The history of
the city of Lucerne
Grand Hotel National Lucerne
Article added in August 2002
Situated at the lakeside, the Grand Hotel National Lucerne is one of the most impressive buildings in the
Swiss city of Lucerne. Built by Colonel Pfyffer (who died in 1890) in 1870,
the hotel opened in 1871. From 1873 to 1882, it was run by the world's
most famous hotelier of all times, Cäsar Ritz (1850-1918).
This photograph shows a detail of Suite 306 at the Grand Hotel National
Lucerne where Cosmopolis was as a guest. The window
opens on to the lakeside with a view of the KKL concert hall built by French
star architect Jean Nouvel. It hosts the world's leading festival for
symphony orchestra's, the famous Lucerne Festival. The KKL is a nice 15-minute walk away, on the other side of the lake, which ends near the
hotel, by way of a bridge across the river Reuss.
Regarding the festival, check the following articles: The
Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Lucerne Festival 2001 and our
reviews in German about IMF 2000 Luzern
and the NHK Symphony
Orchestra Tokyo in Lucerne 2001.
This photograph shows the bar in the Grand Hotel National Lucerne. The legendary French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935),
considered the creator of fine modern cuisine, once worked at the hotel.
In 1903, he wrote Le guide culinaire. It was Cäsar Ritz who brought
him to Lucerne where, in the summer seasons of 1875 to 1882, Ritz and
Escoffier worked together in an inspiring atmosphere.
City guides, travel guides,
information about Lucerne
Discover Lucerne. City Guide, Werd Verlag, Zürich, 2001, 235 p.
Get it from Amazon.de.
German edition: Stadtführer
Luzern. Werd Verlag, Zürich, 2001, 235 p. Bestellen bei Amazon.de.
This valuable guide is the source of the city history on the right.
It also contains information on walking tours, landmarks and other tourist attractions as
well as useful, practical travel information.
Baedeker Allianz Reiseführer Schweiz. 2000, 717 S. Get it
It contains 12 pages on Lucerne and is ideal for visitors who travel to several
Swiss cities. By the way, in 1844 the first Baedeker Schweiz was
published. It was the "favorite child" of the editor. Already in 1937, there were 39 new editions of the Swiss guide. Get the history
of Karl Baedeker and his famous publishing house from Amazon.de
Added on June 13, 2014: The famous KKL concert hall. Photo copyright: Georg
Anderhub / Lucerne Festival. Check our article about the
Festival, formerly known as the International Music Festival Lucerne.
Added on June 13, 2014: The famous KKL concert hall. Photo copyright: Luzern
Tourismus. Check our article about the
Festival, formerly know as the International Music Festival Lucerne.
The history of
the city of
on the Discover Lucerne City Guide.
Article added in August 2002
The photogenic city of Lucerne is one of Switzerland's top tourist
destinations. It is located at the point where river Reuss flows out of Lake
Lucerne. The city's rise to importance as a market and trading place began in the
12th century when, at the narrowest point of the river, a bridge was
built and the conquest of the Schöllenen canyon opened up the Gotthard
Pass route which let transalpine traffic swell between Italy and Lucerne.
The city had a key position in the north-south traffic from the 13th century
until 1882, when it became possible to bypass the town by the Gotthard
The principal goods brought to market from the north were grain, salt and
wine from Alsace; the south supplied Lucerne with the luxuries that Italy
and the Orient offered, including textiles and spices. Besides its
important role in foreign trade, Lucerne became the central market and key link
between "grain land" in northern Switzerland and "pasture
land" in the Alps and the foothills. The more livestock started to
predominate, namely in the late Middle Ages, the more the farmers were
reliant on the market in Lucerne where they could buy grain and salt and
sell butter, cheese and livestock.
Lucerne became a transit town with a growing traffic of foreigners -
merchants, pilgrims and craftsmen - who often brought new views and ideas
to the city. From 1400 on, the demand for Swiss mercenaries rose. More and
more citizens seized this new opportunity of earning a living. Some 50,000
are said to have served at the Spanish and French courts in Milan, Rome
and Naples between 1400 and 1800. Only a small proportion - mostly
officers - came from the city, the majority of the soldiers came from the
countryside. The officers, often in service abroad for many years, brought
home new tastes for fashion, architectural styles and cuisine.
As a political entity, the city of Lucerne emerged between the 12th and the
14th century as the outcome of a dispute between two centers: on one side
the St. Leodegar Benedictine monastery im Hof, established as early as
750, with its enclosed subject territory at the lower end of the lake and on
the Reuss - the monastery came in the 9th century under the control of the
Alsatian Abbey Murbach -, and on the other side the town settlement north
of the Reuss Bridge with its market.
With the transfer of the monastery rights to the Habsburgs in 1291, it
became foreseeable that Lucerne and its surrounding countryside would
become part of a growing territorial state controlled by the Habsburgs
because, after the Lenzburgs, the Kyburgs and the Staufer had died out,
there was only one powerful noble family left on the foothills of the
In its battle against this menace, Lucerne looked for help further up the
lake where Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden were also fighting against the
growing influence of Habsburg. On November 7, 1332, the "eternal
alliance" between Lucerne and the three independent original cantons
Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden was established. This constitutes the most
original act in Lucerne's 800 year history, for there had been no record
of a durable political alliance between a town and a peasant federation
elsewhere in Europe. This was the nucleus of a new civic structure, which
was established only 20 years later when Zurich, Zug and Berne joined the
alliance: the Swiss Confederation.
Lucerne was lucky to enjoy a largely peaceful development. However, around
1350, the town was also affected by the plague. The Black Death and the
wars in which Lucerne later took part were responsible for a 40% decline
in the city's population. The countryside was affected too, but recovered
more rapidly. Not till about 1570 did town and country regions together
reach the size of the population of 1300, namely some 30,000.
With the victory at the battle of Sempach in 1386 over Duke Leopold of
Austria, the domination efforts by the Habsburgs on Swiss territory ended.
The defeat of the army of cavalry by the lightly armed infantry of
burghers and peasants showed that the era of knighthood rule was over. For
Lucerne, the "heroic" phase of the history began. The
victory marked the beginning of a three century period of rapid expansion
through conquest, purchase and conferral of civic rights, at the end of
which today's territory of the canton of Lucerne was largely defined.
However, the expansion was only possible on a relatively narrow front to
the north; Berne and the allied original cantons impeded it in all other
However, as a vital part of the Swiss Confederation, Lucerne took part in
many a victorious campaign alongside its allies and acquired rights and
usufruct in the federal bailiwicks of Aargau and Thurgau, in the Rhine
valley and in the Ticino, today's Italian speaking part of Switzerland.
Lucerne faces the south naturally with its back to the central plain, from
where not only new ecclesiastical ideas came in the 16th century,
but also economic and political ones in the 19th century.
The reformation, an issue in Switzerland from 1519, did not stand a chance
in Lucerne on political and economic grounds. Among the main reasons were
the city's close ties to the Catholic south and reformer Zwingli's
opposition to mercenary service, which jeopardized Lucerne's leading,
patrician families' principal source of income. Furthermore, Zwingli's
rational and ascetic ideas were completely foreign to the people of
Lucerne with their preference for the sensual and traditional bond for the
In 1574 the Jesuits built their college in Lucerne, exercising a strong
influence on the spiritual and political life of the city for the next 200
years - and again for a brief period in the 19th century. The imposing
church built around 1670 on the left bank of the Reuss is a triumphant
manifestation of their influence. In 1579 the residence of the papal
ambassador, the nuncio, was established. Until the beginning of the 18th
century Lucerne not only remained the undisputed bastion of Catholicism in
the Catholic regions of Switzerland, but in part of the Confederation as a
The time of political revolutions began in January 1798, when French
troops marched into Switzerland. This meant the end of the rule of the
patrician families who themselves relinquished their privileges and
announced to the amazed people that the future foundations of the state
would be equality, human rights, democracy and a free economy.
From 1798 to 1875, Lucerne struggled between progressive and reactionary
forces and experienced ten new constitutions. From October 1798 to May
1799, the city was the seat of the Helvetic government. In 1814 a coup by
aristocratic circles brought a partial return to the reactionary regime
before 1798, the so-called Restoration. In 1831 a liberal renewal movement
began and with it came the tentative start of industrialization. In 1841 a
conservative constitution was adapted, a democratic-rural movement against
city dominance saw the light and, in 1844, the Jesuits returned to Lucerne.
In 1845 the cantons of Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, Zug, Freiburg
and Solothurn founded the Sonderbund alliance. In November 1847, the
Sonderbund war took place in which less the 100 people died. It ended with
the capitulation of Lucerne before the federal troops and led to the
foundation of the federal state of Switzerland with Berne as its capital.
It brought liberal dominance to Lucerne, the expulsion of the Jesuits and
the closing of several monasteries. However, political fighting between
reactionary and progressive forces continued. As late as 1871, a
conservative turn around came in the canton. Finally in 1875, the canton's
still valid Democratic constitution was adopted.
With the advent of tourism after 1800 - travel for educational reasons and
entertainment -, foreign influences increased again. Many citizens simply
switched from military service abroad to serving the tourists in Lucerne.
However, in comparison to the rest of Switzerland, Lucerne remained an
agricultural canton. Still in 1910 some 40% of the workforce was part of
the farming community. Even today, some 7.5% are farmers, a proportion
about twice as high as in Switzerland as a whole.
The industrial revolution started late in Lucerne. In 1860 only 1.7% of
the population were active in cottage industries and factories, four times
less than in the rest of the country. In 1842 the Moos foundry was
founded, in 1844 the Maschinenfabrik Bell in Kriens, in 1872 the Perlen
paper mill and in 1874 the worldwide-known Schindler elevator company.
In September 1837, the first steamer set out on its maiden voyage on Lake
Lucerne. Between 1845 and 1910, the monumental hotels Schweizerhof,
National, Palace and Montana were built. From 1850 to 1913, the number of
inhabitants and their settlement area increased four fold. Unfortunately,
the twenty gates and towers as well as parts of the city walls, the Sust
and the Hof Bridge fell victim to the town building campaign during the
decade after 1855. Still, Lucerne remains one of the most beautiful towns
in Switzerland, largely because, after 1949, a turnaround in town
development brought an appreciation of the cultural heritage. It came not
to late - tourism is today's dominating activity in Lucerne and 85% of all
of the city's full time jobs are in the service sector.
This was made possibly through Lucerne's railway connections which were
built from 1856 on: first to Olten and Basel, in 1864 followed the railway
to Zug and Zurich and in 1897 the connection to the Gotthard
railway, which was built in 1882. These connections transformed
the regional capital into a European tourist destination.