The old city of Aarau is situated on a rocky outcropping at a narrowing of the Aar river valley, at the southern foot of the Jura mountains. Newer districts of the city lie to the south and east of the outcropping, as well as higher up the mountain, and in the valley on both sides of the Aar. The neighboring municipalities are Küttigen to the north, Rohr and Buchs to the east, Suhr to the south-east, Unterentfelden to the south, and Eppenberg-Wöschnau and Erlinsbach to the west. Aarau and the nearby neighboring municipalities have grown together and now form an interconnected agglomeration. The only exceptions are Unterentfelden and Eppenberg-Wöschnau to the south, whose settlements are divided from Aarau by the expansive forests of Gönhard and Zelgli. Approximately nine tenths of the city is south of the Aar, and one tenth is to the north. The area of the municipality is 894 hectares, of which 301 are forested and 491 are developed. The lowest elevation, 365 meters, is found at the banks of the Aar, and the highest elevation, at 471 meters, is the Hungerberg on the border with Küttigen.
A few artifacts from the Neolithic period were found in Aarau. Near the location of the present train station, the ruins of a settlement from the Bronze Age (about 1000 BC) have been excavated. The Roman road between Salodurum (Solothurn) and Vindonissa passed through the area, along the route now covered by the Bahnhofstrasse. In 1976 divers in the Aar found part of a seven-meter wide wooden bridge from the late Roman times.
In 1273 the counts of Kyburg died out. Agnes of Kyburg, who had no male relations, sold the family's lands to King Rudolf I von Habsburg. He granted Aarau its city rights in 1283. In the 14th Century the city was expanded in two stages, and a second defesive wall was constructed. A deep ditch separated the city from its "suburb;" its location is today marked by a wide street named "Graben" (meaning Ditch).
In 1415 Bern invaded lower Aargau with the help of Solothurn. Aarau capitulated after a short resistance, and was forced to swear allegiance to the new rulers. In the 16th Century, the rights of the lower classes were abolished. In March 1528 the citizens of Aarau allowed the introduction of Protestantism at the urging of the Bernese. A growth in population during the 16th Century led to taller buildings and more dense construction methods. Early forms of industry developed at this time; however, unlike in other cities, no guilds were formed in Aarau.
Starting in the early 18th century, the textile industry was established in Aarau. German immigration contributed to the city's favorable conditions, in that they introduced the cotton and silk factories. These highly educated immigrants were also responsible for education reform and the enlightened, revolutionary spirit that developed in Aarau.
On March 22, 1798 Aarau was declared the capital of the Helvetic Republic. It is therefore the first capital of a unified Switzerland. Parliament met in the city hall. On September 20, the capital was moved to Lucerne.
The wooden bridge, dating from the Middle Ages, across the Aar was destroyed by floods three times in thirty years, and was replaced with a steel suspension bridge in 1851. This was replaced by a concrete bridge in 1952. The city connected to the Swiss Central Railroad in 1856.
The textile industry in Aarau broke down in about 1850 because of the protectionist tariff policies of neighboring states. Other industries had developed by that time to replace it, including the production of mathematical instruments, shoes and cement. Beginning in 1900, numerous electrical enterprises developed. By the 1960s, more citizens worked in service industries or for the canton-level government than in manufacturing. During the 1980s many of the industries left Aarau completely.
In 1802 the Canton School was established; it was the first non-parochial high school in Switzerland. It developed a good reputation, and was home to Nobel Prize winners Albert Einstein, Paul Karrer, and Werner Arber, as well as several Swiss politicians and authors.
The purchase of a manuscript collection in 1803 laid the foundation for what would become the Cantonal Library, which contains a Bible annotated by Huldrych Zwingli. More newspapers developed in the city, maintaining the revolutionary atmosphere of Aarau. Beginning in 1820, Aarau has been a refuge for political refugees.
The urban educational and cultural opportunities of Aarau have been extended through numerous new institutions. A Theater and Concert Hall was constructed in 1883, which was renovated and expanded in 1995-96. The Aargau Nature Museum opened in 1922. A former cloth warehouse was transformed into a small theater in 1974, and the alternative culture center KIFF (Culture in the fodder factory) was established in a former animal fodder factory.
The historic old town forms an irregular square, consisting of four parts (called Stöcke). To the south lies the Laurenzenvorstadt, that is, the part of the town formerly outside the city wall. One characteristic of the city is its painted gables, for which Aarau is sometimes called the "City of beautiful Gables". The old town, Laurenzenvorstadt, government building, cantonal library, state archive and art museum are all listed as heritage sites of national significance.
The buildings in the old city originate, on the whole, from building projects during the 16th century, when nearly all the Middle Age period buildings were replaced or expanded. The architectural development of the city ended in the 18th century, when the city began to expand beyond its (still existing) wall. Most of the buildings in the "suburb" date from this time.
The "Schlössli" (small Castle), Rore Tower and the upper gate tower have remained nearly unchanged since the 13th century. The "Schlössli" is the oldest building in the city. It was already founded at the time of the establishment of the city shortly after 1200; the exact date is not known. City hall was built around Rore Tower in 1515.
The upper gate tower stands beside the southern gate in the city wall, along the road to Lucerne and Bern. The jail has been housed in it since the Middle Ages. A Carillon was erected in the tower in the middle of the 20th century, the bells for which were provided by the centuries-old bell manufacturers of Aarau.
The town church was built between 1471 and 1478. During the Reformation, in 1528, its twelve altars and accompanying pictures were destroyed. The "Justice fountain" (Gerechtskeitbrunnen) was built in 1634, and is made of french limestone; it includes a statue of Lady Justice made of sandstone, hence the name. It was originally in the street in front of city hall, but was moved to its present location in front of the town church in 1905 due to increased traffic.
One of the two head offices of the Aargauer Zeitung, Switzerland's fifth largest newspaper, is located in Aarau, as are the Tele M1 television channel studios, and several radio stations.
More than half of the workers in Aarau live in the city's suburbs, or farther away in the surrounding area. This leads to a busy rush hour, and regular traffic jams. Statistically, Aarau has the most jobs per capita of any Swiss city.
The small scale of Aarau causes it to continually expand the borders of its growth. The urban center lies in the middle of the "Golden Triangle" between Zurich, Bern, and Basel, and Aarau is having increasing difficulty in maintaining the independence of its economic base from the neighboring large cities. The idea of merging Aarau with its neighboring suburbs has been recently discussed in hopes of stopping the slowly progressing losses.
Manufacture include bells, mathematical instruments, electrical goods, cotton textiles, chemicals, shoes, and other products.
According to the December 2000 census, 20.4% of the population is made up of foreigners, which is just over the Canton average of 19.3%. Approximately one third of the foreign population come from the former Yugoslavia; other major immigrant groups are Germans and Italians. 84.5% speak German, 3.3% speak Italian, 2.9% Serbian, 1.4% Spanish, 1.1% French, 1% Albanian, 1% Turkish, 0.5% English, and 0.5% Portuguese.
The population of Aarau was formerly predominately Protestant. Through immigration from other regions in Switzerland, and more so from foreign countries, the Protestant portion of the population has continually decreased, and stands at 43.5% as of 2000. 29.2% were Roman Catholic, 4.8% Muslim, 3.2% Orthodox Christian. Slightly more than 17% of the population indicated that they are not religious.
The population has shrunk slightly from 17,045 in 1966 to 15,619 in 2005.
The seven members (and their party) for the period 2006-2009 are: