Local History

Murten/Morat. Photo/Foto: TES.

The City of Murten

The existence of Murten goes back to Celtic times, although archaeological or written evidence is lacking. The name is deducted from the Celtic language Mori-dûnum, however, and means fort by the lake.

Very little is known until the year 1 000 when The settlement was part of the Burgundian Kingdom. The Dukes of Zähringen came into control after the dissolution of this kingdom in 1032. The Dukes granted the town city rights around 1170. After this dynasty died out in 1218, Murten became a free imperial town in the Holy Roman Empire. The freedom was shortlived because Savoy took control shortly afterwards.

As a result of the Burgundian wars, Bern and Fribourg subjected the city in 1475. After the battles of Grandson and Murten in 1476, Fribourg and Bern governed the town until 1798, changing the bailiffs every five years.

The famous panorama of the battle of Murten (22 June 1476) has a length of more than 100 meters but is not on display. It can still be admired, however, in the history museum through a video installation. At the instigation of Bern, Murten joined the Reformation in 1530.

Napoleon finally assigned the protestant city to the catholic canton of Fribourg in 1803. The catholic church was subsequently reintroduced after 1803.

Murten was by origin a German-speaking town and still has a vast german-speaking majority, but French has a formal status as well. It is to a certain extent the same development in Fribourg, which was German-speaking by origin, but became and is still mostly francophone after the conquest of French-speaking Vaud in 1536.

The multicultural, multilingual and multireligious character of the city is omnipresent: the German and the French Church, the two languages, the Savoyard, German, French, Bernese, Neuchâtelois and Fribourgois buildings and their styles of various periods (Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque styles and nineteenth-century architecture and decoration).

murten is above all one of the Swiss towns deliberately set up by the ruling Zähringen dynasty during the twelfth century (like Fribourg and Bern, for example). The castle, mostly intact, and its massive towers and city wall are part of the original Savoyard structure built after 1238.

The old port area, the so-called Ryf district, was once a significant transshipment point for transport by boat from early on. Artisans plied their trade; there were town mills, inns, custom posts, warehouses, dock facilities and dwelling houses with high storerooms on the ground floor, all directly located on the lake edge.

The draining of the flood areas in the region of the three lakes (Neuenburgersee/lac du Neuchâtel, Bielersee/lac du Bienne and Murtensee/lac du Morat) sunk the level of the lake by around 5 meters, creating a broad stretch of shore (1868-1890).

The construction of today’s port with its quays in 1893-1895 changed the face of the Ryf as well. The port nowadays has only a recreational purpose. (Source and further information: M.F. Rubli, The historical buildings of Murten, Murten, 1992).