Saturday, January 9, 2010


(fyŏŏ-nĭk'yə-lər, fə-) n. A cable railway on a steep incline, especially such a railway with simultaneously ascending and descending cars counterbalancing one another. [f. L. f{umac}nicul-us + -AR. Cf. F. funiculaire.]

I had been meaning to do a future post about funiculars when I saw the photograph (2nd image) of one in Lisbon that has been covered in mirrors by Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto (giggle). A fact-finding mission followed, of course, and here are the results...

The word as used to describe cable railways dates from the turn of the 20th c., but the oldest funicular - which still operates - is a private one in Salzburg, Austria, from the turn of the 16th c.! The Reisszug traces its original route up a 65-degree grade on the east side of a hill to Hohensalzburg Castle. A 19th c. public funicular takes visitors up the north side of the slope.

There seem to be 2 competing claims for the steepest funicular: the Gelmer funicular near Guttannen, Switzerland (video here) and the Inclined Plane (video here) in Johnstown, Pennsylvania (3rd image), which was put in place to take residents to a new community on a hillside after the devastating 1889 flood.

There are dozens of funiculars in the world, not all of them operational. La Funicolare Vesuviana (1st image) took tourists up the slope of an active volcano - until it erupted in 1906. It was rebuilt, but was destroyed irreparably in 1944. Some friends of my Dad recently rode a funicular in Norway, which I assume was the Fløybanen in Bergen (video here). I have only ridden one that I remember: the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. That and others are covered in Funimag, "The 1st web magazine about funiculars."

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