Stone house VS

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VS is the abbreviation for the canton of Valais in Switzerland and is used to avoid confusion with other entries of the name Steinhausf.
Stone House
Wappen von Steinhaus
State: SwitzerlandSchweiz Switzerland
Canton: Canton ValaisKanton Wallis Valais (VS)
District: Gomsw
Municipality: Erneni2
Zip code: 3995
former FSO no: 6070
Coordinates: 656821 / 141412Coordinates 46° 25′ 18″ N, 8° 10′ 40″ E; CH1903: 656821 /141412
Height: 1269 m above sea level
Area: 5.7 km²
Residents: 34 (2004)
Population density: 6 inhabitants per km²
Steinhaus VS (Schweiz)
Steinhaus VS


Municipal status before the merger on 1 October 2004

Steinhaus (Walliserdeutsch Steihüs

[ˈʃteiˌhyːs(ː)][1]) is a locality in the Valais municipality of Ernen. Until spring 2005, Steinhaus was an independent municipality.

Location, village image, traffic

Steinhaus is situated together with the neighbouring villages of Mühlebach and Ernen in the west and Niederwald in the east at the entrance to the Goms.

Floor plan of a Gommer house

The village of Steinhaus was built on a sunny, south-facing high plateau near the Rufibach. The distance to the Rhone is about 250 metres, that to the Rhone glacier 21 km. The village lies on the former mule track, the “Via Regia”. This extends through the whole of the Upper Valais and was the main traffic route through the Valais before the construction of the Furka road in 1860-1861. Through ds unner Dorf (“the lower village”) leads the road coming from Mühlebach. The houses at the entrance to the village face north. In the upper village are the chapel and the former parish hall as well as numerous residential houses and barns.


At both ends of the village, the upper summer houses, which were built between 1510 and 1630, are still very well preserved. In part, the dwellings have an almost completely intact dielbaum (supporting beams of the ceiling, usually the living room ceiling, often with rich inscriptions). The ground plan of the houses in the Upper Valais is also interesting in this context. As a rule, all houses in the valley were built according to this ground plan until modern times. In the centre of the village are the houses built around 1710. In 1768, a large fire destroyed twelve buildings. The hamlets of Richelsmatt and Rottenbrücke near Steinhaus are no longer inhabited today, the former since 1830.

From Brig or Oberwald, the route leads via Ernen and Mühlebach VS to Steinhaus. Steinhaus can be reached on this route by private car or by public transport. From Niederwald, Steinhaus can be reached on foot in 20 minutes.

Until 1960 there was only one telephone connection in the whole village, which all the inhabitants of the village used for incoming and outgoing calls. Contact with the outside world was marginal until the 1970s. Due to avalanches, the village was cut off from the outside world for weeks at a time in winter until 1987. Thanks to the construction of a tunnel near the Löüwibach (“avalanche stream”) in 1987/1988, Steinhaus is now accessible at all times, even in winter.


Picture of Steinhaus around 1925

The village was first mentioned in a document in 1245 as Domus lapidea (“stone house”),[2] then in 1436 for the first time in German zem Steinhus.[1]

In the Middle Ages, land in Goms was in all probability divided. One half was claimed by the Bishop of Sion, the other by several counts who came from Upper Italy.[3] Among these noble families were the lords of Biandrate, of Compeys, de Castello, de Platea, de Rodier and de Vineis. It is possible that one of these counts resided in Steinhaus, as indicated by the place name uff em Turre at the upper entrance to the village and the place name “Steinhaus” itself.[1][4] The awakening of the Upper Valais’ rights to freedom strengthened the democratic idea and led to independence and self-government in several freedom fights. The victories of the Valais at the Battle of Ulrichen in 1211 against Duke Berchtold V of Zähringen and in 1419 against the Bernese bear witness to this. A large granite cross with the inscription “Den Helden von Ulrichen” (To the heroes of Ulrichen) commemorates this battle in a field in Ulrichen. In the fourteenth century, they were very firm with their episcopal sovereign: When Bishop Tavel of Sitten rode into Goms with his retinue in the autumn of 1361 to oblige the communities to be more obedient, the people of Goms attacked the bishop near Steinhaus and held him prisoner for eleven weeks until he made great concessions to them. In 1417 the community gave itself its own statutes. From the Middle Ages until the end of the Ancien Régime, the parish of Steinhaus was part of the district of Ernen in Untergoms (large parish of Ernen).

On 16 September 2004, the Grand Council of the Canton of Valais decided to merge the municipality of Steinhaus with the neighbouring municipalities of Ernen, Mühlebach and Ausserbinn. In its decision of 19 January 2005, the Federal Supreme Court rejected the appeal under constitutional law lodged by the municipality of Ausserbinn against the State Council and the Grand Council of the Canton of Valais on all points. Ausserbinn, Ernen, Mühlebach and Steinhaus were informed of this ruling on 31 January 2005, which finally made the merger of the four former communes legally binding. On 5/6 March 2005, the inhabitants of the former communes decided that the new municipality would be called “Ernen”.

Life and economy

Pseudevernia furfuracea

In 1829 the village had 79 inhabitants, in 1850: 97 inhabitants, in 1900: 86 inhabitants, in 1950: 87 inhabitants, in 2000: 33 inhabitants and in 2018: 19 inhabitants. Until the 20th century most of the inhabitants were farmers. Many of them emigrated to the United States in the 1920s and 1930s because of the great poverty. The poverty was sometimes so great that the cattle had to be fed with antler lichen (Pseudevernia furfuracea), Walliserdeutsch Gragg, during the winter months due to the meagre harvest in summer.

The economic circumstances contributed to the fact that many inhabitants of Steinhaus turned their backs on their village even in later years and sought their earnings in prosperous areas. Today, only one farm remains. Many inhabitants now work down in the valley, in the Brig and Visp area, in the 2nd (goods refining and processing) or 3rd sector (services and administrations).


After the Furka road was opened in 1864, all traffic passed through on the opposite side of the valley. Steinhaus suffered economic disadvantages as a result of this bypass, but was conversely spared traffic-related damage and conversions. The village is the starting point for hikes and bike tours into the Rappental valley, where up to 1000 sheep are grazed in summer. There is a ski area in the immediate vicinity of Steinhaus. The official “Rhone Route No. 1” cycle route leads from Oberwald via Steinhaus to Brig. It follows the former mule track, the “Rottenweg”. The Gommer Höhenweg, one of a total of over 711 km of marked hiking trails of all levels of difficulty, links the villages in Goms.

Places of interest


The centre of the village is the village square with a fountain, which is surrounded by old houses. The chapel of the village was built around 1728/29. It is dedicated to the Holy Family. The altar was built by the sculptor Johann Joseph Bodmer from the neighbouring village of Mühlebach. In the main niche, the Holy Family forms the Holy Trinity under the Holy Spirit depicted as a dove with God the Father. In the side axis, St. Anthony of Padua on the left, St. Anne on the right.

The former village hall dates from 1794. At the entrance to the upper part of the village, the first house on the left after the turn-off coming from Niederwald is a Heidehüs. It was probably built between 1500 and 1630. The Heidechriiz (“Heath Cross”) on the gable front, which is characteristic of this type of building, with its typical balustrade and notched rosette, is exceptionally well preserved. The oldest dwellings date from the late Middle Ages and are popularly known as Heidehiischer (“heathen houses”).

Personalities from Steinhaus

The great mountain guide Johann Joseph Benet (1819-1864) was born in Steinhaus. He was also called “Bennen” by his friend John Tyndall and was known as the “Garibaldi of mountain guides” because of his revolutionary mountaineering style. With John Tyndall and Ulrich Wenger as guides, Johann Josef Benet (Bennen) succeeded in making the first ascent of the Weisshorn on 19 August 1861. On 18 July 1861 he also made the first ascent of Mont Blanc (4810 m) together with Leslie Stephen, Francis Fox Tuckett, Melchior Anderegg and Peter Perren. On 18 June 1859, Benet (guide), Peter Bohren (guide), V. Tairraz (guide) and Francis Fox Tuckett made their first ascent of the Aletschhorn.

Stone house pictures

Debris flows and “tidal waves

Above Steinhaus there is a large breakaway zone which is responsible for the discharge of powerful debris flows. During a violent thunderstorm, the Rufibach transports large masses of rock, mud, gravel and trees towards the Rhone. This happens up to 10 times a year. The ground shaking is so great that a slight tremor can even be felt in the houses of the village. This unique natural spectacle is experienced by the villagers and guests from a safe distance with a mixture of concern, fear and fascination. Below the village, large rubble walls have formed over the years (see picture), which are partly overgrown by a forest that is several decades old.

The transported rock material consists mainly of gneiss from the Penninic Gotthard massif. An accumulation of deposits from earlier debris flows can be seen on the side walls of the Rufibach. The most impressive evidence of these debris flows is found before the confluence with the Rhone in the form of a large debris cone.

7. July 1998

The debris flow was so severe that the Rhone at Steinhaus was dammed over the weekend to form a 2.5-kilometre-long lake. In the aftermath of the debris flow, the water level of the Rhone rose to five metres.

17. August 2016

A large debris flow has buried the bridge over the Rufibach in Steinhaus. The steel railings on both sides of the bridge were destroyed. The largest boulder, which was transported with the debris, had a height of 2.70 m, a depth of 1.80 m, a width of 0.90 m and a weight of about 13 tons. It took weeks after the debris flow to dredge the debris from the stream bed. A Cat chain excavator was used, whose bucket can hold 2.00 m³ in one work step.


  • Bernard Truffer:Steinhaus. In: Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
  • Walter Ruppen: Steinhaus. In: Gesellschaft für Schweizerische Kunstgeschichte (ed.): Kunstdenkmäler der Schweiz (= vol.67). Untergoms vol. 2. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel 1979, ISBN 3-7643-1080-4, pp. 110-119.
  • Marc Ozvatic: The Rufibach near Steinhaus (Valais, Switzerland). Studies on the morphogenesis and mudflow activity of a side valley of the upper Goms. University thesis for the degree of Diplom-Geographer, Institute of Geography, University of Stuttgart. Stuttgart 14 June 2006.

Web links

Commons: Steinhaus VS– Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual references

  1. a b c Dictionary of Swiss communal names. Ed. by the Centre de Dialectologie at the University of Neuchâtel under the direction of Andres Kristol. Frauenfeld/Lausanne 2005, p. 854.
  2. Jean Gremaud: Documents relatifs à l’histoire du Valais. Lausanne 1875-1898, vol. 1, p. 381. On the latinization of place names in the Middle Ages, see also Hans-Robert Ammann: Latinisierte Ortsnamen des Oberwallis aus den Pfarrbücher. In: Blätter aus der Valiser Geschichte, 1997, vol. 30, p. 198.
  3. Jean-François Bergier: The Economic History of Switzerland. From the beginnings to the present. Benziger, Zurich/Cologne 1983.
  4. Bernard Truffer:Steinhaus. In: Historical Dictionary of Switzerland. 2017.