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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

Fribourg, Switzerland

Updated: Oct 14, 2019

Rain greeted me when I got up. What do you do on a rainy day? You check the weather app to see if you can find a place where it is not raining. It looked like Fribourg would be a place to try. Fribour is a city known for its bridges and The Cathedral of St Nicholas.

City Hall

Hopped aboard my very, very, very least favorite train!!!! Yes, I really don’t like this train! It is the German DB ICE (intercity express) that starts now in Interlaken and ends in Berlin, Germany. It isn’t too bad going this way but the train is always late by a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes coming from Germany to Switzerland. Last year, the German train had to stop at the border and people had to change trains. If a train this large (and it has many, many, many cars) is late, it disrupts the track. Trains have to wait to have the tracks clear.

So, I took the train from Interlaken West to Bern where I changed to a train going to Fribourg.

Fribourg, population 38,839, has an elevation of 581 meters (1,906 ft) (in the Old City), and is situated 28 kilometers (17 mi) southwest of Bern. It is located on the Swiss plateau, and extends on both sides of the Sarine, which, in the vicinity of Fribourg, has cut deeply into the molasse (sandstone, shale and conglomerates). The Old City is located on a hill, only about 100 meters (330 ft) wide, which rises about 40 meters (130 ft) above the valley floor. Most quarters of the city are located on the High Plateau and the surrounding hills, which have an average elevation of 620 meters (2,030 ft). The valley floor is only settled in the area immediately around the Old City.

The area of the municipality, which is relatively small for a city, covers an area of molasse in the central part of the Canton of Fribourg. The area is cut through from south to north by the tightly wound Saane/La Sarine, which has eroded a valley, in some places, to a depth of 100 meters (330 ft) below the surrounding plateau. In general, the valley floor is between 200 and 500 meters (660 and 1,640 ft) wide.

The hills are flanked on both sides by steep, largely wooded slopes. To the east, the municipality reaches up the slopes of Mount Schönberg, which, with an elevation of 702 meters (2,303 ft), is the highest point in Fribourg. The river Galtera, also deeply cut into the plateau, flows between the mountain and the river, emptying into the Saane/La Sarine near the Old City.

The town was founded in 1157 by Berthold IV, Duke of Zähringen. Its name is derived from German frei (free) and Burg (fort). Its most ancient part is conveniently located on a former peninsula of the river Sarine, protected on three sides by steep cliffs. The easily defended city helped the Dukes of Zähringen to strengthen and extend their power in the Swiss plateau in the area between the Aare and La Sarine.

Beginning at the time of its inception, Fribourg built a city-state; initially, the land it controlled lay some distance away. When the dukes of Zähringen died out in 1218, the city was transferred to the related Kyburg family. They granted the city its former privileges and wrote the municipal laws in the so-called Handfeste in 1249, in which the legal, institutional and economic organizations were established. Several treaties with neighboring city-states, including Avenches (1239), Bern (1243), and Morat (Murten) (1245), were signed at this time.

The city was sold to the Habsburgs in 1277. Trade and industry began as early as the mid-13th century. In the early period, Fribourg consisted of four distinct inner city districts: Burg, Au, La Neuveville, and Spital. The city developed rapidly, which led to its first expansion: the Burg district expanded to the west in 1224, a town was established across the river in 1254, and in 1280 development began near Place Python. These expansions reflect the economic boom in Fribourg. The 14th century was dominated by trade, and cloth and leather production, which brought the city renown in Central Europe by 1370. In 1339, Fribourg participated alongside the Habsburgs and the County of Burgundy in the Battle of Laupen against Bern and its Swiss Confederacy allies.

The monasteries of Fribourg have always formed a center of religious culture, which includes architecture, sculpture and painting, and have contributed to the culture of the city. The Franciscan monastery was donated by Jakob von Riggisberg in 1256. In early times, it was closely associated with the city council, because it housed the city archives and its monastery church was used for town meetings until 1433.

Similarly, the Augustinian monastery was founded in the mid-13th century, and enjoyed the support of the noble Velga family for a long time. Additionally, Maigrauge Abbey has existed since 1255, and has belonged to the Cistercians since 1262. An important institution was the public hospital, opened in the mid-13th century, which provided services for the poor.

During the Reformation, Fribourg remained Catholic, although it was nearly surrounded by the Protestant Bern. This led to repeated conflicts over religion in border regions, and in areas controlled jointly by Fribourg and Bern. The city was a major center of the Counter-Reformation. At the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th, new monasteries were established in the city, including: a Capuchin monastery (1608) (Michael was a Capuchin) another on Bisemberg (1621), an Ursuline monastery (1634), and a Visitandine monastery (1635). The most influential monastery, however, was that of the Jesuits, which contributed to a large extent to the advancement and prosperity of the city. It established the College of Saint Michael in 1582, the theological faculty of which formed the basis of the University of Fribourg. The concept of an objective press was also begun by the Jesuits.

In 1613 Fribourg became the seat of the Bishop of Lausanne, who, after the Reformation, was forced first into Evian, and then into exile in Burgundy. Today, it is the seat of the Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg.

The later 19th and the 20th century brought about drastic changes to the city's culture and physical nature. In 1848, the city wall was partially torn down and a new bridge constructed across the Saane/La Sarine. The opening of the midland railway line through the city in 1862 led to the development of a "railway station quarter" of the city. The improved transportation enabled Fribourg to undergo industrialization. The city center shifted from the Old City to the new Train Station quarter. Extensive areas in Pérolles, Beauregard and Vignettaz were developed with industry or houses around 1900. The inauguration of the University in 1889 was an important event in Fribourg. Another economic boon to the city was the opening of the nearby A12 highway.

The Cathedral of St. Nicholas, built in the Gothic style, dominates the center of the medieval town. It is built on a rocky outcrop 50 meters above the river Sarine (Saane).

The last judgement is above the cathedral front doors.

Will you be led to the goo side?

Will you be led to the bad side?

This is quite a unique cathedral door knocker.

The main body of the church was started in 1283 and completed by 1430.

The cathedral is built on the site of a sacred house of Romanesque style dating before the foundation of the town in 1157. It was finished around 1430. The church began as a parish church and in 1512 it was elevated to the rank of collegiate church with a provost (with mitre and crozier) dean, chanter and 12 canons. The tower was completed in 1490. It is 76 meters tall and houses 13 bells. It also features a rose window above the main portal with stained glass by Harrison Weltlich (1988). The stained-glass windows, designed by the Polish painter Jozef Mehoffer and made by local craftsmen Kirsch & Fleckner between 1896 and 1936, constitute one of the most important collection of religious Art Nouveau stained-glass windows.

Originally a parish church, in 1945 it became the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg.

The Cathedral of St. Nicholas is a meeting point for European people and cultures. Three eras of western civilization are represented here. From Gothic art, the cathedral has taken the edifice of the building itself, the stalls, the choir gate, the baptism fonts, the pulpit, the cross, “The Burial of Christ” and two sculptured portals.

From the Baroque era it has taken the chevet and the choir arch with the key stones adorned with images of people and a coat of arms of patrician families of Fribourg, the new decoration on the aisle archways, the organ of Sebald Manderscheidt and the decoration of the six chapels between the buttresses.

Altar of St. Anne in stucco, by Anton Pfister, 1751, canvas painting by Paul Deschwanden, 1845

Altar of Our Lady of Divine Protection in marble by Jean François Doret, 1789, canvas painting by Simon Göser, 1789

From modern art: the organ of Ally’s Moser (1828-1834), the stained glass windows of Józef Mehoffer (1896-1936), the stained glass windows of Alfred Manessier (1976-1988),the altar, Ambon, the Eastercandlestick and the Episcopal seat of George’s Schneider (1981-1986).

Altar of the Last Supper in stucco by Johann Jacob and Franz Joseph Moosbrugger, canvas painting by Joseph Sauter, 1753, tabernacle door in bronze The Good Shepherd by Georges Schneider, 1983 (altar of the Blessed Sacrament)

Altar of the Sacred Heart in stucco, canvas painting by Paul Descwanden, 1873, sculpture in bronze Christ Crowned with Thorns by Clesinger 1858

I again lit many candles for family and friends

Chapel of St. Sepulchre 1430-1457, group of 13 statues in molasse The Burial of Christ 1433

The Knights Templar, whom have had an influence in the city, have become associated with legends concerning secrets and mysteries handed down to the select from ancient times.

The fortifications of the city of Friborg were built in the Middle Ages, between the 13th and the 15th century. The topography of the city was an asset for the creation of Fribourg. Its steep cliffs in molasse and the meanders of the river Sarine constituted a natural barrier against the enemy and the invasions. It is therefore on the west side of the city that the fortifications were built and thus formed a protective enclosure of the city. Over time, Fribourg experienced changes in its urban planning and thus disappeared some fortifications.

Today, this group of defense constructions forms the most important ensemble of medieval military architecture in Switzerland.

Everyone in Fribourg knows the funicular as one of the town's curiosities. The line was opened in 1899 and links the town center to the Basse-Ville (the lower area of the town).

The funicular will be out of order from September 17 to October 5 for its annual maintenance works. I'm so happy I was able to ride it as I would have hated walking up the hill from the lower area to the higher.

The Fribourg funicular is a listed historical monument and it is quite unique in Europe... it is actually one of the last to run on waste water from the town, which is used thanks to a system of counterweights. Boy, did it smell today!!!!!!

The creaking and clattering of the rack of the hundred-year old machine is obviously worth seeing, especially as it will take you deep into the soul of the town. The funicular was - and still is - the link between the "Basse-Ville" and the center of Fribourg. History and modernity... a true symbol! The funicular connects the old town (Neuveville and Auge districts) to the center.

Departure is according to demand: around every 6 minutes.

The ride takes two minutes.

If you enjoy going up and down hills, this is a perfect city for you.

If bridges interest you, this is a perfect city for you. There are stone bridges, wooden bridges and steel bridges. the first bridge was built in 1250 and the latest (Poya Bridge) was opened in 2014.

Pont du Milieu

This was the first bridge built in the city. Originally, the pont de Berne would have been supported by timber trestles. The bridge as it stands today dates from 1653.

The central stone pillar and deck were replaced in 1853-5 ,and its roof in 1885.Originally, the pont de Berne would have been supported by timber trestles. The bridge as it stands today dates from 1653. The central stone pillar and deck were replaced in 1853-54 and its roof in 1885.

The three bridges in Fribourg Old Town (Bern, Milieu and St-Jean) all date from the mid-13th century, almost 100 years after the city was founded by Berthold IV of Zähringen (1157). Before the Pont de Berne was built, travelers had to cross the Sarine by boat. In those days, the water lapped against the cliffs on which the former Augustine monastery overlooking the car park stands. In 1340, the bridge was sawed down to ward off an attack by encroaching Bernese invaders. The Pont de Berne is the last remaining covered bridge in Fribourg.

If you enjoy fountains, this is a perfect city for you.

If you enjoy speaking different languages, this is a perfect city for you. People speak French on one side of the river and German on the other.

Oriel windows

An oriel window is a form of bay window which protrudes from the main wall of a building but does not reach to the ground. Supported by corbels, brackets or similar, an oriel window is most commonly found projecting from an upper floor. It was a sign of wealth.

On the way back, I took the regional train to Thun and then an IC (Intercity) to Interlaken.

I had a surprise visitor this evening. Sibylle from Basel came by with flowers. The flowers are lovely. It was so very kind of her! I had met her and her husband last year. They stayed at Sunny Days during the Unspunnen festival. What a wonderful end to the day!

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