Grande Dixence Dam in Switzerland

The world’s highest gravity dam

Absolutely spectacular in terms of its dimensions and function, the Grande Dixence Dam in Switzerland is the tallest gravity dam in the world. With a height of 285 meters (935 feet), this concrete gravity dam located in Val d’Hérémence in canton Valais, Switzerland is the fifth tallest dam in the whole world. It is also the tallest dam in Europe.

The dam’s reservoir is Lac des Dix (Lake Dix). It is the second-largest lake in Valais. It has a reservoir capacity of 400 million m3.

Grande Dixence Dam in Hérémence, Switzerland is an engineering feat and an important source of energy for Switzerland. This place is definitely worth a visit.

Grande Dixence Dam History

The history of the Grande Dixence Dam is unique and interesting. Thousands of workers, technicians, and engineers were called in to help build this structure. The dam was built for a decade – from 1951 to 1961. It was commissioned in 1961.

At an altitude of 2,400 meters above sea level, building this dam came with a lot of challenges.

First of all, they needed a lot of concrete. And so, to produce the amount of concrete needed, four of the largest cement production plants in Switzerland helped build the dam. The large quantities of cement produced were then transported from Sion.

Cable Cars in Grande Dixence

Ropeway Conveyor in Grande Dixence Dam during construction. Image from Wikimedia

Once the cement arrived from Sion, it was prepared at the base of the dam. Then, ropeways transported the cement mixture from the base of the dam to the desired location using large tippers suspended from metal cables.

The Ropeway Conveyor had two parallel ropeways to transport the buckets of cement to the desired location in the dam.

Grande Dixence Dam Dimensions

Height 285 m
Crest700 m
Reservoir Capacity 400 million m3
Surface area4.04 km2
Catchment area46.3 km2
Grande Dixence Poster
Grande Dixence Poster taken by TouringSwitzerland.com

The Grande Dixence Dam in Switzerland is the tallest gravity dam in the world.

Grande Dixence Dam is the fifth tallest dam in the world after the Jingping-I Dam (Liangshan, China), Nurek Dam (Tajikistan), Xiaowan Dam (Nanjian, China), and Xiluodu Dam (Yongshan, China).

Grande Dixence Dam is also the highest dam in Europe at 285 meters. The other two highest dams in Europe are the disused Vajont Dam (Italy) at 261.6 meters and Mauvoisin Dam in Switzerland at 250 meters.

Since there are hardly any skyscrapers in Switzerland, the Grande Dixence Dam is also currently the tallest structure in Switzerland. It is even taller than the tallest building in Switzerland – the Roche Tower 2 in Basel towering at 205 meters.

At 285 meters, it is almost as tall as the Eiffel tower. At its base, the dam is wide enough to fit in two football pitches end to end.

Lac des Dix

Lac des Dix - Grande Dixence Lake
Image of Lac des Dix by TouringSwitzerland.com

Once the rain comes, it falls into the catchment area of the lake called Lac des Dix. Lac des Dix has a surface area of 4 km².

Lac des Dix is the second-largest lake in Valais after Lake Geneva. It is the 29th-largest lake in Switzerland.

The water from 35 glaciers in and around Valais is collected up to the ends of Zermatt valley. From there, 75 water intakes collect the water. Beneath the mountains, 100 kilometers of tunnels funnel this water into Grande Dixence Dam. If the water source is lower than the height of the lake, water pumping stations propel the water upwards so that it gets collected and stored in Grande Dixence.

Grande Dixence Dam Tunnels

Upon arriving in Grande Dixence Dam, you are greeted by a huge tall concrete wall. This concrete wall has approximately 32 kilometers of tunnels running through it. These tunnels are used by the dam inspection officers to check that the structure of the dam is intact.

The inspection officers monitor the movements using dozens of instruments. This includes plumblines and extensometers. The dam moves. It varies by up to 11 cm depending on the level of the water in the lake, as well as the temperature. When you are standing beside the dam, you will see markings on the water height on the concrete wall.

Grande Dixence Dam Function

Those 100 kilometers of tunnels, 75 water intakes, and four pumping stations funnel water to the Grande Dixence Dam (Z’Mutt, Stafel, Ferpècle, and Arolla). From the dam, three hydroelectric power plants use this energy converted from this amount of water in order to generate electricity (Fionnay, Nendaz, and Bieudron).

The Grande Dixence Company ensures that the electricity produced by the dam is transferred to the Fionnay and Nendaz power stations.

Around a fifth of Switzerland’s storage energy is generated by the Grande Dixence SA. The dam is extremely valuable by supplying approximately 2 billion kWh of electricity to Switzerland. This provides half a million homes with electricity.

How to get to Grande Dixence Dam

The Grande Dixence Dam is located at the southern end of Val d’Hérémence in Canton Valais, Switzerland. To reach it, you can either go by public transport or by private car. As you can see from the image above, it is mostly just one curvy road snaking up the mountains towards the dam. Once you reach the dam, you will need to ride the cable car going up. You can also hike going up if you wish.

  • By public transport: You can ride the bus from Sion to Dixence, Le Chargeur. Travel time from Sion is roughly 70 minutes (approximately 29 kilometers).
  • By car: If you are coming from Sion, head to Hérémence. Simply follow Route d’Hérémence and the signs to Grande Dixence.

Things to Do in Grande Dixence Dam

There are several things to do in Grande Dixence Dam. These are:

  • Zipline – This is the longest zipline in Western Switzerland. At 700 meters, it goes from one end of the Grande Dixence Dam to the other. It is recommended to book your tickets in advance because the slots fill up quickly.

Check out a video of the zipline from Alpinline below!

Video from Alpinline
  • Dam Guide Tours – There are guided tours for a maximum of 40 people available multiple times per day. The tours are 75 minutes long. It is recommended to wear comfortable clothes, good shoes, and a mask.
  • Ibex Hiking Trail – There is a 12-kilometer Ibex Hiking Trail that follows the Col des Roux pass road to an altitude of 2,800 meters. This educational trail goes in both directions and traverses the Dix Valley. The brochure is available at the valley station.
  • Power Plant Visit – The Power Plant visits to the pumping stations of Arolla and Z’Mutt, as well as the power stations Fionnay, Nendaz, and Bieudron, are free of charge and open during weekdays to the public.

Our Experience

Not only is the Grande Dixence Dam in Switzerland very impressive due to its size and the engineering feat used to accomplish it. The road leading to the dam is also quite beautiful – through windy roads and glimpses of various mountain peaks in Canton Valais.

As we arrived quite early in the morning, parking was not an issue. There were already lots of other cars in the parking lot, but we were able to find a spot fairly quickly. We were also able to get our tickets and go up with the tiny cable car quickly.

Looking at how tall the dam is from the parking lot is impressive. The dam is huge both in height and width. The amount of concrete necessary is also astounding. From the crest of the dam, you get fantastic views of the surrounding Swiss Alps, the people doing the zipline, as well as the reservoir – Lac des Dix. There was a small shop selling drinks.

Some visitors hiked up from the parking lot and some hiked further up from the crest. We did neither as we simply just walked around, read the various information boards put up, got drinks, and took pictures.

All in all – I think that the Grande Dixence Dam in Switzerland is truly an interesting place to visit, especially if you are into engineering feats and impressive mountain views.

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