Top Historic Sights in Bern, Switzerland

Explore the historic highlights of Bern

Old City of Berne

The Old City of Berne, federal city of Switzerland and capital of the canton of Berne, is located on the Swiss plateau between the Jura and the Alps. Founded in the 12th century according to an innovative foundation plan, and located on a hill surrounded by the River Aar, Berne has experienced an expansion in several stages since its foundation. This development remains visible in its urban structure, mainly tributary to ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Bern, Switzerland

Bern Minster

The first church on this site of Bern Minster probably was a small chapel built during the founding of Bern (1191). By the 15th century, Bern had expanded and become a major city-state north of the Alps. To celebrate their growing power and wealth, the construction of new church began in 1421. During the first phase, Matthäus Ensinger, a foreman from Ulm, was in charge of the project. The construction took over 150 yea ...
Founded: 1421 | Location: Bern, Switzerland

Zytglogge

The Zytglogge is a landmark medieval tower in Bern. Built in the early 13th century, it has served the city as guard tower, prison, clock tower, centre of urban life and civic memorial. Despite the many redecorations and renovations it has undergone in its 800 years of existence, the Zytglogge is one of Bern"s most recognisable symbols and the oldest monument of the city, and with its 15th-century astronomical clock ...
Founded: c. 1218 | Location: Bern, Switzerland

Federal Palace of Switzerland

The Federal Palace (Bundeshaus) in Bern houses the Swiss Federal Assembly (legislature) and the Federal Council (executive). It has a total length of more than 300 metres consisting of a central assembly building and two wings housing government departments and a library. The building was designed by the architect Hans Wilhelm Auer and constructed between 1894 and 1902.
Founded: 1902 | Location: Bern, Switzerland

French Church

Today, the French Church in Bern is much more than just a place of prayer and refuge. It is now the oldest sacred building in the capital and attracts fans of architecture, art and culture alike. The place of worship was built in the 13th century by the local Dominicans. From 1623 onward it served the Protestant community and was home to French church services. Later, the church became known as a safe haven for the Hugue ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Bern, Switzerland

Nydeggkirche

The original small church was built from 1341 to 1346 to replace the old fort on the site. From 1480 to 1483 the city added a tower and from 1493 to 1504, a new nave was added. After the Protestant Reformation in 1529, the Nydeggkirche was transformed into a warehouse for barrels, timber and grain, but in 1566 again served as worship space. Beginning in 1566 it was cleaned out and minor renovations made to the windows an ...
Founded: 1341 | Location: Bern, Switzerland

Bern Historical Museum

The Bern Historical Museum is the second largest historical museum in Switzerland. It was designed by the Neuchâtel architect André Lambert and built in 1894. Since it was initially conceived as the Swiss National Museum (which the city of Zurich was later chosen to host), the architect took as his model various historic castles from the 15th and 16th centuries. An extension to the original museum building was completed ...
Founded: 1894 | Location: Bern, Switzerland

Old Bümpliz Castle

The first structure on the site of Old Bümpliz Castle was a Burgundian royal estate which was built around 900. Around 1250-1270 a round stone tower was built in the center of the site. This round tower was quite unusual for Bernese castles but may indicate a savoyard influence. Since Peter II of Savoy held authority over Bern at the time, it is likely, but not confirmed, that the round tower was built as a symbol of Sav ...
Founded: c. 1250 | Location: Bern, Switzerland

Holligen Castle

The first recorded mention of Holligen is in 1257, when it was owned by the Teutonic Knights commandry of Köniz. It is likely that there was a castle here to control the Bümpliz-Köniz road and administer the estates. However, very little is known of this building. The current castle was built around 1500 by the Bernese Schultheiss Wilhelm von Diesbach. It was built in the style of a typical Burgundian castle, with a sq ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Bern, Switzerland

Engehalbinsel Roman Vicus

A sanctuary with three fana (Gallo-Roman temples), a small bath building, an amphitheatre, several necropolis and remains of buildings where discovered in 1763 and excavated in 1956 near Bern. It has an ellipsis shape arena, whose axis are 28 x 26 metres, two walls which could be an entry at one end, and a niche at the other end. Its blenches were probably wooden made. Long regarded as an amphitheatre (it would one of th ...
Founded: 1st century BCE | Location: Bern, Switzerland

Wittigkofen Castle

Wittigkofen Castle was originally built as a residence for a farm and was awarded to the followers of the Zähringians. In the mid-13th century Heinricus Wittenchoven managed the farm. He was a member of the council and the first documented feudal superior. The property was also home to the monastery of Interlaken. The castle had several owners and belonged to different families. Beat Ludwig von Mülinen (1521-1597) purch ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Bern, Switzerland

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Palazzo Colonna

The Palazzo Colonna is a palatial block of buildings built in part over ruins of an old Roman Serapeum, and has belonged to the prestigious Colonna family for over twenty generations.

The first part of the palace dates from the 13th century, and tradition holds that the building hosted Dante in his visit to Rome. The first documentary mention notes that the property hosted Cardinal Giovanni and Giacomo Colonna in the 13th century. It was also home to Cardinal Oddone Colonna before he ascended to the papacy as Martin V (1417–1431).

With his passing, the palace was sacked during feuds, and the main property passed into the hands of the Della Rovere family. It returned to the Colonna family when Marcantonio I Colonna married Lucrezia Gara Franciotti Della Rovere, the niece of pope Julius II. The Colonna"s alliance to the Habsburg power, likely protected the palace from looting during the Sack of Rome (1527).

Starting with Filippo Colonna (1578–1639) many changes have refurbished and create a unitary complex around a central garden. Architects including Girolamo Rainaldi and Paolo Marucelli labored on specific projects. Only in the 17th and 18th centuries were the main facades completed. Much of this design was completed by Antonio del Grande (including the grand gallery), and Girolamo Fontana (decoration of gallery). In the 18th century, the long low facade designed by Nicola Michetti with later additions by Paolo Posi with taller corner blocks (facing Piazza Apostoli) was constructed recalls earlier structures resembling a fortification.

The main gallery (completed 1703) and the masterful Colonna art collection was acquired after 1650 by both the cardinal Girolamo I Colonna and his nephew the Connestabile Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna and includes works by Lorenzo Monaco, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Palma the Elder, Salviati, Bronzino, Tintoretto, Pietro da Cortona, Annibale Carracci (painting of The Beaneater), Guercino, Francesco Albani, Muziano and Guido Reni. Ceiling frescoes by Filippo Gherardi, Giovanni Coli, Sebastiano Ricci, and Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari celebrate the role of Marcantonio II Colonna in the battle of Lepanto (1571). The gallery is open to the public on Saturday mornings.

The older wing of the complex known as the Princess Isabelle"s apartments, but once housing Martin V"s library and palace, contains frescoes by Pinturicchio, Antonio Tempesta, Crescenzio Onofri, Giacinto Gimignani, and Carlo Cesi. It contains a collection of landscapes and genre scenes by painters like Gaspard Dughet, Caspar Van Wittel (Vanvitelli), and Jan Brueghel the Elder.

Along with the possessions of the Doria-Pamphilij and Pallavacini-Rospigliosi families, this is one of the largest private art collections in Rome.