Laupen und die Burg. Foto/Photo: TES

Laupen and its (Swiss) History

Switzerland has a fascinating and carefully cultivated history. Almost every trip leads to one or more interesting cultural and historical encounters.

Small towns or villages often have a great past, be it a centuries-old sovereign republic, the smallest episcopal or abbey town or an important but small medieval fortress city.

The town of Laupen (canton of Bern) is a miniature version of Switzerland’s history. The Romans already used the road near Laupen to cross the Saane and Sense rivers. It was an essential connecting road between the important Roman town of Aventicum (today’s Avenches) and the ancient Celtic settlement on the Enge peninsula (Engehalbinsel) near Bern.

After the Romans’ departure (early 5th century), Alemanni and Romanised Celts (Gallo-Romans) inhabited the area. After the Merovingians and the Carolingian Empire, the Burgundians ruled the region from 888 to 1032. The Burgundian king Rudolf II (880-937) built the first fortress on the hill because of its strategic location on the road and along the rivers. This fortress developed into a castle in the 12th century.

The Burgundians were followed by a period of successive rulers. King Rudolf I of Habsburg (1218-1291) granted the settlement at the foot of the castle city rights and the status of a free city (Reichsunmittelbarkeit) in 1275.

Although its population in this century was small (250), the strategic importance and prestige were all the greater. Laupen had the same status as nearby, much larger Bern, Solothurn, Basel, Freiburg or Murten.

Johann Ludwig Nöthiger (1719-1782), castle and city of Laupen, 1744. Collection: Zentralbibliothek Zurich

Local and European rulers were interested in acquiring the town, and the castle often changed hands (the dukes of Zähringen and the Habsburgs, the counts of Kyburg and Savoy, the lords of Grandson and Thurn were owners for short or long periods).

But in 1324, Bern bought the seigniory of Laupen and the castle. Other rulers were less enthusiastic, and a broad alliance (Freiburg, Habsburg, Kyburg, the bishoprics of Basel, Lausanne and Sitten) declared war on Bern in 1339.

However, Bern was supported by Solothurn and the Orte (cantons) of central Switzerland (Innerschweiz) and won the Laupenkrieg (War of Laupen) led by Rudolf von Erlach (1299-1360).

Bern, monument of Rudolf von Erlach (1299-1360)

The castle and the city continued to expand over the following centuries. The castle became the bailiff’s residence, with a knights’ hall and other features of a contemporary residence.

The city had three towers, city walls, squares and city palaces. The medieval city centre remains largely intact, and several buildings from the 13th and 14th centuries still exist.

However, the city’s economic and strategic importance declined with the construction of the new wooden bridges at Gümmenen and Neuenegg in the 15th century.

The rivers also regularly flooded the city and the region. Many inhabitants emigrated. Only at the beginning of the 20th century did the town begin to flourish again. The castle museum (Schlossmuseum) shows this history.

(Source and further information: Gemeinde Laupen)

Impressions of Laupen


View from the castle