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Bern: a medieval historic center of great beauty

Bern (about 130,000 inhabitants), is the federal capital of Switzerland. The city stands at 540 meters above sea level, overlooking the Alps. The historic center is located in a meander of the Aare river which surrounds the old town on three sides. The city is located in the center of Switzerland, at the crossroads of important roads and railway lines, and is an active commercial center and home to many international institutions. Bern is easily accessible from all parts of Europe and is an excellent base for visiting the Swiss Alps, the Bernese Oberland, Mittelland, Jura, Lake Geneva and Valais.

Bern was founded in 1191 by the Duke of Zähringen, Berthold V, and soon became an important trading center due to its location. It was under the protection of the Savoy for a few years, and in 1353 Bern became part of the Swiss Confederation. In 1848 it became the state capital and seat of the government of the Helvetic federation.

WHAT TO SEE: BERN’S MAIN ATTRACTIONS

Bern is one of the most interesting Swiss cities, perhaps the one that best preserved its ancient medieval appearance. The city is one of the most important examples of medieval architecture on the European continent. The medieval core of the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

The old town, full of attractions, extends from the meander of the Aare river (Untertorbrücke, Mattenenge, Nydeggbrücke) to the west to the site of the ancient fortifications (today Kleine Schanze, Hirschengraben, Bubenbergplatz, Bahnhofplatz, Bollwerk).

The old city lies on a promontory embraced by the river. Here the main streets, on which numerous stately arched buildings overlook, are very characteristic, wide, flanked by arcades for strolling, called Lauben, and decorated with Renaissance fountains with mannered columns. There are over 100 fountains in the city, some of which date back to the 16th century.

Bern’s most famous monument is the Zeitglockenturm, the medieval clock tower. This was the western gate of the first city wall, built between 1191 and 1256, its astronomical calendar was built in 1530. The second western gate of the city was the Käfigturm (Prison Tower), built between 1256 and 1344, it was used as a prison from the 17th century.

THE GOTHIC CATHEDRAL

The city has a beautiful Gothic Cathedral (Berner Münster), which is the most interesting example of the city’s late Gothic architecture. This is also the largest church in Switzerland. It was built between 1421 and 1588, and was completed in 1893 with the raising of the spire. The church has two important cycles of Gothic art: the sculptures of the main portal and the complex of the stained glass windows of the choir. The bell tower of the church can be visited. From its top you can admire a magnificent panorama of the city, the entire Bernese Mittelland and the snow-capped mountains of the Bernese Oberland.

THE GOTHIC TOWN HALL

The Town Hall (Rathaus), built between 1406 and 1416 in Gothic style, with pillared halls and wooden roof, is now the seat of the cantonal government. Here meets five times a year the council of the canton of Bern. The Kornhaus (Grain Deposit) is one of the best examples of Bernese Baroque architecture. The Palace of the Parliament (Bundeshaus), a 19th century building, houses the seat of the Swiss government and parliament. The eighteenth-century Church of the Holy Spirit (Heiliggeistkirche) is the most important Baroque Protestant church in Switzerland.

The French Church (Französische Kirche), built between 1270 and 1285 is the oldest church in the city. It was originally part of the Dominican monastery, but was later a Protestant church of the French-speaking faithful. While today it has a facade rebuilt in Baroque style. The Kirchenfeldbrucke, dating back to the 19th century, is a monumental bridge that crosses the Aare river joining the old quarters to Hevetiaplatz, the cultural center of the city.

THE PARKS

For nature lovers, there are two attractions not to be missed: the Botanical Gardens (Botanischer Garten), which are located right in the center of the city, and extend over 2 hectares and host about 6,000 species of plants. Finally, the Rose Garden (Rosengarten) is very beautiful. Located in an old cemetery that has now become a large park with a magnificent view of the old city and the meander of the Aare river. The park is home to 220 different types of roses, 200 types of iris and 28 species of rhododendrons.

WHAT TO SEE: BERN’S MUSEUMS

THE MUSEUM DEDICATED TO PAUL KLEE

Among the most important museums in the city is certainly the Zentrum Paul Klee (Paul Klee Center), a museum dedicated to the work of the artist Paul Klee (1879-1940). Brand new museum designed by architect Renzo Piano, which contains around 4,000 works by Paul Klee (around 40% of all the artist’s works), as well as works by Vasily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and Alexej von Jawlensky.

THE FABRIC MUSEUM

The Abegg-Stiftung Riggisberg, one of the most important textile museums in the world, is also very well known, and is home to the research center for the conservation of historical fabrics. The museum has a collection of fabrics ranging from ancient times (Egyptians, Mesopotamian peoples, Chinese), to the Middle Ages (Islamic world and Europe) up to the eighteenth century.

The Kunsthalle Bern (Art Gallery), houses works by artists such as Klee, Giacometti, Moore, Johns, Lewitt, Nauman and Buren. Lovers of classical antiquity should visit the Antikensammlung Bern (Collection of Classical Antiquities), which houses over 230 Greek and Roman sculptures.

THE MUSEUM AND HOUSE OF ALBERT EINSTEIN

In Bern there is the house (Einstein-Haus) where the famous scientist Albert Einstein lived between 1903 and 1905. Also in Bern there is also a museum dedicated to him, the Einstein Museum. This museum is part of the Historisches Museum Bern, which houses numerous ancient works of art including the Graechwil Hydria, a Greek bronze vessel from the 6th century BC, and also illustrates the history of the city. In the Landshut Castle (Schloss Landshut) there is the Museum of Wild Life and Hunting (Schweizer Museum für Wild und Jagd), which documents the history of hunting from prehistory to today.

The Museum of Fine Arts (Kunstmuseum Bern) with works from the Italian fourteenth century (Duccio, Fra Angelico), and works by Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Pablo Picasso. Bern’s Burgerbibliothek houses numerous codices, prints and old books. Other museums include the Museum of Communication (Museum für Kommunikation), the Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum der Burgergemeinde Bern), the Museum of Arms (Schweizerisches Schützenmuseum).

The climate of Bern.

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