Lausanne is located in the west, on the north shore of Lake Geneva. Built on the slopes of the Jorat heights, it is distinguished by many connecting tiers of buildings.
Settlement dates back to the Neolithic era, but Lausanne first came to prominence as a military camp used by the Romans from 15 BC onwards. The camp, named Lousonna, gradually expanded and flourished as a market town. The invasion of the Alemanni in AD 379 caused the inhabitants of Lousonna to abandon the original lakefront town and move to a better defended site which became the foundation for the old city of Lausanne. In 590 Bishop Marius transferred his bishopric to Lausanne. This served to enhance the city’s commercial and religious significance. Pope Gregory X and Emperor Rudolf of Habsburg attended the consecration of Lausanne’s cathedral in 1275.
By the beginning of the sixteenth century the citizens of Lausanne had become increasingly frustrated with the rule of the bishops. The arrival of one of Calvin’s followers, Guillaume Farel, in 1529 prompted widespread social and religious unrest. An invasion by Berne in 1536 led to the destruction of most of the city’s Catholic churches, and Lausanne’s short-lived independence concluded with the imposition of Bernese rule. The university, founded 4 years later, became the first Francophone centre for Protestant theology. Berne’s government continued until 1803 when Napoléon separated the Vaud canton from Berne and made Lausanne the new capital of Vaud. From this point the city began to develop, and by the beginning of the twentieth century it had become an important intellectual and cultural centre, attracting a large expatriate community, including many writers and artists.
The old town and the cathedral are at the highest point of Lausanne, to the north. To the south, in the middle tier, is the city’s transport hub and commercial zone, centred on Place St François. To the west of Place St François is the once derelict area of Flon that now accommodates numerous restaurants, bars and clubs. At the base of the city, by the waterfront, is the former fishing village of Ouchy. Lausanne serves as a junction for railway lines coming from Geneva, Fribourg, Berne and Vallorbe and is a stop on the route from Paris to Milan. There is a boat service operating on Lake Geneva.
Major industries include printing and food-processing as well as clothing, precision tools, metal and leather goods. Lausanne derives considerable revenue from tourism and hosting international conventions. The city has been the headquarters for the International Olympic Committee since 1915; it is also the home of the highest court in Switzerland, the Federal Tribunal.
Places of Interest
The twelfth century cathedral is one of the most popular cultural attractions, as is the Musée de l’Art Brut which houses a collection of eccentric, rough-hewn works created by artists many of whom were regarded as criminally insane. Other notable museums include the Museum of Fine Arts and the Olympic museum, which houses memorabilia from many of the games.