The capital of Switzerland is a semi-medieval city with centuries old stone buildings on a narrow peninsula where the Aare River makes a horseshoe bend in a wooded river valley. The Aare is a 183 kilometer long tributary of the Rhine River and only exists in Switzerland.
The founder of Bern was Duke Berchtold von Zahringen chose the site in 1191 because it was easy to defend. Three sides were protected by the Aare river which was like a moat, dangerous and difficult for possible invaders to consider crossing.
Ascona to Bern
I took a train from Ascona near the Italian border through central Switzerland to Luzern then west to Bern. Early parts of the journey were though many tunnels through the alps, then opening into beautiful views of valleys and lakes.
Swiss capitol since 1848
In the middle ages, Bern was one of the largest and most powerful city states north of the Alps. But in 1405, all the wooden buildings in Bern burned down and the city was rebuilt with sandstone. Many of those building still survive in the ‘aldstadt,’ old town.
Today the once powerful medieval town is a major European capital and home to wealthy Swiss who want luxury, safety, privacy, and serenity. It’s all here. Bern became the capitol of Switzerland in 1848 when the country was confederated.
Summer Solstice in Bern
My first night in Bern was on June 21, summer solstice. After an afternoon strolling through the aldstadt, I noticed that it was not getting dark. Saturday night was busy in the aldstadt, I didn’t want to miss any of the fun. The Berners didn’t either.
The aldstadt is on the peninsula in a river valley surrounded by steep hillsides where most Berners live in apartment buildings along quiet, shaded streets. To reach the aldstadt, you cross one of five bridges which also serve as tram and bus routes into town.
Each crossing allows one to look down into the river and see the beautiful panorama of the Bern’s clock towers, church steeples, medieval buildings, and cobblestone streets.
A fifteen-century clock tower is the focal point of the aldstadt. The giant clock was the original gate of the city. Giant clocks are on both sides, with the side facing the aldstadt featuring an astrological calendar and a Swiss statue.
Three wide, cobblestone streets run the length of the peninsula to the Aare River. Centuries old building are now apartments, offices, and street level restaurants, coffee shops, designer stores, artists studios, and professional offices.
Murals in the aldstadt
A number of buildings had festive murals depicting what looked to be caricatures of old Swiss peasant life. Very interesting and colorful. I wish I could have learned more about them.
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Next: Aare River
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