CHAMONIX, a mountain valley in south-east France, its chief village, of the same name, being the capital of a canton of the arrondissement of Bonneville in the department of Haute-Savoie. The valley runs from N.E. to S.W., and is watered by the Arve, which rises in the Mer de Glace. On the S.E. towers the snowclad chain of Mont Blanc, and on the N.W. the less lofty, but rugged chain of the Brévent and of the Aiguilles Rouges. Near the head of the valley is the village of Argentière (4101 ft.), which is connected with Switzerland by "char" (light carriage) roads over the Tête Noire and past Salvan, and by a mule path over the Col de Balme, which joins the Tête Noire route near Trient and then crosses by a "char" road the Col de la Forclaz to Martigny in the Rhone valley. The principal village, Chamonix (3416 ft.), is 6 m. below Argentière by electric railway (which continues via Finhaut to Martigny) and is visited annually by a host of tourists, as it is the best starting-point for the exploration of the glaciers of the Mont Blanc chain, as well as for the ascent of Mont Blanc itself. It is connected with Geneva by a railway (55 m.). In 1906 the population of the village was 806, of the commune 3482.
The valley is first heard of about 1091, when it was granted by the count of the Genevois to the great Benedictine house of St Michel de la Cluse, near Turin, which by the early 13th century established a priory therein. But in 1786 the inhabitants bought their freedom from the canons of Sallanches, to whom the priory had been transferred in 1519. In 1530 the inhabitants obtained from the count of the Genevois the privilege of holding two fairs a year, while the valley was often visited by the civil officials and by the bishops of Geneva (first recorded visit in 1411, while St Francis de Sales came thither in 1606). But travellers for pleasure were long rare. The first party to publish (1744) an account of their visit was that of Dr R. Pococke, Mr W. Windham and other Englishmen who visited the Mer de Glace in 1741. In 1742 came P. Martel and several other Genevese, in 1760 H.B. de Saussure, and rather later Bourrit.
See J.A. Bonnefoy and A. Perrin, Le Prieuré de Chamonix (2 vols., Chambery, 1879 and 1883); A. Perrin, Histoire de la vallée et du prieuré de Chamonix (Chambéry, 1887); L. Kurz and X. Imfeld, Carte de la chaîne du Mont Blanc (1896; new ed., 1905); L. Kurz, Climbers' Guide to the Chain of Mont Blanc (London, 1892); also works referred to under Blanc, Mont.
(W. A. B. C.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)