels were destroyed. Only 14 people were rescued alive. Nothing remained of the villages of Goldau and Röthen. Parts of Buosigen and Lauerz were also hit. Lake Lauerz lost a seventh of its surface area in one fell swoop.

The Swiss geologist Albert Heim, who later investigated the event, found that there were sufficient signs of the impending catastrophe. However, it was assumed at the time that there was enough space between the mountain and the village. The cracks at the present demolition site had been discovered by the mountain farmers long before the landslide. But at the time, an attitude of divine devotion prevailed and nobody thought of escaping. What’s more, no one on the ground could have imagined the scale of the disaster.

The Nature and Animal Park Goldau was built in 1925 on the hilly terrain of the landslide debris cone, which is strewn with Nagelfluh boulders. It covers an area of 34 hectares and is home to mainly native mammals and birds.

Every year on September 2 at 5 pm, the large bell of the Goldau parish church rings. This serves as a reminder of the terrible natural disaster of 1806.

Video The Goldau Rockslide of 1806 (Goldau Rockslide Area)

The Goldau landslide is still the biggest historical natural disaster in Switzerland and caused a sensation throughout Europe at the time.

Der Goldauer Bergsturz von 1806 (Goldau Rockslide Area)

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