The Windows & Walls of Engadin

My love for Engadin is no secret.

It’s a pretty special place all around and traveling through the region I found the food, people, nature, tradition and architecture all so wonderfully different and particular.

Most of all, I loved the very unique villages, some of them less than a mile apart but each so individual. In Samedan, I captured the exotic sounds of Romansch, in St. Moritz I heard mostly Swiss German, and in Celerina, I was greeted in Italian.

How such different cultures can thrive together in these deep valleys and pointed mountains is part of the wonder of Switzerland, but the common thread I discovered everywhere was the magnificent architecture of Engadin.

There were a few nice churches and prominent hotels, yes, but the best of Engadin architecture is found in the angular homes or chesas, most of which date back to Renaissance times.

Wandering through Celerina (Schlarigna in Romansch), I was completely captivated by the windows and walls of this decorated town. In all my travels in all the world, I have never seen anything quite like it. Each chesa stands with incredibly thick walls–wooden frames to which a stone facade was added to protect from fire.

Sgraffito is the art form of scratching designs into the stucco walls of the chesas and abundant examples decorate Celerina, Samedan and St. Moritz. A person could spend days just wandering through the cobblestone streets and investigating the wealth of sgraffito in the area.

. . . and that’s exactly what I did. For me, how people build their houses reveals everything about a place. Though most travelers come to Engadin to ski, to soak in the waters, to enjoy the mountains and to dine, it was the architecture that enchanted me most. Each chesa tends to be prominent and huge, though slightly askew and bizarrely angled (unlike most of Switzerland’s very right-angle culture). The roofs are sloped and tiled like those on any chalet but it’s the windows that stand out, as if they were punched out from each wall. I almost wondered if these were not some of the original inspiration for Le Corbusier.

Desperate to capture and remember the beauty of so many structures, I took a few hundred too many photos of the windows and walls in three different villages. This gallery contains just a few of my favorites.