Matterhorn © Ivo Scholz/ Switzerland Tourism

The Matterhorn, a beacon of hope

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, images of the Matterhorn have been broadcast around the world. The legendary Swiss mountain has been beaming messages of solidarity and hope for the pandemic.

From New Delhi to New York via Rome and Moscow: the Matterhorn's iconic pyramid-shaped peak has featured prominently in the international press and on social media in recent weeks. The buzz is about the flags of countries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the messages of hope projected onto the face of the famous mountain. These light show images have travelled around the world, turning the Matterhorn into a powerful symbol of solidarity during the crisis. This is an ideal opportunity to look back at the legendary Matterhorn's long and varied history.

© Light Art by Gerry Hofstetter / Foto Michael Kessler

Symbol of solidarity for the pandemic

The light show – the brainchild of Swiss artist Gerry Hofstetter – was launched by the commune of Zermatt. The 30 national flags and messages of hope beamed from the Matterhorn have attracted positive responses from heads of state, ministers, celebrities and individuals around the world.

As the mayor of Zermatt, Romy Biner-Hauser, explains: "the aim of the light show was to express our solidarity. It's no coincidence that we started with Italy, which is so close to Zermatt and has been particularly hard hit by the virus."

Illumination of the Matterhorn with the Indian flag on April 18, 2020
Illumination of the Matterhorn with the Indian flag on April 18, 2020. © Light Art by Gerry Hofstetter / Picture Frank Schwarzbach

Although the Matterhorn has taken on a special meaning for this time, its iconic pyramid-shaped peak has captivated people from time immemorial.

Photo portrait

The Matterhorn is undoubtedly one of the most photographed mountains in the world. Symbolic of Switzerland, and situated on the border between the canton of Valais and Italy, it's a destination that attracts visitors from all over the world. Known internationally by its German name the Matterhorn, it owes its fame to its almost perfect pyramid shape. Its four-sided, ridged rocky peak towers 4,478 metres above sea level, in perfect isolation in the midst of a quite singular alpine panorama. Photographers are transfixed by the mountain from dawn till dusk, ever eager to capture the constantly changing colours.

Adverts for the Matterhorn

The famous summit has become a selling point for typical Swiss products such as chocolate, cheese and muesli packaging. But far from being confined to Switzerland, the image of the Matterhorn is used on all sorts of products in many different countries. It was used on a beer can in Canada as far back as 1937; it's been used on men's swimwear in Italy, shaving foam in the United States and packs of cigarettes in Malaysia. These are just some of the items curated by the Swiss Alpine Museum in an exhibition up on the Gornergrat.

© Felix Brönnimann
The image of the Matterhorn is used on all sorts of products in many different countries © Felix Brönnimann

The Matterhorn attracts visitors from far and wide

The panoramic views of the Matterhorn attract tourists from all over the world, eager to see this imposing natural spectacle in real life. The Swiss and other Europeans top the list of visitors, followed by the Americans and tourists from Asia (Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Thailand). The most romantic ones rise with the lark to enjoy the sunrise against this majestic backdrop.

© Sylvia Michel/ Switzerland Tourism
© Sylvia Michel/ Switzerland Tourism

To admire the mountain, there are countless viewpoints to choose from. In Zermatt, the most famous are located on Kirchbrücke (the church bridge) or on the Riedweg road. To see the summit reflected in a mountain lake, the Stellisee, at an altitude of 2,537 metres, is another classic: it's just 20 minutes' walk from the Blauherd mountain station. Less familiar and away from the main hiking trails, the Riffelsee also offers a majestic panoramic view of the mountain. Visitors can reach various peaks such as the Klein Matterhorn, the Gornergrat or the Rothorn by cable car: up there, vast landscapes fill the horizon, with the iconic Matterhorn ever towering above them.

© Toni Mohr/ Gornergratbahn
© Toni Mohr/ Gornergratbahn

A mythical summit for mountaineers

Beyond its iconic status, the Matterhorn continues to fascinate mountaineers, 3,000 of whom attempt to climb it every summer. Conquering the summit is considered difficult and it's an undertaking that requires a high level of expertise and a competent guide. Zermatt is a dream destination for experienced mountaineers, as the resort is surrounded by 38 peaks over 4,000 metres.

The summit's special aura can also be explained by its history, as for a long time it resisted mountaineers' attempts to scale it. It remained unconquered until 1865 – when it was climbed by the British expedition led by Edward Whymper – 79 years later than Mont Blanc. At that time it was the last remaining Swiss peak of 4,000 metres to be conquered by man. Before succeeding in his project, Whymper, a mountaineering fanatic, made numerous other attempts to scale the Matterhorn – both from the Italian side and the Swiss side – all of them doomed to failure. When he finally made it, approaching from the Hörnli hut, his achievement turned to tragedy, as part of his team fell to their deaths during the descent. The story of the Matterhorn ascent is told in the Zermatlantis Matterhorn Museum. The museum's novel design contains a reconstruction of the 19th century village of Zermatt with wooden chalets. The visitor can thus imagine the ambience of the place at the time the summit was conquered.

© Switzerland Tourism
Zermatlantis Matterhorn Museum © Switzerland Tourism

Sporting events with a view

Other sporting events take place in the Matterhorn region. Europe's largest open-air curling tournament, the Horu Trophy, takes place in January on an ice rink with a view of the Matterhorn. The Gornergrat–Zermatt marathon, with its 1,800-metre climb, offers magnificent views along the route. The single-trail Perskindol Swiss Epic Zermatt race attracts mountain-bike enthusiasts from all over the world on an itinerary set against the backdrop of the Alps. The Matterhorn is truly a boundless inspiration for sports enthusiasts and for holidaymakers.

The fascinating Matterhorn