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Bern’s Window of Time at Zytglogge (Clock Tower)

Welcome to Bern’s Window of Time – right next to the Zytglogge (Clock Tower), visitors are taken on an exciting journey through time from 1191 to the present day. Bern’s city history is told here on the basis of eight characteristic events.

Das Bild zeigt Besucher, die sich vor dem "Berner Zeitfenster" versammeln, einer Ausstellung in Bern. Die Stimmung ist von Neugier und Interesse geprägt, während die Menschen auf die historischen Ausstellungsstücke blicken. Die historische Umgebung fügt eine faszinierende Atmosphäre hinzu.

A look into Bern’s Window of Time


Bern is founded

The favourable topographical conditions on the flood-protected but uninhabited Aare peninsula are decisive for the founding of the city by Berchtold V, Duke of Zähringen. Around 1200 AD, in 1191 according to later records, he founds the city of Bern including Nydegg Castle on the exposed tip of the spur and builds a river crossing. With the founding of this and other cities, such as Burgdorf and Thun, the prominent noble House of Zähringen consolidates its position in the western Alpine foothills.

Legend has it that the city owes its name to the bear, its heraldic animal. It is still omnipresent in Bern today.


Bern becomes a royal city and thus a free imperial city

Berchtold V, Duke of Zähringen founds the city of Bern on imperial ground as the emperor’s representative. After the Zähringen line ends in 1218, the city of Bern becomes subject to the king, which grants it long-term autonomy and liberties. This status contributes to the prosperity and the development of Bern. The king, who is unable to exercise his rule directly due to his limited possibilities, is initially represented by a Reichsvogt (imperial advocate) who resides at Nydegg Castle and later by the Schultheiss (mayor) of Bern.


Bern is reformed and becomes rich through the secularization of all monasteries

One particular event with a far-reaching impact on the lives of the people of Bern is the Reformation, which causes an upheaval in church life. What happens? The city-state of Bern adopts Zwingli’s creed, abolishes the monasteries and nationalizes the education of the clergy, and is now in charge of the moral life of its subjects. One of the consequences: Bern fills its treasury by taking over immense estates and dominions from the monasteries.


Bern becomes the second largest city-state in Europe

Bern conquers Vaud, thereby becoming the largest city-dominated state north of the Alps. And the second largest in all of Europe after Venice. This entails new tasks for the authorities, a few families who hold the political power and govern the city and the extensive territory of Bern. At the same time, Bern has been part of the Swiss Confederation since 1353.


Bern is conquered

In the spring of 1798, Napoleon’s army advances on Bern. It is vastly superior to the local forces and wins the Battle of Grauholz. The Bernese government abdicates at the beginning of March. Napoleon’s troops plunder the state treasure and take it to Paris as spoils of victory.  To add insult to injury, the French also take the city’s bears, which have been kept in Bern since the 16th century.

From 1799 to 1802, Bern is the capital of the centralized Helvetic Republic.


Bern becomes a federal city

Until 1848, the Swiss Confederation has neither a capital nor a government.  This changes when the modern Swiss federation is established and the Federal Constitution adopted. Bern has been Switzerland’s federal city and the seat of the country’s government (the Federal Council) and parliament, which consists of the Council of States and the National Council, ever since. It is chosen because of its proximity to French-speaking Switzerland and for military reasons.  Bern is also the capital of the Canton of Bern.


Bern becomes a Unesco World Heritage Site

Bern’s Old City is an exceptional and well-preserved example of progressive and coherent medieval urban planning, which is why it is selected to be included on the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites in 1983. The conservation, research and maintenance of the historic buildings become even more important. The cantonal authorities for the preservation of historical monuments take on this task in 1959. In 1978, the city takes over. The aim is to ensure that Bern’s Old City remains a popular place to live for locals as well as an attractive destination for people from all over the world.


Bern is a city of culture, a place of pleasure and celebrates the Bernese joie de vivre

Unesco World Heritage Site, historical buildings, cobblestone streets, six kilometres of arcades, unique boutiques, bistros in vaulted cellars, fountains with fantastic drinking water, the Aare river, a wide variety of bars and restaurants, events and culture: Bern has much to offer and there is always something going on. Feel the region’s characteristic laid-back attitude and join us in celebrating the Bernese joie de vivre.

Bern’s Window of Time was designed and realised by the Grafikreich team. Find out more about the entire creation process here.

The Astrolabe

This video explains the many different facets and functions of the astrolabe at Zytglogge (Clock Tower) in the federal city of Bern. The video was conceived and realised by the Grafikreich team for Bern’s Window of Time at Zytglogge (Clock Tower).