Schadaupark Thun, Panorama Thun in 1809. Photo: TES.

The Panorama of Thun

The Panorama of Thun (1809) by Marquard Wocher (1760-1830) is the oldest surviving panorama in the world and is 210 years old.

No more than 21 other panoramas made before 1900 survived, four of which can be seen in Switzerland, in Einsiedeln (the crucifixion of Christ), in Murten (battle of Murten 1476), in Lucerne (flight of the French general Bourbaki to Switzerland (1871) and Thun (town of Thun around 1809).

The panorama is a unique art and media form, popular in the first half of the nineteenth century. It was the first optical mass medium, and people could see their cities, landscapes, historical events and battles. It was a time of globalisation, the beginning of the industrial and scientific revolution and the rise of tourism to Switzerland and the Alps.

However, few could afford these trips, and panoramas offered a spectacular, accessible and not overly expensive opportunity (most panoramas charged a reduced entrance fee).

Robert Barker exhibited the first panorama in 1787, London’s first Cyclorama. Standing on a platform, one could see the whole city. Many sceneries followed, but by the end of the nineteenth century and the appearance of photography, trains and cars, people got other resources, and the panorama disappeared. Most panoramas were sold in pieces or destroyed.

Today, however, the panorama is making a spectacular comeback, as Yadegar Asisi (1955) shows with his panoramas (Rome 312, Battle of Leipzig 1813, Pergamon museum pieces from the ancient world (Berlin) and Luther 1517 (Wittenberg).

The panorama of Thun was saved by luck, funding and the vision of a few. It shows the town of Thun around 1809, initially in Basel, from 1899 in Thun and in 1961 in the rotunda in Thun’s Schadaupark.

Thun was the ideal Swiss town to show: city, lake and mountains in the background. It is still a unique document of life, buildings and nature in and around Thun around 1900.

(Source: D. Imhof and others (ed.), Marquand Wocher, Das Panorama von Thun, Thun, 2009; Thun Panorama).