Biel/Bienne. Foto/Photo: TES.

Bilingual Biel/Bienne

After the Celtic and Roman times, Seeland was situated at the edge of the (fisrt) Burgundian Kingdom (443-534). The Three Lakes region (the lakes of Biel/ Bienne, Morat/Murten and Neuenburg/ Neuchâtel) was still populated by Gallo-Roman people. The German-speaking Alemanni immigrated to this region in the fifth and sixth centuries. 

It was, however, not until the 8th century that the Germanic culture and language became dominant without completely replacing the Gallo-Roman and Patois dialects. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the prince-bishops of Basel extended their rule in the Jura; in doing so, the counts of Neuchâtel and Neuchâtel-Nidau became their adversaries.

Their sphere of influence extended from the lakes and the Jura heights to Grenchen and Büren an der Aare, in the 12th and early 13th centuries, including Nidau Castle. Between 1225 and 1230, the Bishop of Basel founded the town of Biel. In 1275, King Rudolf of Habsburg (1218-1291) granted Biel city rights.

Biel concluded the “eternal alliance” with Bern in 1352, and the town became an ally of the Confederation. The city obtained the ‘zugewandter Ort’ status but remained deprived of a Confederation treaty. The conversion to the Reformation took place in 1528.

The French Revolution created a new situation. On 6 February 1798, French troops entered the city. Biel was incorporated into France as the “Canton de Bienne”. The canton initially belonged to the Département du Mont-Terrible, then from 1800-1813 to the Département du Haut-Rhin.

Unknown artist. Biel around 1830.

After Napoleon’s final defeat, the hope for a separate canton was revived. However, Biel, together with most of the territory of the former Prince-Bishopric of Basel, was allocated to the canton of Bern.

The bilingual town houses the Institute of Bilinguism today (Forum du bilinquisme/Forum für die Zweisprachigkeit, www.zweisprachigkeit.ch).

(Source: Dubler, Anne-Marie; Kästli, Tobias: Biel, in Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz (HLS). 

Neues Museum Biel/Nouveau Musée Bienne