The Village of Zermatt (formerly called Prato Borno or Pratoborno) lies at the southern end of a valley which is one of the lateral branches of the magnificent Valley of the Rhone. It is an older place than one would suspect from its appearance. From the documentary evidence, it is apparent that the valley in which it is situated was peopled six to seven centuries ago. There is a strong presumption that the Theodul Pass was crossed over long before the fourth century. At different times, many Roman coins have been discovered even upon its summit (10,890 feet). The dates of the Roman coins which have been found upon the Theodul Pass range from about B.C. 200 to 400 A. D.). These coins may have been merely lost en route, but it is very likely that they were deposited intentionally. Whichever supposition is adopted, the fact is that the pass was traveled over at a very early date.
Before the end of the 18th Century, Zermatt was not much visited by strangers. However, it must have been a well- known place. It was not until the first half of the 19th Century, that the district was becoming somewhat more visited both by the Swiss and strangers
The only hotel at Zermatt, until 1852, was a small six-bedroom wooden lodge, The Lauber, kept by the village doctor, which was opened in 1839. In 1851, the Hotel du Mont Cervin was opened, at what was then the northern end of the village and in 1854, the Lauber inn was acquired by Alexandre Seiler, who changed its name to Hotel du Mont Rose.
The Village of Zermatt, 35 kilometers from Visp, is situated in a basin at the head of the Mattertal or Nikolai Valley, on the left bank of the Matter Visps torrent. It is in the District de Viége or Visp District. The resident population at the last Census was 5,775. The whole of the upper parts of the surrounding Alps and mountains are the property of the Commune. On the lower ground, many little patches and plots are private property. The Zermatters set a high value on their land, and ask prices equivalent to those which are obtainable in cities like Lucerne or Lausanne.
The name of Zermatt is inseparably connected with that of the Matterhorn. This grand mountain, though not the highest of its district, is the peak above all others that people wish to see. Trainloads of tourists pass the Weisshorn daily without emotion, but they raise a cheer when Matterhorn comes in sight.
Most of us obtain our first view of the mountain either from the valley of Zermatt or from that of Aosta Valley. From the former direction, the base of the mountain is seen at its narrowest, and its ridges seem to be prodigiously steep. The view of the mountain from Breuil, in the Aosta Valley, is less striking than that on the other side; but it perhaps makes less impression, because the spectator grows accustomed to the sight while coming up the valley. From this direction, the mountain is seen to be broken up into a series of pyramidal wedge-shaped masses.
The valley of Aosta lies at the extreme northwestern corner of Italy, nestling in the angle where the main chain of the Alps, with a sharp turn at the Mont Blanc, changes its general direction from north and south to east and west: it is bounded, therefore, on two sides by the central body of the great mountain system of Middle Europe, in the
very part where this reaches its loftiest elevation. More than a valley, it is a vast, if not complex, a mass of heights and hollows, by far the most extensive in the surface of all the valleys of the Western Alps.