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History of Zürich

Zürich was continuously inhabited since Roman times. Political power lay with the Grossmünster and Fraumünster abbeys during Medieval times, until the guild revolt in the 14th century which led to the joining of the Swiss Confederacy. Zürich was the focus of the Swiss Reformation led by Huldrych Zwingli, and it came to riches with silk industry in Early Modern times.

Early History (before 746)

Numerous lake-side settlements from the Neolithic and Bronze age have been found, such as those in the Zürich Pressehaus and Zürich Mozartstrasse. The settlements were found in the 1800s, submerged in Zürichsee (Lake Zürich). In 2004, traces of a previously unknown pre-Roman Celtic (La Tène culture) settlement were discovered (the center of which lay probably somewhat north of the Lindenhof, on the site of the Ötenbach monastery, removed wholesale in 1902). The nucleus of the Roman settlement is on the Lindenhof, a hill between the Limmat and Sihl rivers. The Roman vicus of Turicum first belonged to the province of Gallia Belgica, and to Germania superior from AD 90. Following Constantine's reform of the Empire in 318, the border between the praetorian prefectures of Gaul and Italy was just east of Turicum crossing the Linth between Lake Zürich and Walensee. Roman Turicum was not fortified, but there was a small garrison at the tax-collecting point, set up not exactly on the border, but downstream of Lake Zürich, where the goods entering Gaul were loaded onto larger ships. South of the castle, at the location of the St. Peter church, there was a temple to Jupiter. The earliest record of the town's name is preserved on a 2nd century tombstone found in the 18th century on Lindenhof, referring to the Roman castle as STA(tio) TUR(i)CEN(sis).

The city's patron saints, Felix and Regula according to legend were executed at the location of the Wasserkirche in 286.

The Alamanni settled in the Swiss plateau from the 5th century, but the Roman castle persisted into the 7th century. The earliest manuscript mention of the settlement, as castellum turegum, describes the mission of Columban in 610. An 8th century list of toponyms from Ravenna mentions Ziurichi. There is a legendary account of an Alamannic duke Uotila residing on, and giving his name to, the Üetliberg.


The earliest inhabitants of the future site of Zurich were the lake dwellers. The Celtic Helvetians had a settlement on the Lindenhof when they were succeeded by the Romans, who established a custom station here for goods going to and coming from Italy; during their rule Christianity was introduced early in the 3rd century by Felix and Regula, with whom Exuperantius was afterwards associated. The district was later occupied by the Alamanni, who were conquered by the Franks.

German Empire (746-1351)

Zürich was part of Frankish ruled Alemannia from 746, following the blood court at Cannstatt, lying in the Turgowe (Thurgau) dominated by Konstanz.

A Carolingian castle, built on the site of the now ruined Roman castle by the grandson of Charlemagne, Louis the German, is mentioned in 835 ("in castro Turicino iuxta fluvium Lindemaci"). Louis also founded the Fraumünster abbey on July 21 853 for his daughter Hildegard. He endowed the Benedictine convent with the lands of Zürich, Uri, and the Albis forest, and granted the convent immunity, placing it under his direct authority.

In 1045, King Henry III granted the convent the right to hold markets, collect tolls, and mint coins, and thus effectively made the abbess the ruler of the city.

Zürich became reichsunmittelbar in 1218 with the extinction of the main line of the Zähringer family. A city wall was built during the 1230s, enclosing 38 hectares. The Bahnhofstrasse marks the course of the western moat. The earliest citizens' stone houses at the Rennweg date to this period, using the dilapidated Carolingian castle as a quarry.

Emperor Frederick II promoted the abbess of the Fraumünster to the rank of a duchess in 1234. The abbess assigned the mayor, and she frequently delegated the minting of coins to citizens of the city. However, the political power of the convent slowly waned in the fourteenth century, beginning with the establishment of the Zunftordnung (guild laws) in 1336 by Rudolf Brun, who also became the first independent mayor, i.e. not assigned by the abbess. From this time, the city increasingly came under the domination of the Zünfte, a process only fully completed in the 16th century with the suspension of the monasteries following the reformation.

The Codex Manesse, a major source of medieval German poetry, was written and illustrated in the early [4th century in Zürich.

The name Zurich is possibly derived from the Celtic dur (water). It is first mentioned in 807 under the form Turigus, then in 853 as Turegus. The Latinized form is Turicum, but the false form Tigurum was given currency by Glareanus and held its ground from 1512 to 1748. It is not till the 9th century that we find the beginnings of the Teutonic town of Zurich, which arose from the union of four elements: (1) the royal house and castle on the Lindenhof, with the king's tenants around, (2) the Gross Münster, (3) the Frau Münster, (4) the community of free men (of Alamanian origin) on the Zurichberg. Similarly we can distinguish four stages in the constitutional development of the town: (I.) the gradual replacing (c. 1250) of the power of the abbess by that (real, though not nominal) of the patricians, (ii.) the admittance of the craft gilds (1336) to a share with the patricians in the government of the town, (iii.) the granting of equal political rights (1831) to the country districts, ruled as subject lands by the burghers, and (iv.) the reception as burghers of the numerous immigrants who had settled in the town (Derived from Free Public Domain: Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition)

The Frankish kings had special rights over their tenants, were the protectors of the two churches, and had jurisdiction over the free community. In. 870 the sovereign placed his powers over all four in the hands of a single official (the Reichsvogt), and the union was still further strengthened by the wall built round the four settlements in the 10th century as a safeguard against Saracen marauders and feudal barons. The Reichsvogtei passed to the counts of Lenzburg (1063-1173), and then to the dukes of Zahringen (extinct 1218). Meanwhile the abbess of the Benedictine Frau Münster had been acquiring extensive rights and privileges over all the inhabitants, though she never obtained the criminal jurisdiction. The town flourished greatly in the 12th and 13th centuries, the silk trade being introduced from Italy. In 1218 the Reichsvogtei passed back into the hands of the king, who appointed one of the burghers as his deputy, the town thus becoming a free imperial city under the nominal rule of a distant sovereign. The abbess in 1234 became a princess of the empire, but power rapidly passed from her to the council which she had originally named to look after police, but which came to be elected by the burghers, though the abess was still the lady of Zurich. This council (all powerful since 1304) was made up of the representatives of certain knightly and rich mercantile families (the patricians ), who excluded the craftsmen from all share in the government, though it was to these last that the town was largely indebted for its rising wealth and importance.

Old Swiss Confederacy (1351–1519)

Zürich joined the Swiss confederation (which at that point was a loose confederation of de facto independent states) as the fifth member in 1351. Zürich was expelled from the confederation in 1440 due to a war with the other member states over the territory of Toggenburg (the Old Zürich War). Zürich was defeated in 1446, and re-admitted to the confederation in 1450.

During the later half of the 15th century, Zürich managed to substantially increase the territory under its control, gaining the Thurgau (1460), Winterthur (1467), Stein am Rhein (1459/84) and Eglisau (1496). Zürich position in the Confederacy was improved further with its role in the Burgundy Wars under Hans Waldmann. From 1468 to 1519, Zürich was the Vorort of the Federal Diet.

In October 1291 the town made an alliance with Uri and Schwyz, and in 1292 failed in a desperate attempt to seize the Habsburg town of Winterthur. After that Zurich began to display strong Austrian leanings, which characterize much of its later history. In 1315 the men of Zurich fought against the Swiss Confederates at Morgarten. The year 1336 marks the admission of the craftsmen to a share in the town government, which was brought about by Rudolf Brun, a patrician. Under the new constitution (the main features of which lasted till 1798) the Little Council was made up of the burgomaster and thirteen members from the " Constafel " (which included the old patricians and the wealthiest burghers) and the thirteen masters of the craft gilds, each of the twenty-six holding office for six months. The Great Council of 200 (really 212) members consisted of the Little Council, plus 78 representatives each of the Constafel and of the gilds, besides 3 members named by the burgomaster. The office of burgomaster was created and given to Brun for life. Out of this change arose a quarrel with one of the branches of the Habsburg family, in consequence of which Brun was induced to throw in the lot of Zurich with the Swiss Confederation (May 1351). The double position of Zurich as a free imperial city and as a member of the Everlasting League was soon found to be embarrassing to both parties In 1373 and again in 1393 the powers of the Constafel were limited and the majority in the executive secured to the craftsmen, who could then aspire to the burgomastership. Meanwhile the town had been extending its rule far beyond its walls, a process which began in the 14th, and attained its height in the 15th century (1362-1467). This thirst for territorial aggrandizement brought about the first civil war in the Confederation (the " Old Zurich War," 1436-50), in which, at the fight of St. Jacob on the Sihl (1443), under the walls of Zurich, the men of Zurich were completely beaten and their burgomaster Stissi slain. The purchase of the town of Winterthur from the Habsburgs (1467) marks the culmination of the territorial power of the city. It was to the men of Zurich and their leader Hans Waldmann that the victory of Morat (1476) was due in the Burgundian War; and Zurich took a leading part in the Italian campaign of 1512-15, the burgomaster Schmid naming the new duke of Milan (1512). No doubt her trade connections with Italy led her to pursue a southern policy, traces of which are seen as early as 1331 in an attack on the Val Leventina and in 1478, when Zurich men were in the van at the fight of Giornico, won by a handful of Confederates over 12,000 Milanese troops.

In 1400 the town obtained from the King Wenceslaus the Reichsvogtei, which carried with it complete immunity from the empire and the right of criminal jurisdiction. As early as 1393 the chief power had practically fallen into the hands of the Great Council, and in 1498 this change was formally recognized. (Derived from Free Public Domain: Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition)

This transfer of all power to the guilds had been one of the aims of the burgomaster Hans Waldmann (1483-89), who wished to make Zurich a great commercial centre. He also introduced many financial and moral reforms, and subordinated the interests of the country districts to those of the town. He practically ruled the Swiss Confederation, and under him Zurich became the real capital of the League. But such great changes excited opposition, and he was overthrown and executed. His main ideas were embodied, however, in the constitution of 1498, by which the patricians became the first of the gilds, and which remained in force till 1798; some special rights were also given to the subjects in country districts. It was the prominent part taken by Zurich in adopting and propagating (against the strenuous opposition of the Constafel) the principles of the Reformation (the Frau Münster being suppressed in 1524) which finally secured for it the lead in the Confederation

Reformation (1519-1531)

Zwingli started the Swiss reformation at the time when he was the main preacher in Zürich at the Grossmünster. He started his preaching there by preaching systematically through Matthew which was a huge difference from almost every other priest that preached through the liturgical cycle of readings issued by the Church. He lived and preached in Zürich from 1484 until his death in 1531 at the defeat of Zürich in the second war of Kappel. Zwingli's Zürich Bible first appeared in 1531 and continued to be revised until the present day.

"Republic of Zürich" (1531-1798)

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the patriciate and council of Zürich adopted an increasingly aristocratic and isolationist attitude. A sign of this was the second ring of impressive city ramparts was built in 1642 under the impression of the Thirty Years' War. The funds required for this ambitious project were imposed on the subject territories without consultation, resulting in revolts that were crushed by force. From 1648, the city changed its official status from Reichsstadt to Republik, thus likening itself to city republics like Venice and Genova.

An important source for Zürich under Heinrich Bullinger is the Wickiana, a collection of curious documents from 1560 to 1587.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, a distinct tendency becomes observable in the town government to limit power to the actual holders. Thus the country districts were consulted for the last time in 1620 and 1640; and a similar breach of the charters of 1489 and 1531 (by which the consent of these districts was required for the conclusion of important alliances, war and peace, and might be asked for as to other matters) occasioned disturbances in 1777. The council of 200 came to be largely chosen by a small committee of the members of the gilds actually sitting in the councilby the constitution of 1713 it consisted of 50 members of the Little Council (named for a fixed term by the Great Council), 18 members named by the Constafel, and 144 selected by the 12 gilds, these 162 (forming the majority) being co-opted for life by those members of the two councils who belonged to the gild to which the deceased member himself had belonged. Early in the 18th century a determined effort was made to crush by means of heavy duties the flourishing rival silk trade in Winterthur. It was reckoned that about 1650 the number of privileged burghers was 9000, while their rule extended over 170,000 persons. The first symptoms of active discontent appeared later among the dwellers by the lake, who founded in 1794 a club at Stafa and claimed the restoration of the liberties of 1489 and 1531, a movement which was put down by force of arms in 1795. The old system of government perished in Zurich, as elsewhere in Switzerland, in February 1798, and under the Helvetic constitution the country districts obtained political liberty. (Derived from Free Public Domain: Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition)

Napoleonic era (1798-1815)

Zürich lost much of its power in the Helvetic Republic, with territory lost to the Aargau, the Thurgau and the Canton of Linth. In 1799, the city became even a battlefield of the French Revolutionary Wars of the Second Coalition, at the First Battle of Zürich in June and the Second Battle of Zürich in September. Gottfried Keller became an intellectual influence on the Radical "free-thinking" side in the formation of Switzerland as a federal state.
The environs of Zurich are famous in military history on account of the two battles of 1799 (French Revolutionary Wars). In the first battle (4 June) the French under General André Masséna, on the defensive, were attacked by the Austrians under the Archduke Charles, Massena retiring behind the Limmat before the engagement had reached a decisive stage. The second and far more important battle took place on the 25th and 26th of September. Massena, having forced the passage of the Limmat, attacked and totally defeated the Russians and their Austrian allies under Korsakov's command.

Modern history (after 1815)

In 1839, the city had to yield to the demands of its rural subjects, following the Züriputsch of 6 September. Most of the ramparts built in the 17th centuries were torn down, without ever having been sieged, to allay rural concerns over the city's hegemony.

The Limmatquai was built in several stages between 1823 and 1859 along the right side of the Limmat.

From 1847, the Spanisch-Brötli-Bahn, the first railway on Swiss territory, connected Zürich with Baden, putting the Zürich Main Station at the origin of the Swiss rail network. The present building of the Hauptbahnhof (main railway station) dates to 1871. The emergence of the Sechseläuten as the city's (more properly, the Zünfte's) most prominent traditional holiday dates to this period.

The Ötenbach monastery, founded 1285, fell victim to the increasingly grand city planning in 1902, with the entire hill it was built on removed to make way for the new Uraniastrasse and administration buildings. It had been serving as a prison, and the inmates were moved to the newly completed cantonal prison in Regensdorf.


But under the cantonal constitution of 1814 matters were worse still, for the town (10,000 inhab.) had 130 representatives in the Great Council, while the country districts (200,000 inhab.) had only 82. A great meeting at Uster on the 22nd of November 1830 demanded that two-thirds of the members in the Great Council should be chosen by the country districts; and in 1831 a new constitution was drawn up on these lines, the town getting 71 representatives as against 141 allotted to the country districts, though it was not till 1837-38 that the town finally lost the last relics of the privileges which it had so long enjoyed as compared with the country districts. From 1803 to 1814 Zurich was one of the six directorial cantons, its chief magistrate becoming for a year the chief magistrate of the Confederation, while in 1815 it was one of the three cantons, the government of which acted for two years as the Federal government when the diet was not sitting. In 1833 Zurich tried hard to secure a revision of the Federal constitution and a strong central government. The town was the Federal capital for 1839-40, and consequently the victory of the Conservative party there in 1839 (due to indignation at the nomination by the Radical government to a theological chair in the university of David Strauss, the author of the famous Life of Jesus) caused a great stir throughout Switzerland. But when in 1845 the Radicals regained power at Zurich, which was again the Federal capital for 1845-46, that town took the lead in opposing the Sonderbund cantons. It of course voted in favor of the Federal constitutions of 1848 and of 1874, while the cantonal constitution of 1869 was remarkably advanced for the time. The enormous immigration from the country districts into the town from the "thirties" onwards created an industrial class which, though "settled" in the town, did not possess the privileges of burghership, and consequently had no share in the municipal government. First of all in 1860 the town schools, opend to "settlers" only on paying high fees, were made accessible to all, next in 1875 ten years' residence ipso facto conferred the right of burghership, while in 1893 the eleven outlying districts (largely peopled by working folk) were incorporated with the town proper. The town and canton continued to be on the Liberal, or Radical, or even Socialistic side, while from 1848 to 1907 they claimed 7 of the 37 members of the Federal executive or Bundesrat, these 7 having filled the presidential chair of the Confederation in twelve years, no canton surpassing this record. From 1833 onwards the walls and fortifications of Zurich were little by little pulled down, thus affording scope for the extension and beautification of the town. (Derived from Free Public Domain: Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition)

Zurich was accidentally bombed during World War II.

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