The Passo dello Stelvio, SS38, is located on the border between the municipality of Bormio and the province of Bolzano in the Ortler Alps. It dates back to 1820 when its construction was initiated by the Austrian Empire as a means of connecting the province of Lombardy with the rest of the Empire. The engineer tasked with overseeing this monumental project was the Italian Carlos Donegani, an expert in high-mountain engineering, who had already shown his skill in building the Passo dello Spluga at 2117 metres. Work started in 1822 to build the pass, which measures 24.7 kilometres (north-eastern side) and 22 kilometres (south-western side). During this period there was very little mechanical machinery to aid the 2500 workmen, so much of the work was done by hand. It took some 3 years to complete at an estimated cost of 3,000,000 florins. Once the pass was completed Donegani was revered across the Empire, becoming known as the progettista dell’impossibile, the “designer of the impossible”.
Due to its strategic location on the border of Switzerland, Austria and Italy four military fortifications were built to safeguard the pass from aggressive neighbours. On the Austrian side, the Gomagoi barrage was built, with Fort Gomagoi, Fort Kleinboden and Fort Weisser Knott. The Goldsee Fort was built on the actual pass. Its remains can still be seen there.
During world war one the pass became the front in Italy’s fight against Austria-Hungary. It was a bitter war fought out on the mountain and ice fields above 3000 metres, where troops were as likely to die from the bitter cold and lack of supplies as they were from wounds inflicted during the fighting. By the end of the war the fascists had seized both sides of the Stelvio. It has remained in Italian hands ever since.