St. Peterinsel auf einem Plan von Samuel Bodmer, 1709. Archiv des Kantons Bern, Schauenburg-Sammlung 24. Photo/Foto: TES.

St. Peter Island

Until 1868, the island of St. Peter was a real island, and even the largest in Switzerland, before the level of Lake Biel (Bielersee) was lowered by more than two metres during the first correction of the waterways of the Jura between 1868 and 1875. That is how the (walking) passage (4.5 km) between the town of Erlach and the island appeared.  Already inhabited from the 11th century B.C., three pile dwelling villages are known,  on the south, east and north side of the island.  The island became a sacred spot with temples in the Roman period (2-4th centuries) and then a burial place for Merovingian families. The first church originates from this period (7-8th century). The island was taken over by the Benedictine Order of Cluny at the beginning of the 12th century. The present Romanesque basilica (the three planned ships were never built, however) and the monastery buildings date from this period. The monastery St. Peter and St. Paul gave its name to the island Saint Peter. After the Reformation, the island was transferred to Bern in 1530.

Only in 1765, after the exile of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, became the island a popular destination for emperors, kings, aristocrats, artists and writers. Goethe, Cook, Empress Josephine Bonaparte and the kings of Prussia, Sweden and Bavaria are among the visitors. Today, the island is an open-air museum and a monument with its Romanesque buildings (source: Archaeological Service of the canton of Bern).