They say we are judged by the company we keep.
Let’s look at some of the people who have kept company with the Rhine Falls:
It never ceases to amaze me how often in history great changes begin with only one individual.
Before 1548, the Rhine Falls were relatively unknown.
There was (and still is) a castle on each shore of the river: one above and beside, Laufen Castle, and one below, Wörth Castle.
The Falls were an annoying detour to get goods from the Lake of Constance to the Atlantic.
The Falls were (and still are) a source of potential power.
As the Falls were too high for fish to swim up, it was once possible to catch salmon of well over 25 kilos.
Then a German came along…
Sebastian Münster (1488 – 1552), was a German cartographer, cosmographer, and a Christian Hebraist scholar.
His work, the Cosmographia from 1544, was the earliest German description of the world.
It had numerous editions in different languages including Latin, French, Italian, English, and even Czech.
The Cosmographia was one of the most successful and popular works of the 16th century.
It passed through 24 editions in 100 years.
This success was due to the fascinating woodcuts (some by Hans Holbein the Younger, Urs Graf, Hans Rudolph Manuel Deutsch, and David Kandel), in addition to including the first to introduce “separate maps for each of the four continents known then–America, Africa, Asia and Europe.”
It was most important in reviving geography in 16th century Europe.
Think of it as the Lonely Planet of the day.
So with a guidebook come the tourists…
Ferdinard I (1503 – 1564), Holy Roman Emperor, with an entourage of 700, visited the Falls.
Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592), French philosopher, author and statesman, in 1578, started suffering from painful kidney stones, a sickness he had inherited from his father’s family.
Throughout this illness, he would have nothing to do with doctors or drugs.
From 1580 to 1581, Montaigne traveled in France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, in search of a cure.
He kept a fascinating journal, recording regional differences and customs and a variety of personal episodes, including the dimensions of the stones he succeeded in ejecting from his bladder.
Montaigne visited the Falls with six horsemen and five servants on mules in 1581.
Goethe visited the Falls in 1773, 1777 and 1779.
Joseph II (1741 – 1790), Holy Roman Emperor, was the eldest son of Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Francis I, and was the brother of Marie Antoinette.
After the death of his father in 1765, he became Emperor and was made co-regent by his mother in the Austrian dominions.
As Emperor, he had no true power, and his mother had resolved that neither her husband nor her son should ever deprive her of sovereign control in her hereditary dominions.
Therefore until the death of his mother in 1780, Joseph was never quite free to follow his own instincts.
During these years, Joseph traveled much.
He visited the Falls in 1776.
Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714 – 1789) was a French painter who visited and painted the Falls in 1778.
Joseph Mallord William (“J. M. W.”)Turner,(1775 – 1851) was an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolourist and printmaker. and was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting.
Turner travelled widely in Europe, starting with France and Switzerland in 1802 and studying in the Louvre in Paris in the same year.
He visited and painted the Falls in 1806.
David Hess (1770 – 1843) was a Swiss writer, caricaturist, and politician.
He visited the Falls in 1806.
Czar Alexander I of Russia visited the Falls in 1814.
American author James Fenimore Cooper visited the Falls in 1886. (See Wolves in sheep packaging.)
Dr. Jose Rizal, hero of the Philippines, visited the Rhine Falls on 2 June 1887. (See Do we need another hero??)
Franz Joseph I (1830 – 1916) was Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia and a visitor to the Falls with his wife Elisabeth (“Sissi”).
Whether Swiss-resident celebrities like Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin, Thomas Mann, Tina Turner or Shania Twain have visited the Falls, I don’t know, but I like to think they did.
Today’s visitors are somewhat less regal, less dignified, less patient.
In the past, people would travel to the Falls and remain several days enraptured by their spectacle, in awe of their wonder.
Painters would spend weeks trying to capture their majesty.
Today most visitors make a visit to the Falls as part of a daytrip.
They snap a photo with their digital cameras or smart phones and speed away satisfied that they had “done” the Rhine Falls and checked it off their “to do” list of 100 Places to Visit in Europe Before You Die.
In fairness, I know for most tourists both time and money are factors that are far too often in short supply, but I can’t help wondering that in seeing the world in so fast a fashion have we not lost the point of seeing the world?
Beauty is beauty only when savoured, felt, experienced.