Old City of Berne (1983)

Berne from Rosengarten
Berne from Rosengarten
© Stadt Bern

The Old City of Berne is set on a peninsula formed by a meander of the River Aar, at the tip of which Duke Berthold IV of Zähringen first had Nydegg Castle built. The foundation of the city proper is attributed to Berthold V, in the late 12th century.

From the tip of the peninsula, the construction of the city in a westerly direction followed several stages, still identifiable today. Ever since it was founded, the city has maintained the same principles of town planning, laid down in a surprisingly clear manner for the time. The central main streets, which are very large to accommodate the markets, are followed by parallel, narrower secondary streets. The plots and yards between the streets measure consistently 100 feet by 60. The blocks are divided into narrow plots, with at each end a building overlooking a rear yard. The water supply system is well segregated – fountains offer potable spring water, and the piped stream brings water for domestic use and enables flushing of the drains for removing the waste water. Because of lack of space in the embryonic city centre, all the public buildings were built on the edge of the old city. This principle was followed right up to the 19th century, with the building of the Federal Palace, the Municipal Theatre, the Art Gallery, and the City Hall. Following the blaze that ravaged the city at the beginning of the 15th century, the streets lost a little of their width to accommodate the famous arcades.

Aerial view of Berne Old City
Aerial view of Berne Old City
© Stadt Bern

Around a century ago, high bridges were built across the Aar, encouraging development of the outlying districts. Even though over the years a certain number of large retail developments have sprung up in the upper part, the appearance of the old city has remained intact. The appearance – both external and internal – of the lower town has largely been protected from being degraded. The Berne Historic Buildings Department has special provisions to ensure that the World Heritage sites are treated appropriately.

As a particularly impressive and revelatory example of medieval town planning, with its structure almost wholly preserved, it was highly appropriate that the Old City of Berne should be registered on the World Heritage list. Improvements to many of the houses date from the 18th century, but the city has retained its original structure. From the time of the original plan when it was founded, the Old City of Berne has developed without losing that which makes it special. Its amazing capacity for adaptation has allowed the city to assume ever-more complex functions – right up to its current status as the Confederation’s modern, lively capital city.

Berne, Gerechtigkeitsgasse
Berne, Gerechtigkeitsgasse
© Stadt Bern

Last modification 01.12.2013

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