A tour through the centuries

The city, founded in 1191, is enthroned on a peninsula high above the Aare and still bears witness today to the ambitious scale of urban development in medieval Europe. It is a positive example of how a medieval city structure can be retained and yet adapted to also meet contemporary requirements. With its impressive closed rows of houses, its attractive roof landscape, arcades, cellars, towers and fountains, which have largely retained their original form, the federal capital city invites you to go on a tour through the centuries. Cultural Heritage since 1983.


The foundation of the city of Berne, in 1191, was the expression of the Zähringens’ economic and political aspirations to build a fiefdom. From this period only a few architectural vestiges remain, such as the Lenbrunnen, a water tower built in 1250 that provided the first public water supply. Adopting the Zähringens’ original intentions, the Bernese formed their own territory, making Berne into the most powerful city-state north of the Alps from the 16th century on. This was accompanied by a growing sense of self-confidence, with their worldview apparent in the urban image they conferred upon their city. Though the streets and rows of houses basically follow the west-easterly direction of the natural headland cradled in a meander of the River Aare, man-made features are apparent within this arrangement. The market stands as the heart of the city, in the central street – formerly known as Märitgasse, now Kramgasse and Gerechtigkeitsgasse. The churches, on the other hand, are relegated to the outlying area. Compared with the small parish church of St Vincent (destroyed in the 15th century to make way for the cathedral) the imposing breadth of the Märitgasse might infer that, though devout, the Bernese were mainly concerned with all that was practical and worldly.

Did you know?

• Bern’s colourful street signs, in red, green, yellow, black and white, date back to the time when the city was occupied by Napoleon’s troops. They showed the drunk French soldiers the right way home through the alleys of the Old Town.

• Albert Einstein developed his famous theory of relativity in Bern.