Bern or Berne (1990 pop. 136,338), the capital, is also the capital of Switzerland. Situated within a loop of the Aare River, the city is a university, administrative, transportation, and industrial center. Its manufactures include precision instruments, textiles, machinery, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and chocolate. It is also the seat of numerous international agencies, notably the Universal Postal Union (since 1875), the International Telecommunication Union (since 1869), and the International Copyright Union (since 1886).
Bern was founded, according to tradition, in 1191 by Berchtold V of Zähringen as a military post. It was made (1218) a free imperial city by Emperor Frederick II when Berchtold died without an heir. Bern grew in power and population and in 1353 joined the Swiss Confederation, of which it became the leading member. Its conquests included Aargau (1415) and Vaud (1536), besides numerous smaller territories. The area was governed until 1798 by an autocratic urban aristocracy. Bern accepted the Reformation in 1528. When Switzerland was invaded (1798) by the French during the French Revolutionary Wars, Bern was occupied, its treasury pillaged, and its territories dismembered. At the Congress of Vienna (1815), Bern failed to recover Vaud and Aargau, but received the Bernese Jura (the former Bishopric of Basel). A liberal constitution was adopted in 1831, and in 1848 Bern became the capital of the Swiss Confederation.
The city is largely medieval in its architecture. It has a splendid 15th-century town hall, a noted minster (begun 15th cent.), and numerous other historic structures. There are many picturesque patrician houses and old guild halls. An elaborate medieval clock tower and a pit in which bears (Bern's heraldic animal for seven centuries) are kept are well known to tourists. More modern buildings include the 19th-century federal parliament building, many fine museums (including one devoted to Paul Klee), and the university (1834).
There were 86 households out of which 37.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.8% were married couples living together, 3.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.9% were non-families, and 24.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 3.02.
In the city the population was spread out with 27.5% under the age of 18, 6.4% from 18 to 24, 26.0% from 25 to 44, 21.6% from 45 to 64, and 18.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 92.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $40,417, and the median income for a family was $49,000. Males had a median income of $34,063 versus $21,563 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,254. About 7.4% of families and 7.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.6% of those under the age of eighteen and 5.7% of those sixty five or over.