The Matterhorn (German: Matterhorn, Italian: Monte Cervino, French: Mont Cervin) is a mountain of the Alps, straddling the border between Switzerland and Italy. It is a huge and almost perfect pyramidal peak in the Monte Rosa area of the Pennine Alps, whose summit is 4,478 metres (14,692 ft) high, making it one of the highest summits in the Alps and Europe. The four steep faces, rising above the surrounding glaciers, face the four compass points and are split by the Hörnli, Furggen, Leone and Zmutt ridges. The mountain overlooks the Swiss town of Zermatt in the canton of Valais to the north-east and the Italian town of Breuil-Cervinia in the Aosta Valley to the south. Theodul Pass, located at the eastern base of the peak, is the lowest passage between its north and south side.
The Matterhorn was studied by Horace-Bénédict de Saussure in the late eighteenth century, who was followed by other renowned naturalists and artists such as John Ruskin in the nineteenth century. Remaining still unclimbed after most of the other great Alpine peaks were climbed, the Matterhorn became the subject of an international competition for the summit. The first ascent of the Matterhorn was finally made in 1865 from Zermatt by a party led by Edward Whymper but ended disastrously when four of its members fell to their deaths on the descent. That climb and disaster, portrayed in several films, marked the end of the golden age of alpinism. The north face was not climbed until 1931, and is amongst the three great north faces of the Alps. The west face, which is the highest of the four, was completely climbed in 1962. It is estimated that over 500 alpinists have died on the Matterhorn since the first climb in 1865, making it one of the deadliest peaks in the Alps.
The Matterhorn is mainly composed of gneisses from the Dent Blanche nappe, lying over ophiolites and sedimentary rocks of the Penninic nappes, the gneisses being originally fragments of the African Plate. The current shape of the mountain is the result from the cirque erosion due to multiple glaciers diverging from the peak, forming a horn.
Sometimes referred to as the Mountain of Mountains, the Matterhorn has become an iconic emblem of the Swiss Alps and the Alps in general. Since the end of the 19th century, when railways were built in the area, it has attracted increasing numbers of visitors and climbers. Each summer a large number of mountaineers try to climb the Matterhorn from the Hörnli Hut via the northeast Hörnli ridge, the most popular route to the summit, with a large number of trekkers as well, undertaking the 10-day long circuit around the mountain.