The Old City of Bern, Switzerland

The Old City of Bern, Switzerland

A medieval city center of Bern, the fourth most populated city in Switzerland, the Old city of Bern is built on a narrow hill, surrounded on three sides by the Aare River (a tributary to the Rhine, is the longest river that both rises and ends entirely in Switzerland). The layout, in which the city was constructed in, has remained essentially unchanged.

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The city was rebuilt in sandstone, after half of it got ruined, when a fire broke out in 1405, substantial construction work was carried out in the 18th century. But in spite of that the city has retained its medieval character.

The old city of Bern is a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site, due to the compact and generally intact medieval essence and houses Switzerland’s tallest Cathedral as well as Churches, bridges and a large collection of Renaissance fountains. A number of buildings in the old city have been enjoying the Swiss Properties of National Significance status, including the entire old city itself.

A little into history…the city was founded by a Duke, who vowed to name the city after the first animal he hunts, the first animal happened to be a bear and so the city was christened thus after a Bear.


The city is a hilly peninsula surrounded by the Aare River on three sides. The location was chosen as it made it easier for the army to defend the city. The city was later modified to suit everyone’s day to day needs. A long narrow shape of the peninsula, made the city develop as numerous long, parallel rows of houses. The cross streets going north and south, marked the stages of development and expansion of the city, as they developed along the city walls and were moved from time to time, to allow the city to expand.

the city was expanded thrice in its history,

The first expansion happened when the city was founded and was divided into three longitudinal streets. Two streets were added one on the north edge and the other on the south edge of the city. A Woodbridge was built over the Aare River, in order to carry out trade activities.


The second expansion happened when a city wall was added, on the western part of the city. This new wall was added to protect the streets known as the new city. The city expanded southward during the second expansion phase.

The third expansion happened when the people started residing outside the city walls and so a new wall was built to protect the increasingly growing population. A series of six streets and a few defensive walls were added to the new city.

In 1405 a fire broke out in Bern, the city then was mostly made of wood. The fire raced through the city and destroyed most of the buildings. After this deadly disaster, the city was rebuilt with stone, but the medieval character was kept intact. Since the city has undergone en number of modifications. A number of public fountains were added to the city; these fountains were coupled with large allegorical statues and showed how powerful and prosperous the city of Bern was.

Some of the ‘must-visits’ and attractions of the city..

  • The Munster of Bern (cathedral)-

Is a Protestant Gothic Cathedral, situated on the south end of the peninsula. The Cathedral is a home to a 100m Bell tower, the tallest in Switzerland. The largest bell in the bell tower is also the largest bell in Switzerland. The bell weighs 10 tons and is 247 cm in diameter. It rings so loudly that one needs to cover their ears in order to prevent hearing damage. The Cathedral houses a collection of Gothic sculptures, that represent the Christian belief in the Last Judgment, where the wicked will be separated from the righteous. The Cathedral is large and spacious. The stained glass windows of the cathedral are regarded as the most valuable in Switzerland. These windows include a number of religious images as well as an entire ‘Dance of Death’ window.

  • The Holy Ghost Church-

Is one of the largest Swiss Reform churches in Switzerland. The Church has six bells. The interior of the church is basically monolithic columns made of sandstone. The church can house up to 2,000 people, which makes it the largest Protestant church in Switzerland.

  • The Renaissance Fountains-

the old city of Bern has over 100 public fountains, out of which eleven are crowned with Renaissance allegorical statues. These fountains originally served the purpose of public water supply. As the city grew powerful and expanded with every passing year, the fountains too were expanded and decorated, but retained their original purpose. The fountains include Vennerbrunnen, Mosesbrunnen and Simsonbrunnen .

Apart from the Cathedral, the fountains and the church, there other significant places such as the Parliament buildings, the clock tower and the Nydegg Church, which are quite capable of luring your attention.

If you are a lover of history and are keen on tasting the medieval essence and also take a look at the Gothic and the Renaissance architecture, do make a trip to The Old City of Berns, Switzerland. Trust me, you won’t regret it !!

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