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Zürich

The City

Zürich straddles the River Limmat at its junction with the
Zürichersee, with the narrow pedestrian-only streets of the medieval town,
the Niederdorf, on the east bank of the river. The western bank is the
site of most business and commercial activity, as well as the city's main
shopping area, although here, too, there's a sprinkling of sights. Don't forget
the lake itself; shoreline promenades extend from central Zürich along
both sides, leading past a sequence of Strandbäder (pay beaches) to
which the people flock on summer days. 

The West Bank
The East Bank


The West Bank

Immediately to the north of the train station is the Landesmuseum
(Tues-Sun 10am-5pm; free), an eccentric nineteenth-century pile built in the
style of a medieval castle that is home to the country's foremost historical
museum. The ground floor is a veritable treasure-trove of medieval religious
art, including a panorama of the city of Zürich painted around 1500 by a
local artist, Hans Leu the Elder, showing the grisly ends of the city's patron
saints, Regula, Exuperantus and Felix, who were decapitated, put on a wheel and
then collectively boiled. Upstairs, an extensive military history section
serves as a timely reminder of the warlike past of the Swiss, whether fighting
for their homeland or serving as mercenaries in foreign armies - one set of
uniforms on display is from a Swiss regiment serving with the British in the
Crimean campaign of the 1850s. Centrepiece is a re-creation of the 1476 Battle
of Murten, when a predominantly Bernese army put an end to the expansionist
designs of Burgundian monarch Charles the Bold. The archeological finds filling
the rest of the upper storey are less well displayed, but motley Dark Age
burial finds and religious objects reveal something not only of the culture of
the Burgundian, Aleman and Lombard tribes who were to later form the Swiss
nation, but also of the early Celtic culture. A couple of rooms in the
Romand wing of the National Museum are devoted to pieces from the
eighteenth to twentieth centuries and to the renovations currently underway at
Château Pragins, midway between Geneva and Lausanne, which from 1998 will
be their permanent home. 

The narrow streets between Bahnhofstrasse and the Limmat lead up to the Lindenhof, an old bastion overlooking the river which initially provided the site for a late Roman fortress and customs post. A short distance south, the Peterskirche (Mon-Sat 8am-6pm) is renowned for the enormous sixteenth-century clock face adorning its medieval tower, and a simple yet beautiful interior that is more like a ballroom than a church. Immediately south, the Münsterhof is overlooked by the Gothic Fraumünster (Mon-Sat 9am-12.30pm & 2pm-6pm), an ancient church which began life as a convent in 853 before its voluntary disbandment during the Reformation. The interior is predictably bare save for traces of thirteenth-century frescoes in the choir, and some remarkable stained glass by Marc Chagall adorning the eastern end.


The East Bank

From the Münsterhof, the Münsterbrücke crosses the Limmat to
Niederdorf, the zone of narrow cobbled thoroughfares which stretch about
1km to the north. During the day it's a tranquil area of small squares and
fountains, enlivened by the occasional antique or secondhand book shop. Come
the evening, it's transformed into a bustling pleasure quarter of cafés
and bars. The waterfront is lined by fine Baroque Zunfthäuser or
guildhalls, their arcaded lower storeys fronting the quayside. Built by the
wealthier of Zürich's professional associations in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, their extravagantly decorated dining rooms are now mainly
restaurants. At the eastern end of Münsterbrücke are the
eighteenth-century Helmhaus and the Gothic Wasserkirche, although
the scene is dominated by the twin-towered Grossmünster (April-Sept
Mon-Sat 9am-6pm; Oct-March Mon-Sat 10am-4pm), where Huldrych Zwingli, father of
Swiss Protestantism, began preaching in 1519. Originally developing his ideas
in parallel with Luther, Zwingli set the Swiss church on a more extreme course
after breaking with his German comrade on the nature of the Eucharist. By and
large, his regime in Zürich was not noted for its tolerance, decreeing the
drowning of Anabaptists in 1526; it also provoked the wrath of Switzerland's
rural cantons by calling for an end to military service abroad - the prime
source of income for many highland families - and the resulting civil war cost
Zwingli his own life. The exterior of the Münster is largely late
fifteenth century, although the towers were topped with distinctive octagonal
domes 300 years later. Inside, the scene is as austere as you would expect, but
for the Romanesque crypt below the choir which contains a fifteenth-century
statue of Charlemagne, who was popularly associated with the foundation of the
church in the early ninth century. 

Alleys behind the church lead to the Kunsthaus (Mon 2-5pm, Tues-Thurs 10am-9pm, Fri-Sun 10am-5pm; Sfr4, special exhibitions from Sfr8), one of Switzerland's principal collections, with some fascinating late-Gothic paintings, a roomful of Venetian masters and fine Flemish work. A great deal of space is devoted to native artists, pride of place going to several deranged canvases from nineteenth-century Symbolist Arnold Böcklin, notably an 1892 painting of Saint Anthony preaching to the fishes. There are also rooms packed with works by Füssli, a melodramatic eighteenth-century Swiss painter who spent most of his career in London, and - in contrast - the restrained classicism of Angelika Kauffmann, another Swiss expatriate in London around the same time. A modern annexe holds a definitive collection of Alberto Giacometti sculpture and a thorough overview of the rest of twentieth-century art, strong on geometric and constructivist periods as well as abundant paintings by Chagall, Picasso, and a handful of late Monets, including the popular Houses of Parliament at Sunset and two of his finest lily pond canvases. From here Rämistrasse leads around the back of Zürich's monumental university building, where the University Archeological Museum, Rämistrasse 73 (Tues-Fri 1-6pm, Sat & Sun 11am-5pm; free), has a small but worthwhile collection of ancient fragments - Assyrian tablets, Greek pottery and Minoan sarcophagi. Up the street at no. 101, the Federal Technological School contains a valuable Collection of Graphics (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Wed 10am-8pm; free), including drawings by Dürer and Rembrandt.

Tram #3 from Central leads to Römerhofplatz and the terminal of the Dolderbahn, a funicular railway which winds through hillside streets before reaching an area of wooded parkland far above the city. Better walking possibilities can be found on the Zürichberg (terminus of tram #6 from Central), site of the city zoo and more wooded paths. Also a little way out of the centre, Zürich has two more worthwhile museums: the Museum Rietberg, Gablerstrasse 18 (Tues-Sun 10am-5pm, Wed until 9pm; Sfr5; free on Wed evening & Sun) - tram #6 from Central - which specializes in non-European artefacts, with beautiful pieces from China, India and Japan; and the Bührle Collection, Zollikerstrasse 172 (Tues & Fri 2-5pm; Sfr9), accessible by tram #2 or #4 to Wildbachstrasse, displaying the collection of industrialist Emil Bührle, rich in Impressionists and nineteenth-century Parisian painters.