The Giant Gargantua

The instantly-recognizable shape of the Matterhorn was created millennia ago when a colossal giant’s curiosity compelled him to Switzerland…

Every child knows the Matterhorn: it is not only one of the highest mountains in the Alps, but its distinct pyramid shape has become the iconic landmark for all of Switzerland, earning the nickname Horu (“the Horn”) in the local dialect. The snow-capped peak that towers above the clouds draws climbers and trekkers from around the world, where every year several thousand people try their Alpine ascent. How exactly the Matterhorn was created is told in the legend of the giant Gargantua.


Many millennia ago, the giant Gargantua lived in the Alps. His figure was epic and powerful; when he stood tall, his hair would disappear into the clouds. His head was as big as a castle, and his hands were fearsome paws that could snap a tree trunk like a match. The giant’s ears and nostrils were like dark caves where a bear could hide for the winter. When Gargantua moved his massive body, the earth trembled and his pounding footsteps left deep marks in the solid rock.

Although Gargantua wielded awesome strength, his enormous body was clumsy and slow. A swath of destruction and debris would frequently be left where he had passed. Nevertheless, the giant was friendly and kind, and not without curiosity. At that time, the familiar shape of the Matterhorn did not exist – there was only a massive, unbroken ridge that was uniformly high, which shielded the sunny Aosta Valley in Italy from the cold north wind. Gargantua spent his time in Valtournenche, but he could not see through the thick clouds to the north and became determined to find out what lay beyond the ridge.


With a hulking step he climbed over the rock face and planted his foot near Zermatt in Switzerland. But just as he brought his other foot forward – oh dear! He slipped on the ice and his flailing body crashed through the mountains, causing the ridge to crumble and collapse as far as the eye could see. Only the great triangular section between the giant’s colossal legs remained standing, which still remains today as the beloved Matterhorn.

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