Simanaitis Says

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FUNICULÌ, FUNICULÀ!

THE NEAPOLITAN ditty Funiculì, Funiculà celebrated the 1880 opening of the first funicular on Mount Vesuvius. Today here at SimanaitisSays, I celebrate this steep form of rail transportation based on several I’ve heard about and two others I’ve actually ridden.

The Mount Vesuvius Funiculaire is familiar to me from the rousing rendition by Jacques Radinson, a Stockholm tenor.

The original Mount Vesuvius Funiculaire. The system has been updated several times and is still in operation.

There’s a good story about the 1880 song: Visiting Naples in 1886, German composer Richard Strauss heard the tune, assumed it was a traditional Neapolitan folk song, and incorporated it into his Aus Italien tone poem. Composer Luigi Denza filed suit, and Strauss had to pay him a royalty fee.

Angels Flight is, most appropriately, in El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles, “The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels,” Los Angeles. The original Angels Flight connected downtown’s Hill Street and Olive Street, next to the Third Street Tunnel through Bunker Hill. The railway was in operation from 1901 until 1969, when the site was cleared for redevelopment. A subsequent Angels Flight, a block south of the original, is still in operation with restored cable cars, Olivet and Sinai, balancing their way up and down the incline.

Angels Flight, Los Angeles, 1960.

In several sources, including a Harry Nile adventure, it’s claimed that this funicular, some 300 ft. in length, is the shortest railway in the world. (I hedge on length: One source says 298 ft.; officially, it’s 315 ft.; Harry says 330 ft., but see Québec City below.)

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, used to be a city of funiculars: At one time, 17 of these steep transportation systems were in use on its hilly terrain carved by the Allegheny and Monongahela meeting to form the Ohio River.

Above, the Monongahela Incline’s Lower Station. Image by S. Clery. Below, the Duquesne Incline. Image by Dllu. Both transport people up and down Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington.


Still in operation are the Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines. The latter, built in 1870, is the oldest continuously operating funicular in the U.S. The Monongahela travels a length of 635 ft. in an elevation change of 369 ft. Originally steam powered, it was converted to electricity in 1935.

The Duquesne, built in 1877, rises 400 ft. in its 800-ft. travel. It too was originally steam powered and is now electric. In 1962, the Duquesne was closed, apparently forever. But residents of Duquesne Heights launched a successful fund-raiser that refurbished and reopened the funicular in a year.

Both are among Pittsburgh’s most popular tourist attractions.

I’ve actually ridden the Vieux Québec Funiculaire, which connects the city’s Haute-Ville and Basse-Ville. This one opened in 1879, rises at an angle of 45 degrees, and is said to have a railway length of 210 ft. (Sorry, Harry….)

The Québec City Funiculaire. Image by Luke H. Gordon from atlasobscura.com.

I was staying at the historical Hotel Frontenac in Québec City’s Upper Town and used the Funiculaire to visit its Lower Town. This was where I bought my mother, rest her soul, a rosary from a most gentle nun running a religious souvenir shop. I learned only later that the nun’s particular order was a radical one following a breakaway pope from the Catholic Church.

In contrast to this, the Québec City funicular trips were without surprises.

St. Moritz, Switzerland, provided me only a one-way funicular trip and therein lies a tale already related here at SimanaitisSays. Briefly, our group was to enjoy breathtaking sled runs down from a restaurant high above St. Moritz, only to be thwarted by soft snow falling during dinner. Instead, each of us had to tow a one-man bob back down to town.

Standseilbahn St. Moritz-Corviglia. Image by Doppelmayr 1994 from funimag.com.

It’s a pity we couldn’t have fit all of our sleds onto the Standseilbahn St. Moritz. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

3 comments on “FUNICULÌ, FUNICULÀ!

  1. Bill rabel
    June 26, 2018

    In recent years, Angel’s Flight was the site of a murder in Netflix’s “Harry Bosch” series.

  2. Bill rabel
    June 26, 2018

    There’s also a funicular in Salzburg that takes people up to the castle.

  3. Mike B
    June 29, 2018

    There’s a very small one that provides access to the Shadowbrook restaurant in Capitola, CA.

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