Local History

Die Rigi. Foto/Photo: TES

The Rigi-Region

The Rigi along Lake Lucerne is one of the most famous Swiss mountains. Unlike, say, the Gotthard massif, Zermatt or the Jungfrau, it is not its altitude (1 798 m above sea level) but its location and history that have earned Rigi the name “Queen of the Mountains” (Königin der Berge).

Albrecht von Bonstetten (1443-1504), the first depiction of the Eidgenossenschaft, 1479. The Eidgenossenschaft is the centre of the earth, and the Rigi as the queen of the mountains, regina montium. Collection: Bibliothèque nationale de France. Latin 5656, p. 8r. Image: Museum Vitznau-Rigi

Until the 18th century, central Switzerland was mainly a transit area to or from Italy for the “Beau Monde” and the “Grand Tour” of the English nobility. Few were interested in the inhospitable countryside. Diplomats, prelates, pilgrims, merchants, and other travellers did not no go further than the larger cities or monasteries. Tourism, mountaineering, nature lovers, or hikers did not yet exist.

Detail of the “Wäggemann-Karte, 1630. In the middle the three villages of Weggis, Vitznau, and Greppen. Image: Museum Vitznau-Rigi

The three main villages in the Rigi region are Weggis, Vitznau, and Greppen. Weggis is first mentioned in documents in 1116 as “Guategisso”. Greppen is called “Crepon” in 1259 and Vitznau “Vitzenouwa” in 1342. Weggis and Vitznau were originally owned by the Pfäfers monastery. Lucerne acquired Vitznau and Weggis in 1380. Greppen was owned by the Habsburgs until 1406. In that year, Lucerne acquired the village.

Greppen today

750 years Greppen

St. Wendelin

Weggis today

Weggis briefly had the status of a sovereign “village republic”, from 1359 to 1380 (until its takeover by Lucerne), and even joined the Confederation as an ally. Nearby Gersau retained this status even until 1798!

Until 1798 and the establishment of the Helvetic Republic (1798-1803), not much changed in the Rigi region apart from a few uprisings by dissatisfied inhabitants because of the Lucerne administration. However, the end of the 18th century heralded the changes of the 19th century. The rise of journalism and newspapers and the attention of writers and intellectuals created a Switzerland boom.

Examples include Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Lord Byron, Madame de Stäel, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Edward Gibbon. The founders of America, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams, also invoked this republican confederation in Central Europe amid monarchies in their Declaration of Independence of 4 July 1776.

Vitznau today

The country’s rapid industrialisation also got the attention of other countries, in particular Great Britain. However, the Napoleonic Wars caused stagnation until 1815. After 1815, however, major economic, social, and political changes took place in Switzerland. The Rigi region was one of the first to benefit. From 1820, a newly constructed road enabled a direct stagecoach to go straight from the ports to Rigi-Scheidegg, Rigi-Kulm, and Rigi-Kaltbad. It is no coincidence that the country’s first Grand Hotels were built at these places. At that time, transport was mainly via Lake Lucerne and not by land.

The  Luzern near Weggis

The first steamships on Lake Lucerne appeared in 1837. Escher Wyss even became the European leader in building these vessels for inland navigation! With the construction of railways, transport to Lake Lucerne became increasingly comfortable.

Weggis, Vitznau, and Greppen benefited from the tourism boom. Breathtaking views of the Alps, good hiking opportunities, easy access, clean air, hotels and spas, and boat trips on the lake were attractive.

21 May 1871 was a memorable day. The Vitznau-Rigi railway, the first rack railway system, was put into operation. One of the first Swiss Tourism organisations (Kurverein) was founded in Vitznau in 1888, followed by Weggis in 1893.

The Rigi-Bahn. Image: Museum Vitznau-Rigi

The infrastructure, roads, public toilets, public entertainment (theatre, concerts), benches to sit and rest, boulevards with trees, electric street lighting, water supply, harbours, and daily cleaning service were (to this day) well organised.

Foreign tourists also brought the Protestant religion to the Catholic canton. In 1904, the reformed St Markus Church in Vitznau was the first non-Catholic church in a village in the canton.

The St. Markus Church in Vitznau

The Rigi was also the scene of the first skiing attempts in central Switzerland. Josef Dahinden-Pfyl (1863-1931), owner of Hotel Bellevue in Kaltbad, and the Pilatus branch of the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC), founded in 1863, undertook the first ski tours on the Rigi in 1906. From 1907, the Rigi railway also transported guests to Scheidegg, Kulm, and Kaltbad in winter. In 1908, the Rigi Ski Club was founded. The Rigi had become a year-round destination for winter and summer sports and tourism.

Poster a. 1930 Image: Museum Vitznau-Rigi

Weggis, the Lido, today

There were more innovations in the Rigi region. In Hertenstein, one of the country’s first open-air theatres was built, and in Weggis, the first mixed open-air swimming pool (for men and women) in the lake was opened in 1919. It was a great success and still exists today.

Besides attractions, something else deserves attention in these ecological times. Greppen is, again, a chestnut paradise, culminating in the annual Chestene-Chilbi in October. For centuries, chestnuts were the most important food in the region but were an almost forgotten food in 2000.

Greppen, the chestnut road (kastanienweg, Rigi-Chestene-Weg)

(Source and further information: Gemeinde Greppen; Ferienregion Weggis-Vitznau; Museum Vitznau-Rigi)

Information centre Hohle Gasse

Küssnacht, the Tell Chapel (Tellskapelle)

The Gessler Castle 

The Hohle Gasse

Immensee, Missionsgesellschaft Bethlehem