The city of Zurich, whose long history stretches for over 2,000 years, is Switzerland’s largest and arguably most prominent urban center. Slowly formed by passage of time, Modern Zurich as it appears today is very much a reflection of its past.
Below I have highlighted four important architectural features in Zurich that define the city. These notable structures have each had a significant historical impact on the city:
1. The Lindenhof
Named because of the Linden trees that now shade the site, the Lindenhof is the oldest part of the city. The hill, formed by glacial sediments, was the perfect defensive site in ancient times. The Romans built a citadel on top of the moraine hill in order to secure the region from Celtic threats. Eventually, a settlement formed around the outpost. A gravestone recovered from the Lindenhof gives us Zurich’s Latin name, Turicum. The artifact is displayed on-site and can be seen at the southern entrance of the square.
The Roman defenses were continually built upon throughout Zurich’s medieval history until the fortifications were cleared to make way for a public square once the city expanded.
1292 marks one of the most famous moments in the city’s history. It was atop the Lindenhof that the brave women of Zurich defended the city during a siege by the Hapsburg (Austrians). The story dictates that the invaders were intimidated upon seeing a massive force of “reinforcements” (Women in armor and holding pikes) and called off the siege.
2. Fraumuenster Abbey
The Fraumuenster, Founded in 853 by King Louis II, king of East Francia, is one of the city’s most beautiful structures. The Benedictine convent was given the lands of Zurich, Uri, and the Albis forest (our school would be under the abbesses’ authority had it existed in the 9th century.)
by the early 11th century the convent was effectively given rule over the city. With considerable political power during this time they were responsible for appointing the city’s mayors and minting the city’s currency.
The most culturally significant features of the Church are the Chagall windows. Located in the choir, these intricate stained-glass windows are a popular attraction of tourists and locals alike. Installed in 1970, each of the five windows tell a different story from the Bible and are each dominated by a different color scheme.
The Wasserkirche, or water chapel, is built on a small island in the Limmat. The structure is situated in the historical center the city.
The church was constructed in the 10th century and sits atop the supposed site where the patron saints of Zurich, Felix and Regula, were executed. As the story goes, the two saints, along with their servant Exuperantius, were martyred along the river bank by the Romans. In the legend, their decapitated bodies stood up, walked 40 paces and prayed before finally dying.
Created as a church, used as a library and a storehouse in later centuries, the Wasserkirche now exists as the Evangelical-Reformed State Church of the Canton of Zürich. The cellar contains the ancient ruins of the site where the two patron saints were executed.
4. The Grossmuenster –
The Grossmuenster, or Great Minster, is probably the most recognizable building inZurich. Supposedly founded by Charlemagne in the 12th century, the structure is built over the final resting place of the patron saints of the city.
The Grossmuenster played a very important role during the city’s protestant reformation, led by Huldrych Zwingli. The church was the Swiss-German protestant reformation’s birthplace.
Originally a catholic church, the Grossmuenster’s interior was stripped of all decorative elements as a result of the rise of Protestantism in Zurich.
The most famous structure in the city, The Grossmuenster is still a defining feature of the city’s skyline. If you ever find yourself in Zurich with a little extra time, a climb to the top of one of the spires is highly recommended.