Tourist Info

Lucerne City Guide

Swiss Cities
  · Hotels
  · History
  · Downtown Tour
  · Chapel Bridge
  · Spreuer Bridge
  · Musegg Wall
  · Lion Monument
  · Jesuit Church
  · Hof Church
  · Franciscan Church
  · Paulus Church
  · Bourbaki Panorama
  · Wooden Houses

  · Pius Church

St. Gallen

Alpine Resorts
Bernese Oberland

Swiss Tour
Chillon Castle
Rhine Falls

Local History of Lucerne, Switzerland

The development and history of Lucerne have been influenced heavily by its geographical situation in Central Switzerland. Situated at the lower end of Lake Lucerne between the Alps with high mountains and pass roads and the Swiss midlands, the city of Lucerne was predestined to be a center of commerce (like Zurich and Geneva). Due to travelling merchants, foreign (especially Italian) influence was particularly strong. Excellent accessability of natural monuments in Central Switzerland made Lucerne an important touristic destination.


  • The origins of Lucerne are not very clear. Historians tend to think that the name is most probably derived from Luciaria, an old word for weir-basket. If this is true, Lucerne started as a fishermen's village. The latin word lucerna [oil-lamp] would then be an attempt of later generations to make forget the unspectacular origins and give the name a new, more shiny notion.

  • In 750 a monastery consecrated to St. Leodegar is founded near the original village of Lucerne (today Hofkirche). In the 9th century the monastery St. Leodegar becomes dependent of the abbey of Murbach (Alsace).

  • A bridge over river Reuss is first mentioned in 1168. It is unknown, whether there has been a bridge in town before. Lucerne as a marketplace is of local importance only, however, until the St. Gotthard trade route is opened in the 13th century.

  • In 1178 a priest at St. Peter's Chapel (the chapel giving the name to Chapel Bridge) is appointed to take care of the population of Lucerne.

  • Between 1230 and 1240 a new technique of suspending wooden catwalks in steep rocks allowes to overcome Schöllenen canyon and openes the way for the St. Gotthard pass route connecting the Lake of Lucerne region with Milan, Italy. The route has since been of major importance in commercial as well as military traffic between Germany and Italy. Goods can now be transported with mules over the pass and shipped with relatively big boats on Lake Lucerne. Lucerne, being the only city on the lake, becomes an important marketplace and provides storage capacity for goods. Trade over the new St. Gotthard pass route is growing fast and makes Lucerne an important market place in the 13th century.

  • First ramparts are built between 1230 and 1240 to protect the town and Franciscan friars settle in Lucerne by 1240. They act as a counter point to the conservative Benedictine Hof monastery.

  • The city gets its own seal in 1241. The political organization of the city is described in a document from 1252: There is a Schultheiss [mayor], an executive council consisting of 36 citizens and a grand council. In 1300 a first town hall is built.

Lucerne and the old Swiss confederacy

  • In 1291 the counts of Habsburg buy jurisdictional rights over Lucerne from the abbey of Murbach (Alsace). At the same time its neighbours Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden on Lake Lucerne unite against Habsburg. Lucerne joins their alliance in 1332. A few citizens still take sides for Habsburg and plan a coup d'etat in 1333 ("Mordnacht"). According to a popular legend, their plans are overheard by a boy, however. The boy is forced to swear, that he won't tell anything to a living soul. So he goes to the guildhall where the city council is meeting and tells his story to the oven.

  • In the battle of Sempach (north of Lucerne), the confederates succeed in defending their autonomy against Habsburg. Lucerne gains control over rural territories.

  • In 1415 king Sigismund declares Lucerne a free city within the German empire and outlaws duke Frederic IV. of Habsburg for taking sides with an anti-pope. The Swiss confederates conquer Habsburg's hereditary fief and other possessions in northern Switzerland.

  • Lucerne is the only major city in Switzerland to reject church reformation in the early 16th century and becomes the leading power of the catholic fraction in religious disputes and four civil wars caused by religion between 1529 and 1712. The roman catholic council [reunion of bishops] at Trent, Italy, confirmes the catholic doctrine against protestantism (1545 to 1563). In 1577 the city council invites the Jesuit order to establish a college. Lucerne and Fribourg become academic centers of catholic counter-reformation. Jesuit Church, erected between 1666 and 1677 symbolizes this spirit.

  • Peasants from the back country regions of Entlebuch (Lucerne) and Emmental (Bern) between the two cities revolt in 1653. The cities crush the upheaval by military force.

Times of Revolution (1798 - 1848)

  • At the eve of Revolution in Switzerland in 1798, a few young patricians of Lucerne try to introduce some new liberties for the rural population to prevent revolutionary action. When the revolutionary experiment fails on a nationwide level in 1815, patricians reassume their former role in Lucerne.

  • In 1833 liberal thinkers propose a new federal constitution with Lucerne as federal capital of Switzerland. Conservative political leaders, predominantly but not exclusively from central Switzerland, reject the idea, however.

  • In 1844 the conflict between conservatives and liberals escalates, Lucerne's government assigns higher education to the catholic Jesuit order.

  • Riots, marches and a political murder comitted by liberal partisans in 1845 provoke a conservative alliance (Sonderbund) under the leadership of Lucerne's mayor Konstantin Siegwart-Müller. Siegwart does not cooperate with conservative protestant governments in Zurich, Bern and Basel, but rather seeks support in catholic cantons an in catholic Austria. This attempt to put a denominational label on a political conflict only strenghtens the liberals in protestant areas and Siegwart starts a civil war in 1847. General Henri Dufour, the leader of the federal troops, defeats the conservatives combining superior strategy and decidedness with strict fairness.

  • Now the way is open for the 1848 Federal Constitution. Berne is chosen as the federal capital - Lucerne has missed its opportunity.

Modern Times

  • Lucerne is not a key area in 19th century industrialization, but it becomes Switzerland's major tourist destination. Many Grand Hotels are built, suburbs are booming. In 1834, the big sister of Chapel Bridge, once connecting downtown Lucerne and Hof church is replaced by a lakeside promenade and the city ramparts on the left shore of River Reuss are dismantled. Many old buildings and the the medieval fortifications on the left side of River Reuss (originally over forty towers and gates) are razed to the ground which allows for the rapid development of the Neustadt (new city) quarter. While other cities in Switzerland do away completely with their fortifications, Lucerne preserves its northern Musegg Wall with seven towers as a unique historical monument separating downtown Lucerne from the 20th century boomtown quarters.

  • In 1859 a railway line from Basel reaches Lucerne.

  • A first road alongside Lake Lucerne is built in 1865.

  • Lucerne Festival starts under the name of International Festival of Music (IMF) in 1938 and has developed since into a major late summer attraction.

  • While the rural back country remains rather conservative to date (like other rural areas of Switzerland), the city of Lucerne develops into a modern city in the 20th century.

  • On August, 18th, 1993 a fire destroys most of the historical wooden Chapel Bridge. Lucerne's main landmark is restored within one year.

  • A new cultural and congress center (KKL) and a new 4-lane bridge for motorized traffic over River Reuss (exactly where Lake Lucerne ends) replace their predecessors dating from the first half of the 20th century in 1995.

  • See also: Switzerland: History

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