Where geologists discovered how mountains were created

18 March 2010 | Fact sheet

The Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona

Managed by three cantons in Switzerland: St Gallen, Glarus and Graubunden, the Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona is an extremely important learning site for earth scientists from all over the world. Its main feature is the overthrust - a process whereby older, deeper rocks are carried onto younger, shallower rocks. This phenomenon is widely recognized as the main component of mountain building. The mechanics of large sub-horizontal overthrusts remain an enigma, and the Arena is one place where new theories are tested against observed facts. The thrust is clearly visible even to non-geologists, as the overthrust line is highlighted by contrasting colours.

  • View photos of the area:

 

  • Background

Location :
The Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona is located in the Glarus Alps, north-east Switzerland. The area embraces a number of mountain groups, including seven peaks that rise above 3,000 m.

Size: 32,850 ha 

Inscription on World Heritage List:

2008, following a recommendation from IUCN. 

The World Heritage List includes 890 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value. IUCN is the advisory body for natural and mixed heritage properties to the Committee.

  • Flora and fauna

As the Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona is only minimally developed in terms of infrastructure, large relatively tranquil areas subside, making it an important habitat for mammals such as lynx and chamois. The area is home to 85 out of 200 species of breeding birds in Switzerland, including rare species such as the hazel grouse. The Arena's diverse landscapes also offer a perfect habitat to an extremely rich flora with more than 50 nationally protected species, such as the rare yellow bellflower, the narrow-leaved cotton grass and the alpine cliff fern. 

  • Why should we protect this area?

The Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona is not only one of the world's most important places to study geology; it also represents an alpine cultural landscape, which has remained ecologically intact. Although the Arena is easily accessible, it is not marked by mass-tourism facilities, which makes it possible for a large number of rare Swiss species to exist in the area.

Thanks to its excellent exposure and accessibility, numerous eminent geologists have visited the Arena since the early 19th century to carry out research. Many revolutionary discoveries concerning the formation of mountains have been based on observations made in this area. 

Unlike many other major overthrusts that can only be identified on the basis of detailed cartographical and geological studies, the thrust is readily visible even from the distance, as a well-defined line extending across the landscape for many kilometers, and it has been depicted by a large number of artists over the centuries. 

Learn more:

Swiss Tectonic Sardona website

World Heritage Website

More information on IUCN World Heritage Activities

For more information contact:

Delwyn Dupuis
IUCN Protected Areas Programme
e delwyn.dupuis@iucn.org