The city of Bern or Berne is theBundesstadt (federal city, de facto capital) of Switzerland, and, with a population of 138,809 (October 2014), is the fourth most populous city in Switzerland.The Bern agglomeration, which includes 36 municipalities, has a population of 328,616 in 2000. The metropolitan area had a population of 660,000 in 2000. Bern is also the capital of the Canton of Bern, the second most populous of Switzerland's cantons.
Aerial view of the Old City
No archaeological evidence that indicates a settlement on the site of today′s city centre prior to the 12th century has been found so far. In antiquity, a Celtic oppidum stood on the "Engehalbinsel" north of Bern, fortified since the 2nd century BC (late La Tène period), thought to be one of the twelve oppida of the Helvetii mentioned by Caesar. During theRoman era, there was a Gallo-Roman vicus on the same site. The Bern zinc tablet has the name Brenodor "dwelling of Breno". In the Early Middle Ages, there was a settlement in Bümpliz, now a city district of Bern, some 4 km (2 mi) from the medieval city.
The medieval city is a foundation of the Zähringer ruling family, which rose to power inUpper Burgundy in the 12th century. According to 14th century historiography (Cronica de Berno, 1309), Bern was founded in 1191 by Berthold V, Duke of Zähringen.
In 1218, after Berthold died without an heir, Bern was made a free imperial city by theGoldene Handfeste of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.
In 1353 Bern joined the Swiss Confederacy, becoming one of the "eight cantons" of the formative period of 1353 to 1481. Bern invaded and conquered Aargau in 1415 and Vaud in 1536, as well as other smaller territories, there by becoming the largest city-state north of the Alps, by the 18th century comprising most of what is today the canton of Bern and the canton of Vaud.
The city grew out towards the west of the boundaries of the peninsula formed by the River Aare. Initially, the Zytglogge tower marked the western boundary of the city from 1191 until 1256, when the Käfigturm took over this role until 1345, which, in turn, was then succeeded by the Christoffelturm (located close to today's railway station) until 1622. During the time of the Thirty Years' War two new fortifications, the so-called big and small Schanze (entrenchment), were built to protect the whole area of the peninsula.
After a major blaze in 1405, the original wooden buildings were gradually replaced by half-timbered houses and later thesandstone buildings that came to be characteristic for the Old Town. Despite the waves of pestilence that hit Europe in the 14th century, the city continued to grow mainly due to immigration from the surrounding countryside.
Bern was occupied by French troops in 1798 during the French Revolutionary Wars, when it was stripped of parts of its territories. It regained the Bernese Oberland in 1802, and following the Congress of Vienna of 1814 newly acquired theBernese Jura, once again becoming the largest canton of the confederacy as it stood during the Restoration, and further until the secession of the canton of Jura in 1979. In 1848 Bern was made the Federal City (seat of the Federal Assembly) of the new Swiss federal state.
The city's population rose from about 5,000 in the 15th century to about 12,000 by 1800 and to above 60,000 by 1900, passing the 100,000 mark during the 1920s. Population peaked during the 1960s at 165,000, and has since decreased slightly, to below 130,000 by 2000. As of 31 December 2009, the resident population was at 130,289 of which 101,627 were Swiss citizens and 28,662 (22%) resident foreigners. Another estimated 350,000 people live in the immediate urban agglomeration.
Bern lies on the Swiss plateau in the Canton of Bern, slightly west of the centre of Switzerland and 20 km (12 mi) north of the Bernese Alps. The countryside around Bern was formed by glaciers during the most recent Ice Age. The two mountains closest to Bern are Gurten with a height of 864 m (2,835 ft) and Bantiger with a height of 947 m (3,107 ft). The site of the old observatory in Bern is the point of origin of the CH1903 coordinate system at .
The city was originally built on a hilly peninsula surrounded by the River Aare, but outgrew the natural boundaries by the 19th century. A number of bridges have been built to allow the city to expand beyond the Aare.
Bern is built on very uneven ground. There is an elevation difference of several metres between the inner city districts on the Aare (Matte, Marzili) and the higher ones (Kirchenfeld, Länggasse).
Bern has an area, as of 2009, of 51.62 square kilometers (19.93 sq mi). Of this area, 9.79 square kilometers (3.78 sq mi) or 19.0% is used for agricultural purposes, while 17.33 square kilometers (6.69 sq mi) or 33.6% is forested. Of the rest of the land, 23.25 square kilometers (8.98 sq mi) or 45.0% is settled (buildings or roads), 1.06 square kilometers (0.41 sq mi) or 2.1% is either rivers or lakes and 0.16 square kilometers (0.062 sq mi) or 0.3% is unproductive land.
Of the developed, 3.6% consists of industrial buildings, 21.7% housing and other buildings, and 12.6% is devoted to transport infrastructure. Power and water infrastructure as well as other special developed areas made up 1.1% of the city, while another 6.0% consists of parks, green belts and sports fields. 32.8% of the total land area is heavily forested. Of the agricultural land, 14.3% is used for growing crops and 4.0% is designated to be used as pastures. The rivers and streams provide all the water in the municipality.
The structure of Bern's city centre is largely medieval and has been recognised by UNESCO as a Cultural World Heritage Site. Perhaps its most famous sight is theZytglogge (Bernese German for "Time Bell"), an elaborate medieval clock tower with moving puppets. It also has an impressive 15th century Gothic cathedral, the Münster, and a 15th-century town hall. Thanks to 6 kilometres (4 miles) of arcades, the old town boasts one of the longest covered shopping promenades in Europe.
Since the 16th century, the city has had a bear pit, theBärengraben, at the far end of the Nydeggbrücke to house its heraldic animals. The currently four bears are now kept in an open-air enclosure nearby, and two other young bears, a present by the Russian president, are kept in Dählhölzli zoo.
The Rose Garden (Rosengarten), from which a scenic panoramic view of the medieval town centre can be enjoyed, is a well-kept Rosarium on a hill, converted into a park from a former cemetery in 1913.
There are eleven Renaissance allegorical statues on public fountains in the Old Town. Nearly all the 16th century fountains, except the Zähringer fountain which was created by Hans Hiltbrand, are the work of the Fribourg master Hans Gieng. One of the more interesting fountains is the Kindlifresserbrunnen (Bernese German: Child Eater Fountain but often translatedOgre Fountain) which is claimed to represent a Jew, the Greek god Chronos or a Fastnacht figure that scares disobedient children.
Bern's most recent sight is the set of fountains in front of the Federal Palace. It was inaugurated on 1 August 2004.
The Universal Postal Union is situated in Bern.
Bern is home to 114 Swiss heritage sites of national significance.
It includes the entire Old Town, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and many sites within and around it. Some of the most notable in the Old Town include the Cathedral which was started in 1421 and is the tallest cathedral in Switzerland, the Zytglogge and Käfigturm towers, which mark two successive expansions of the Old Town, and the Holy Ghost Church, which is one of the largest Swiss Reformed churches in Switzerland. Within the Old Town, there are eleven 16th century fountains, most attributed to Hans Gieng, that are on the list.
Outside the Old Town the heritage sites include the Bärengraben, the Gewerbeschule Bern (1937), the Eidgenössisches Archiv für Denkmalpflege, the Kirchenfeld mansion district (after 1881), the Thunplatzbrunnen, the Federal Mint building, the Federal Archives, the Swiss National Library, the Historical Museum (1894), Alpine Museum, Museum of Communication and Natural History Museum
Bern has several dozen cinemas. As is customary in Switzerland, films are generally shown in their original language with German and French subtitles. Only a s
From the 2000 census, 60,455 or 47.0% belonged to the Swiss Reformed Church, while 31,510 or 24.5% were Roman Catholic. Of the rest of the population, there were 1,874 members of an Orthodox church (or about 1.46% of the population), there were 229 persons (or about 0.18% of the population) who belonged to the Christian Catholic Church, and there were 5,531 persons (or about 4.30% of the population) who belonged to another Christian church. There were 324 persons (or about 0.25% of the population) who were Jewish, and 4,907 (or about 3.81% of the population) who wereMuslim. There were 629 persons who were Buddhist, 1,430 persons who were Hindu and 177 persons who belonged to another church. 16,363 (or about 12.72% of the population) belonged to no church, are agnostic or atheist, and 7,855 persons (or about 6.11% of the population) did not answer the question. On 14 December 2014 the Haus der Religionen was inaugurated.