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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 German edition: Stadtführer Luzern. Werd Verlag, Zürich, 2001, 235 p. Bestellen bei 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.

In German: Baedeker Allianz Reiseführer Schweiz. 2000, 717 S. Get it from 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 (in German).

Added on June 13, 2014: The famous KKL concert hall. Photo copyright: Georg Anderhub / Lucerne Festival. Check our article about the Lucerne 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 Lucerne Festival, formerly know as the International Music Festival Lucerne.

The history of the city of Lucerne - based 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 railway tunnel.
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 Alps.
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 directions.
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 old church.
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 whole.
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.

Sheet Music Plus Classical

Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
English Politics History Art Film Music Lifestyle Travel
Français Politique Histoire Arts Film Musique Artdevivre Voyages

Index  Advertise  Werbung  Links  Feedback
© Copyright  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.