The highest mountain in the Alps, on the border between France and Italy, and one of the highest points in Europe at 4,807 m/15,772 ft. Lying 10 km/6 mi south of Chamonix, it forms part of the Mont Blanc range. The peak was first climbed in 1786 by Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard of Chamonix. In 1965 the longest road tunnel in the world (12 km/7.5 mi) was opened under the mountain, linking Chamonix to Courmayeur in Italy. There are many resorts along the base of the mountain which attract both summer and winter tourists and sportspeople; the main resorts on the French side are Argentière, Chamonix, Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, and Megève.
The Mont Blanc massif (range of mountains) forms part of the Pennine Alps and is divided between France, Italy, and Switzerland. When the Savoy region was ceded to France in 1861, France gained possession of the peak, Mont Blanc. While the present name appears to have been always in local use - it occurs in an Italian document of the year 1694 - in former days the mountain was called the Montagne Maudite (‘accursed mountain’ or Les Glacières, because of the immense glaciers found on all sides: the Bossons, Taconnaz and Mer de Glace on the north slope; and the Brenva and Miage on the south. An ice cap also covers the summit down to about 2,440 m/8,000 ft, and in places the ice is over 23 m/75 ft thick. The mountain has two observatories used for glacier study, the first being constructed just below the summit by T J C Janssen in 1893.
The year after the first successful attempt, Jacques Balmat again made the ascent, this time with two local men, whilst later in 1787 the Genevese naturalist H B de Saussure made the third. The first Englishman to make the summit was Colonel Beaufoy (1787). The first ascents of Mont Blanc were made from Chamonix, though ascents have now been made from every side. The easiest and most popular route is from the Inn of the Grands Mulets at Chamonix to the Bosses du Dromadaire shelter-hut, and then on to the summit. Many resort hotels have been built near the mountain, which is a major tourist attraction.
The Mont Blanc Tunnel was closed in March 1999 after a lorry caught fire, killing 39 people. It was re-opened in March 2002 after extensive renovations, including the building of additional escape routes.
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