A tour of Switzerland in vintage postcards
So what do you think of when you hear the name of the country Switzerland? Gruyère cheese and chocolate, perhaps, yodelling, cuckoo clocks, Swatches? Numbered bank accounts? Gnomes? Perhaps, if you're a bit of a history buff then the crossing of the Alps by Hannibal and his troops.
Yes, well, the country is all of those things and a whole lot more.
The country now called Switzerland has been inhabited for about 150000 years, according to the archaeological record. Farming in Switzerland has been dated back to about 5300 BCE.
Modern Switzerland really got going with the so-called Federal Charter of 1291, which brought together the three rural communes of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden which set in motion the “Old Confederacy of Switzerland", which lasted, with various ups and downs, until the adoption of the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1848 set up the country we know today with its 26 cantons.
The three original communes were soon joined by the cities of Lucerne, Zürich, and Berne. These six became the Acht Orte (Eight Places) with the defeat by the Swiss of Hapsburg armies. The Swiss at the time were part of the so-called “Holy Roman Empire”, which, of course, was not really Roman, and not very holy either. It was ruled by an Emperor and so perhaps justified being called an “empire”.
Religious differences between the cantons was spurred by the Reformation, with some cantons going Reformed and others remaining Catholic.
Today Switzerland is a very modern, high-tech country with almost 8 million inhaibtants and a per capita GDP (PPP) of around $43000 US and GDP (nominal) of around $67000 US, giving it one of the highest quality of life ratings. The country has four official languages, German, French, Italian and Romansh.
The lst of these languages is also the smallest language group in Switzerland, being spoken by only about 62000 people (about 0.9% of the population) mostly in the Grisons canton of southern Switzerland. It is believed to have come down from the vulgar Latin spoken by the Romans who occupied the region.
Switzerland has been a neutral country since the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and Article 11 of the Federal Constitution makes it illegal to send troops to serve abroad.
We will start our tour of this old federation in Geneva, which, while not the actual capital of the federation - that honour belongs to Berne, our next stop - is the centre of many great international organisations like the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the World Council of Churches (WCC) as well as the second-biggest United Nations office.
Geneva was first taken by the Romans in 121 BCE and subsequently became part of Burgundy. It was taken over by the German Emperor in 1033. The city finally joined the Old Confederacy in 1526.
The city of Bern, which now the capital of the Swiss Federation, was founded by Berthold V, Duke of Zahringen, and was subsequently made a free imperial city in the Holy Roman Empire in 1218.
The city joined the Old Confederacy in 1353 and when the Swiss Federation came into being in 1848 it became the capital city.
Sinced 1983 the ancient centre of the city has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bern is also notable as the place where a humble clerk in the patent office worked out a theory which revolutionised physics - Albert Einstein and his theory of relativity, first proposed in his 1905 paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies."
This city of more than 50000 people began after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 6th Century when a monastery was set up on the site by the Benedictines. The Monastery of St Leodegar was founded in 750 and taken over in the middle of the 9th Century by the Alsatian Murbach Abbey.
In 1178 the ties to Murbach were cut and the the city of Lucerne was born. It became an important trading centre and was able to shake off Hapsburg control and join the Old Swiss Confederacy on 7 November 1332.
The city was involved in the religious tumult of the medieval and reformation eras, but remained Catholic, unlike the cities of Basel, Bern and Zurich.
In January 2010 it was united with the neighbouring town of Littau as decided in a 2007 referendum, making it the seventh-largest city in Switzerland with a population of more than 75000.
Founded in the early years of the Christian era, Lugano has become known as the "Monte Carlo of Switzerland" because of the number of celebrities that have settled there, attracted by the warm climate and tourist attractions.
Lugano is in the south of Switzerland and has grown to become the third-largest centre of banking and finance in the federation, after Zurich and Geneva.
"Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor an altar ..." - from "Sonnet on Chillon" by Byron (1816).
The Château itself is indeed very old, with documents dated back to the beginning of the second millenium making mention of Chillon.
The prisoner of Byron's famous poem was Francois Bonivard, a Swiss patriot who opposed the rule of the Duke of Savoy. He was imprisoned in Chillon from 1530 to 1536.
Eisgrotte (Ice Cave)
"Early autochrome postcard marked Eisgrotte, Louis Glaser Leipzig, and Gebr Wehrli Kilchberg b/Zurich. No 3624. Postally unused. Undivided back" - from catalogue entry
I have no idea which Ice Cave this might illustrate. The most information I have been able to find is that this postcard dates from about 1900.
A note on the images
Except where otherwise stated, all the images in this Hub are scans
of postcards in my posession.Unfortunately none of them has a postmark
and so I can only guess when they were produced, which I would guess
would have been the first few years of the 20th Century, certainly
before the First World War of 1914 - 1918.
The postcards are part of the vast collection assembled by my Great-Aunt Hetty McGregor. She died in 1977 just before her 101st birthday, having lived in the same house in Cape Town for much of that time. She never married, having been thought "too frail" to do so in her youth!