The Grisons, often referred to as "Switzerland in miniature," is the largest canton in Switzerland. Here three languages -- German, Italian, and Romansch -- are spoken. This is the canton, together with the Bernese Oberland, which is the most familiar to the sport lovers of all nations. Here are located St. Moritz, Davos, Arosa, Flims, Lenzerheide, Klosters and many other world famous, all year round resorts. But it is not only for its sports or its beautiful mountains and 150 valleys that the Grisons is famous. It can boast as well of a rich cultural tradition and a vivid history.
The canton of the Grisons is the largest canton in Switzerland, covering 2703 square miles and including more than one sixth of the Confede″ ration. The canton consists of an immense network of mountains furrowed by 150 valleys and in many ways is Switzerland in miniature. Here three languages are spoken -- German, Italian and Romansch. A little more than half of the population speaks German, a third Romansch and the rest, about a sixth, an Italian dialect.
Because of the mountainous nature of the country, it might be expected that this region would not have had a particularly interesting history. In reality the history of the Grisons is most dramatic. Existing records show that Rhaetus, Prince of the Etruscan tribe, first invaded this district which he named Rhaetia, as early as 600 B.C. In 15 B. C. this part of the country became a Roman province called Rhaetia Prima. The population fought in the Roman army and their graves have even been discovered as far distant as Libya.
The history of the Grisons actually centers around its many mountain passes which have brought great advantages but also much trouble to the canton. It was over these passes that the German empe″ rors travelled to be crowned in Rome or to fight their enemies on Italian soil. And these passes were of such strategic importance during the Thirty Years War, that the Grisons were invaded by the armies of Austria, Spain and France. But thanks largely to the energy and ability of Jurg Jenatsch ( 1596″ 1693), a most daring and colorful individual, the country finally rid itself of foreign influence. From the 15th century onwards the « Grey Confederates » as they were called (from whence the German name of the canton: Graubünden) were on good terms with the Swiss and in 1803 their territory was incorporated in Switzerland as the 18th canton.
In addition to its mountain passes the Grisons is famous for its rivers which flow north, south and east, into the North Sea, the Adriatic and the Black Sea. The Rhine rises here -- and naturally there are quarrels as to which of the contributory streams is the Rhine -- but by the time these streams have reached Reichenau, they flow peacefully on as one river, past Chur where they are joined by the Landquart, and eventually reach the North Sea. The streams in the eastern valleys flow into the Inn which eventually joins the Danube. While the rivers to the south join the Adda and eventually flow into the Po.
It has been said that the business of the Grisons is Germans, English, wood and cattle. During the war years, the forests of the Grisons cóntributed greatly towards providing fuel to replace the coal which could no longer be imported, while the cattle of the Grisons are a sturdy small, brown race, known throughout the world. Yet cattle raising in such mountainous regions is fraught with difficulties. On account of the severity of the climate, the cattle have to be kept in stables half the year, which means large quantities of hay. Yet the farmers of the Grisons are still using the same old fashioned scythes their ancestors used. A great deal of time is also consumed driving the cattle up in the mountains to graze and then back down again into the valleys. The farmers here, as in the Valais, have a hard life which serves as a decided contrast to the fashionable cosmopolitan life led in the world famous hotels of this canton.