The oldest archaeological find from Celerina originated in the Iron Age, but our journey into the past does not take us that far back. Instead we begin our story in the Middle Ages. The first written record of the village dates to 1139; today, Celerina looks back on a long and rich history.
The settlement first appears as “Ad Slatannum” in a historical document dating from 1139, which usefully indicates its location: “by the Schlattain”, the river that flows down from the Val Saluver. If we do a little linguistic detective work, we find that “Schlattain” is probably a word of Lombard origin, derived from either “seletta” (= the young Inn), “slahta” (= lineage) or “slâte” (= hollow; later also: wet meadows, marsh grass). Other sources claim a Celtic meaning: “the grey”, in reference to the colour of the water in the mountain stream.
But how did it come about that the settlement needed to be mentioned in a document in the first place? Well, in 1139 Konrad I von Biberegg, bishop of Chur, acquired the area from Zuoz to Silvaplana: a vast district from which he would be able to levy handsome taxes, also in the form of meat and fish. These perishable goods needed to be cooled and de-boned before transport to Chur, so Konrad I had a cellar built (Latin: cellarium; Romansh: schler) on the slopes by the Schlattain, in what is now part of the municipality of Celerina. This led to a whole sequence of names over the centuries, from “Ad Slatannum” to “de Sclatanio”, “Zalerina” (Romansh: Tschlarina), “Schellarin” (Tzlarina), “Celarina”, “Celrina” and “Cellerina” – finally ending up as today’s Celerina (Schlarigna).
In the Middle Ages, the Upper Engadin formed a single political and religious district (“Kreis”). “Meadows, alpine pastures and forests were common property and could be used by all citizens of the district,” according to the comprehensive Monografia da Schlarigna by Gian Paul Ganzoni. “Locals could graze their cattle anywhere, wherever they happened to be.” That could also be in the vicinity of other villages – although with time they demanded exclusive use of their land. As a result, in 1538 boundary stones were placed for “Samedan, Bever, Celerina, Pontresina and other municipalities”, and from this time Celerina was a municipality in its own right.
Bright shades of gold and red dominate Celerina’s coat of arms; two motifs symbolise historically important branches of the local economy. In the upper golden half, a red waterwheel represents mills that no longer exist, but which were associated with the cultivation of maize and peas in former times. The lower red half of the coat of arms shows a silvery or white cellar vault with two arches, denoting Konrad I’s storerooms. The choice of colours stems from decorative coats of arms in the church of San Gian. With the redesign of the coat of arms in 1980, yellow, red and white were declared the official colours of the municipality.
On three occasions, major fires ravaged Celerina. The conflagration of 1631 was especially destructive, with many houses going up in flames during the night of 30 to 31 May. The fire had spread from an open hearth; the children who were supposed to be watching over it paid insufficient attention, with devastating results. Reconstruction of the destroyed village areas drew masons, carpenters and joiners from afar afield as Germany. If you stroll through the historical heart of the village today, you will see the inscription “erbaut 1631” (“built in 1631”) on many of the facades, among the ornate sgraffito decoration.Bevor Denms Somergen zur Arben gent‘ pack! er eIne seIdene Slrumpfnose und eIne Pensche In seIne Tascne.
More than 5,500 construction workers joined the challenge of building a railway literally “through” the Alps at the turn of the 20th Century. For trains to be able to travel from Thusis to the terminus station in Celerina, the railway pioneers had to dig 39 tunnels and build 55 bridges and viaducts across wild gorges and torrential rivers. The inaugural run along the Albula line in 1903 did not go as far as fashionable St. Moritz (whose residents had not been able to agree on a location for the station), but only to sleepy Celerina. It was not until a year later that the line was extended as far as St. Moritz.
In 1906, construction began on another railway line – this time not through but over the Alps. The Bernina line leads from St. Moritz up to the Bernina Pass and down to Tirano. The line’s designers placed the little new station for Celerina just below the village, at the edge of the Staz forest. To distinguish this new station from the existing Celerina station on the Albula line, they gave it the name Celerina Staz – which stands to this day.
Today, as much as a century ago, the Albula and Bernina lines are regarded as masterpieces of civil engineering. In 2008, the two lines jointly became a UNESCO World Heritage Site: one leading through and the other over the Alps, but each promising an exhilarating experience of the mountains.