Lucerne is situated in the centre of Switzerland at a confluence of the Reuss River and Lake Lucerne. It is one of the largest and most important tourist resorts in the country.
Lucerne’s origins are uncertain, but it is believed to have originated as a small fishing village. The city’s name stems from a Benedictine monastery called St Luciaria founded in the area in the eighth century AD. Nothing is mentioned of Lucerne until 1178 when a lay order was established at the Kapelkirche (the present day St Peter’s chapel). The city increased in size and significance when the St Gotthard Pass became a major trade route early in the thirteenth century. In 1291 Rudolf IV of Habsburg acquired the city, much to the chagrin of its citizens who had hoped for independence. In 1332 the city joined with the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden to oppose Austrian rule. They acquired their independence after defeating the Habsburg army at the battle of Sempach in 1386. Lucerne remained Catholic throughout the reformation, and in fact took on the leadership of the Catholic cantons. It was ruled by patrician families until 1798, when the arrival of Napoléon’s armies precipitated the end of the regime. The city became the capital of the short-lived Helvetic Republic until 1803. After the downfall of Napoléon, Lucerne was a key player in the Sonderbund, an alliance of Catholic cantons opposed to the Protestant Confederation. The civil war that followed ended with a confederate victory, and Lucerne’s association with the Sonderbund meant that it was rejected as a choice for capital of the new nation. A railway, completed in the mid nineteenth century, brought the earliest tourists to Lucerne. This development meant that by the turn of the century the city’s population had more than tripled, and tourism had become the most important source of income.
Lucerne’s train station is on the south bank of the Reuss River, a short walk from the medieval centre. The old town and the city ramparts are on the north bank. Piltusstrasse runs southwest connecting the station and the older areas with the commercial district of modern Lucerne. There are a large number of boats, including several paddlesteamers, operating from the docks. Hourly trains connect the city to Geneva, Interlaken, Zürich, Lugano and Berne. The well-maintained N2 motorway allows drivers access to Lucerne. The city’s economy is almost entirely dependent on tourism, and there is little industry or manufacturing.
Places of Interest
Popular attractions include Bertel Thorvaldsen’s renowned Lion of Lucerne monument, the Glacier gardens which provide an insight into Lucerne’s geological roots and the Kapellbrücke, an ancient bridge that was almost entirely destroyed by fire in the early 1990s only to be painstakingly reconstructed. The Transport museum houses a famous collection of travel-related memorabilia.