'Abdu'l-BahaAfter 40 years as a prisoner of the Turkish Sultan in the penal colony of Akka in what is now Israel, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, was finally able to travel to the West. After landing in Marseille, He came to Thonon-les-Bains on the shores of Lake Geneva on 22 August 1911, stopped in Geneva at the Hotel de la Paix from 31 August to 4 September, and then traveled to London. While in Thonon, He went with some of the friends on an excursion in the mountains behind Thonon to visit the gorges of the Devil's Bridge, so called because in the Middle Ages, villagers who slipped off the precarious path while trying to cross were said to have been seized by the Devil. The Drance River has cut a deep narrow gorge in the calcareous rock, and a large block of stone that has fallen from the valley wall across the gorge forms a natural bridge. The spectacular sight has been a tourist attraction since the 19th century, when wooden walkways and stairs were constructed to make the gorge accessible. The river now has less water, as a dam has been constructed above the gorges. 'Abdu'l-Bahá was drawn to this place of spectacular natural beauty.

Gorges in 1900 . Gorges in 1900 The original stairs and walkways in 1900

As part of the Swiss commemoration of the centenary of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's visit, a field trip was organized to the Gorges of the Devil's Bridge on 28 August 2011, a hundred years after 'Abdu'l-Bahá's own walk down into the gorges. We benefited from new steel stairs and walkways constructed on both sides of the gorge in the 1950s. Still, it was touching to imagine how 'Abdu'l-Bahá, who like his Father loved the beauty and spirituality of nature, must have felt in such a beautiful spot.

start of path to the gorge . path down Start of the walk down to the gorge

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The path and stairs wind down the valley side to the visitors centre, where we could see the steep rock faces above the gorge

group at visitors centre . group
Our guide explained the origins of the gorges and the Devil's Bridge in the visitors centre
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Swiss Bahá'í group in the visitors' centre

gorge and stream . ramp down . stairs down . gorge
We descended steep stairs and ramps where the river has cut a narrow gorge in the rock

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The water has carved the stone into fantastic patterns lit by the light filtering down from the forest above

stairs . Devil's Bridge . bridge
After looking up at the stairs we had descended, we had our first view of the Devil's Bridge, a big stone across the gorge

walkway . Guide explaining origins . group in gorge
The guide explained how the bridge got its name

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The walkway winds through the spectacular gorge above the river

Devil's Bridge from other side . group .group on walkway
We could see the Devil's Bridge from the other side

gorge and stream . gorge and stream . gorge and walkway . group on walkway
We walked up the river, admiring the blend of stone and water, before finally emerging into the forest

valley above gorge . group on path . Devil's Bridge from above
As we climbed up the valley side, we could see the Devil's Bridge from above, and appreciate how difficult it was to cross it

The visit was a kind of pilgrimage in nature, with the beauty of the spot and signs of the natural forces that had created it combined with thoughts of its association with 'Abdu'l-Bahá and the example He set for all of us.

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Photographs copyright © Arthur Lyon Dahl 2011