Top Historic Sights in Zürich, Switzerland

Explore the historic highlights of Zürich

Wasserkirche

The Wasserkirche ('Water Church') of Zürich was first mentioned around 1250. It seems likely that the original building was used for cult meetings. The meetings were centred on a stone now located in the crypt of the church. According to medieval tradition, the site was used for the execution of Saints Felix and Regula. The church was built in the 10th century and modified at various points, culminating i ...
Founded: 1486 | Location: Zürich, Switzerland

Grossmünster

The Grossmünster is a Romanesque-style Protestant church in Zurich. The core of the present building near the banks of the Limmat was constructed on the site of a Carolingian church, which was, according to legend, originally commissioned by Charlemagne. Construction of the present structure commenced around 1100 and it was inaugurated around 1220. The Grossmünster was a monastery church, vying for precedence wi ...
Founded: 1100-1220 | Location: Zürich, Switzerland

Fraumünster

The Fraumünster Church in Zurich is built on the remains of a former abbey for aristocratic women which was founded in 853 by Louis the German for his daughter Hildegard. He endowed the Benedictine convent with the lands of Zurich, Uri, and the Albis forest, and granted the convent immunity, placing it under his direct authority. In 1045, King Henry III granted the convent the right to hold markets, collect ...
Founded: 853 AD | Location: Zürich, Switzerland

St. Peter's Church

Located next to the Lindenhof hill, site of the former Roman castle, St. Peter's church was built on the site of a temple to Jupiter. An early church is archaeologically attested for the 8th or 9th century. This building was replaced by an early Romanesque church around AD 1000, in turn replaced in 1230 by a late romanesque structure, parts of which survive. Rudolf Brun, first independent mayor of the town, was buried ...
Founded: c. 1230 | Location: Zürich, Switzerland

Swiss National Museum

The Swiss National Museum is one of the most important art museums of cultural history in Europe. The museum building of 1898 in the historicist style was built by Gustav Gull in the form of the French Renaissance city chateaus. The impressive architecture with dozens of towers, courts and his astonishing park on a peninsula between the rivers Sihl and Limmat has become one of the main sights of the Old City ...
Founded: 1898 | Location: Zürich, Switzerland

Lindenhof Hill

The Lindenhof is a moraine hill and a public square in the historic center of Zürich. It is the site of the Roman and Carolingian era Kaiserpfalz around which the city has historically grown. The hilltop area includes prehistoric, Roman and medieval remains. Prehistory At the flat shore of Lake Zurich were Neolithic and Bronze Age (4500 to 850 BC) lakeside settlements. Lindenhof was largely surrounded ...
Founded: 1500 BC | Location: Zürich, Switzerland

Predigerkirche

Predigerkirche is one of the four main churches of the old town of Zürich. First built in 1231 as a Romanesque church of the then Dominican Predigerkloster, the Basilica was converted in the first half of the 14th century, the choir between 1308 and 1350 rebuilt, and an for that time unusual high bell tower was built, regarded as most high Gothic edifice in Zürich. The abbey-choir building had been used for secu ...
Founded: 1231 | Location: Zürich, Switzerland

Kunsthaus Zürich

The Kunsthaus Zürich is an art museum in Zürich. It houses one of the most important art collections in Switzerland. The collection spans from the Middle Ages to contemporary art, with an emphasis on Swiss art. The museum"s collection includes major works by artists including Claude Monet (several works including an enormous water lily painting), Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Jacques Lipchitz and the Swiss ...
Founded: 1910 | Location: Zürich, Switzerland

Pavillon Le Corbusier

The Pavillon Le Corbusier is a Swiss art museum dedicated to the work of the Swiss architect Le Corbusier. In 1960 Heidi Weber had the vision to establish a museum designed by Le Corbusier – this building should exhibit his works of art in an ideal environment created by the architect himself in the then Centre Le Corbusier or Heidi Weber Museum. It is the last building designed by Le Corbusier marking a radic ...
Founded: 1967 | Location: Zürich, Switzerland

Old Botanical Garden

The Old Botanical Garden is an idyllic oasis at the heart of downtown Zurich. Its history dates back to the year 1837. Today it is home to various old trees that give the garden its enchanting aura. The mediaeval herb garden, the “Gessner Garden”, is located on a hill and offers insight into 16th century knowledge of medicinal plants. The palm house is a protected monument from the 19th century and today is predomina ...
Founded: 1837 | Location: Zürich, Switzerland

Rietberg Museum

The Rietberg Museum in Zürich displays Asian, African, American and Oceanian art. It is the only art museum of non-European cultures in Switzerland, the third-largest museum in Zürich, and the largest to be run by the city itself. The Rietberg Museum is situated in the Rieterpark in central Zürich, and consists of several historic buildings: the Wesendonck Villa, the Remise (or 'Depot'), the Rieter Park-V ...
Founded: 1952 | Location: Zürich, Switzerland

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Quimper Cathedral

From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.

The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.

At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.

The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.

The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.

Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).

The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.

At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».

The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.