Local History

Neuchâtel, 19e siècle. Galeries de l'histoire, Neuchâtel. Photo/Foto: TES.

Neuchâtel from Village to City

The tribe of Helvets already inhabited the area in the present canton of Neuchâtel before the arrival of the Romans in 15-13 BC. Pile dwellings from the Celtic period are on view in the Laténium in Hauterive. The name Neuchâtel, however, dates from the period of the last king of the Kingdom of Burgundy (888-1032). Rudolph III (977-1032) built a new castle (Novum Castellum) on the hill, which still dominates the skyline.

Six models in the Galeries de l’histoire illustrate the development since this time. These six models show in phases the milestones in the development of the city. 1181: The Collégiale is under construction. The residential area is located mainly on the south side of the hill, in the west is a moat, in the east flows the Seyon River and in the north begins the Jura. In 1250 a new district was built with many houses and workshops of artisans and traders. At the end of the thirteenth century, Neuchâtel was granted city rights. The Counts of Neuchâtel would acquire more and more land in the region, and at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the boundaries of the present canton of Neuchâtel were fixed. In 1400 the city expanded to the other side of the river Seyon with a new residential area. Around 1650 the city expanded southwards to the shores of the lake. With this expansion, the first significant land reclamation on the lake took place. The lake was relatively shallow here. After 1776, wealthy merchants built villas along the shore of the lake in an area that was given the name Faubourg. After 1873 the city grew in all directions, the river Seyon was diverted, and the water level of the lake was lowered by several meters, making building sites available. The arrival of the railway, industrialisation (including the watch industry), the increased prosperity and the substantial population growth led to dynamic growth of the city. Today, Neuchâtel is a city with around 35,000 inhabitants and the capital of the French-speaking canton of Neuchâtel, whose borders have remained virtually unchanged since the sixteenth century. (Source: J. Bujard and others, Histoire du canton de Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel 2014).