Friday, September 15, 2017

"The Valley of Hell" in Germany's Black Forest

My scanner doesn't really do justice to this full-page illustration, which is within the pages of an amazing 1882 book titled The Heart of Europe, From the Rhine to the Danube, A Series of Striking and Interesting Views. The 143-page volume is filled with scenes from throughout Europe that, in most cases, haven't existed for a century or more. I'm hoping to scan and share more of those images, moving forward.

Shown in this illustration is Höllental, which translates to "The Valley of Hell" or "Hell's Valley." It's a gorge that's about 5½ miles long and is located within the southern portion of Schwarzwald, the famed Black Forest, in Germany.

Leo de Colange, who wrote the text for The Heart of Europe, writes a good bit about Schwarzwald, but nothing specifically about Hell's Valley. I did, however, find this relevant and wonderful passage from The Universe: Or, The Infinitely Great and the Infinitely Little, an 1870 book by Félix-Archimède Pouchet:
"Almost all these imposing gorges are the effect of convulsions of the globe, and the first glance shows that they have resulted from a violent fracture of the mountains and separation of the fragments. We can identify these great fissures by the similarity which their walls present in respect to the layers of which they are formed, and by the irregularity of their chasms, in the depths of which reign shade and terror. Our superstitious ancestors, overcome by the awe which these darksome clefts inspired, often gave them names expressive of the dread they gave rise to; as, for instance, calling them hell valleys, hell holes, or devil's gorges.

"In all high mountains, such as the Alps and Pyrenees, we see some which are thus designated. But certainly one of the most remarkable of these gorges is the Hell Valley in the Black Forest. I passed through it during a severe winter, and nothing could equal the dark horror it inspired. Masses of snow hung suspended on its buttresses, and their whiteness contrasted strongly with the gloomy mouth of the infernal abyss. This portico to the domains of Pluto, though ample of entrance, was yet shrouded in impenetrable darkness towards the bottom. The ancient Hercynian Forest, which we had just traversed, was buried under half a yard of rime; the cold was 25 below freezing-point (Fahr.); and our vehicle, in spite of the skids, which made large showers of ice fly on all sides, dragged us with frightful rapidity towards the precipice. It was altogether superb, and vividly recalled the icy forests of the north."
For a less-terrifying, and frankly gorgeous, look at the Black Forest and one of its gorges, please check out photographer and travel blogger Melanie Fontaine's 2015 post "Hiking in the Black Forest, Germany: The Wutach Gorge."

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