Neuchâtel

Neuchâtel

[noo-shuh-tel, nyoo-, noo-shuh-tel, nyoo-; Fr. nœ-shah-tel]
Neuchâtel, Ger. Neuenburg, canton (1993 pop. 162,600), 309 sq mi (800 sq km), NW Switzerland, in the Jura Mts. It is a forested region with pastures. Cattle are raised, and cheese and wine are produced. Watches, mainly manufactured at Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds, have been an important industrial product since the 18th cent. There are rich asphalt deposits at Val de Travers and an oil refinery at Cressier. The population is mainly French-speaking and Protestant. A part of Burgundy by the 10th cent., Neuchâtel was later governed by counts under the Holy Roman Empire. The county passed (1504) to the French house of Orléans-Longueville and in 1648 became independent. In 1707 it chose Frederick I of Prussia as its prince. It remained an autonomous principality, although in 1815 it became a canton of the Swiss Confederation, with which it had been allied since the 15th cent. In 1848 a revolution abolished the monarchy within Neuchâtel, and in 1857, after some complications, the king of Prussia renounced his claim to the canton. Its capital, Neuchâtel (1993 pop. 31,700), has industries that produce watches, tobacco, paper, and chocolate; it is home to a significant wine market. The town still retains a medieval aspect with its numerous statues, fountains, and old structures. It has an old church (12th-13th cent.), a castle (12th-17th cent.), and a noted university (founded 1838). The town is on the northern shore of the Lake of Neuchâtel, 24 mi (39 km) long and 4 to 5 mi (6.4-8 km) wide, which borders on the cantons of Neuchâtel, Bern, Fribourg, and Vaud. The lake is surrounded by valuable vineyards and picturesque settlements. There are many remains of lake dwellings (see La Tène).
Neuchâtel (literally: New Castle in Old French) is the capital of the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel on Lake Neuchâtel.

The city has approximately 31,500 inhabitants (2002), by and large French-speaking, although the city is sometimes referred to historically by the German name , which has the same meaning, since Prussia ruled the area until 1848.

Geography

The city is located on the northwestern shore of the lake, a few kilometers east of Peseux and west of Saint-Blaise. Above Neuchâtel, roads and train tracks rise steeply into the folds and ridges of the Jura range – known within the canton as the Montagnes Neuchâteloises. Like the continuation of the mountains to either side, this is wild and hilly country, not exactly mountainous compared with the high Alps further south but still characterized by remote, windswept settlements and deep, rugged valleys. It is also the heartland of the celebrated Swiss watchmaking industry, centred on the once-famous towns of La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle, which both rely heavily on their horological past to draw in visitors. The River Doubs marks the border with France, set down in a gorge and forming along its path an impressive waterfall, the Saut du Doubs, and lake, the Lac des Brenets.

History

In 1011, Rudolf III of Burgundy presented a new castle (neu-châtel) on the lakeshore to his wife Irmengarde. The first counts of Neuchâtel were named shortly afterwards, and in 1214 their domain was officially dubbed a city. For three centuries, the County of Neuchâtel flourished, and in 1530, the people of Neuchâtel accepted the Reformation, and their city and territory were proclaimed to be indivisible from then on. Future rulers were required to seek investiture from the citizens.

With increasing power and prestige, Neuchâtel was raised to the level of a principality at the beginning of the seventeenth century. On the death in 1707 of Mary of Orléans, Duchess of Nemours and Princess of Neuchâtel, the people had to choose her successor from among fifteen claimants. They wanted their new prince first and foremost to be a Protestant, and also to be strong enough to protect their territory but based far enough away to leave them to their own devices. Louis XIV actively promoted the many French pretenders to the title, but the Neuchâtelois people passed them over in favour of King Frederick I of Prussia, who claimed his entitlement in a rather complicated fashion through the Houses of Orange and Nassau. With the requisite stability assured, Neuchâtel entered its golden age, with commerce and industry (including watchmaking and lace) and banking undergoing steady expansion.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the King of Prussia was defeated by Napoleon I and was forced to give up Neuchâtel in order to keep Hanover. Napoleon’s marshal, Berthier, became Prince of Neuchâtel, building roads and restoring infrastructure, but never actually setting foot in his domain. After the fall of Napoleon, Frederick III of Prussia reasserted his rights by proposing that Neuchâtel be linked with the other Swiss cantons (the better to exert influence over the lot of them). On September 12, 1814, Neuchâtel became the 21st canton, but also remained a Prussian principality. It took a bloodless revolution in the decades following for Neuchâtel to shake off its princely past and declare itself, in 1848, a republic within the Swiss Confederation. To this day, the Republic and Canton of Neuchâtel is the only one of the 26 to proudly fly a tricolour – green, white and red, with a minute Swiss cross hanging in the top corner .

Economy

Renowned for its watch industry, Neuchâtel has been able to position itself as the heart of micro-technology and high-tech industry. During the last 20 years, the region of Neuchâtel has attracted many leading companies in the high-tech sectors such as medical technology, micro technology, biotechnology, machines & equipments, IT and clean technologies. The Canton developed a worldwide recognized know-how in innovation and R&D.

A local well-educated work force, linguistically gifted as well as competitive conditions contributed to position the region as a leader in high-technology industries. Supported by leading-edge research centres and well-known organizations such Swiss Centre of electronics and micro techniques (CSEM) http://www.csem.ch/, Micro technology Institute of the University IMT http://www2.unine.ch/imt, Engineer’s School of Arc Jurassien EIAJ http://www.he-arc.ch/hearc/fr/ingenierie/index_new.html, Neode (scientific and technological park)http://www.neode.ch/, Neuchâtel has been continuously improving its competitive position in the development of an innovative region. This trend will be pursued and reinforced with particular focus and support for local start-up companies and attractive conditions exogenous companies.

Main sights

Architecture

Neuchâtel’s atmospheric Old Town is extremely attractive, and random wanderings through its steep alleys are as good a way as any to appreciate the golden beauty of the architecture, as well as the 140-odd street fountains, a handful of which date from the sixteenth century. From the rather anonymous Place Pury – hub of buses and shoppers alike – with the main artery of Rue du Seyon leading northwards, alleys to the west bring you to Place des Halles, perpetually filled with talkers and drinkers spilling out of a handful of cafés. The square itself is overlooked by fine Louis XIV architecture – shuttered facades and the turreted orioles of the sixteenth-century Maison des Halles. You’ll find informal lunchtime boules sessions on the nearby Rue du Coq d’Inde, a broad, tranquil courtyard away from the bustle. A two-minute walk east, on Rue de l’Hôpital, is the grand 1790 Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), designed by Louis XVI’s chief architect Pierre-Adrien Paris.

The highlights of the Old Town are poised on the very top of the hill, accessed by the steeply winding Rue du Château. The Collégiale church, begun in 1185 and consecrated in 1276, is a graceful example of early Gothic. Stairs from Rue du Château bring you up to the east end of the church, with its three Norman apses. The main entrance (daily 8am–6pm), to the west, is crowned by a giant rose window of stained glass. Within the vaulted interior, the nave draws you along to the glowing transept, lit by a lantern tower, and the unique Cenotaph of the Counts of Neuchâtel on the north wall of the choir (shielded for renovations since 1997, and due for re-display in 2000). Begun in 1372, and the only artwork of its kind to survive north of the Alps, the monument comprises fifteen near-life-size painted statues of various knights and ladies from Neuchâtel’s past, framed by fifteenth-century arches and gables. Beside the church is the imposing Château, begun in the twelfth century and still in use as the offices of the cantonal government: entry is only on guided tours, which start from the signposted Door no. 1 (on the hour: April–Sept Mon–Fri 10am–noon & 2–4pm, Sat 10am, 11am & 2–4pm, Sun 2–4pm; free). The nearby turreted Tour des Prisons (daily 8am–6pm; 50c), remains of a medieval bastion, has panoramic views over the town, along with interesting models of Neuchâtel in different eras.

Museums

Neuchâtel has several excellent museums, including the Laténium, an archeology museum focusing on the prehistorical times in the region of Neuchâtel and Hauterive, particularly the La Tène culture; the MEN, an ethnography museum; The flagship Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Esplanade Léopold-Robert (Tues–Sun 10am–5pm, Thurs until 9pm; Fr.7, free on Thurs; SMP), and its star attractions, the astonishing Automates Jaquet-Droz (Jaquet-Droz Mechanical Figurines) are also notable.

The ground floor is devoted to the historical collections, with absorbing rooms on the history of Neuchâtel aided by an excellent self-start slide show (in English). Upstairs are the rooms devoted to fine art, which have been organized radically differently from most other museums. Instead of displaying works by period, or artist, or genre, the collection is grouped by theme, with the various rooms labelled Nature, Civilization, The Sacred, and so on. In an inspired piece of creative design harking back to earlier centuries, the curators have crammed each room with art from floor to ceiling, with medieval still lifes, contemporary abstractions, Impressionistic indulgences and more all mounted higgledy-piggledy, thereby inducing you to make dynamic connections between utterly distinct works. In each room you can climb podia – each one hung all round with paintings – in order to get a better view of the works hung high on the four walls.

But the most extraordinary exhibits are kept in a room at the rear of the ground floor: the Automates Jaquet-Droz, three mechanical figurines built to the most exacting technical standards by a Neuchâtelois watchmaker in the 1770s and still in perfect working order today. The three – the Draughtsman, the Writer and the Musician – are displayed static behind glass, with a fascinating accompanying slide-show in English by way of explanation, but if you can you should really time your visit for the first Sunday of the month, when they are brought to life for a demonstration (2pm, 3pm & 4pm only). The Draughtsman is a child sitting at a mahogany desk and holding a piece of paper with his left hand; his right hand, holding a pencil, performs extraordinarily complex motions to produce intricate little pictures of a dog, the god Eros in a chariot pulled by a butterfly, or a noble profile of Louis XV. The Writer, a chubby-cheeked little boy, also sits at a mahogany desk, with a goose quill in his right hand and a tiny pot of ink nearby for dipping. He writes in a florid and chunky style, and staggeringly enough, can even be programmed to produce any text of up to forty characters. While he writes, his eyes follow the words across the page. But perhaps the most charming of the three is the Musician, a gracious young girl with slender and dextrous fingers who plays a small organ – a real instrument, not a disguised musical-box. As her fingers strike the keys to produce the notes and her eyes, head and body move subtly from side to side in time, her chest rises and falls delicately in an imitation of rhythmic breathing. Her melodies were composed in the early 1770s by Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz, a fleeting and unique auditory time capsule from pre-Revolutionary Europe.

Pierre Jaquet-Droz (1721–90) was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds into a venerable and wealthy local family. After studying theology at university, he returned to Neuchâtel – by then already a centre for clock and watchmaking – and worked to combine his interest in mathematics with the skills of applied mechanics used by the artisans of the watch industry. By the age of 26, Jaquet-Droz had gained a reputation for technical brilliance, and in 1758 he and his father-in-law, a craftsman named Abram Sandoz, travelled to Madrid to show off the skill of Neuchâtelois clockmakers at the Spanish court (Jaquet-Droz’s so-called “Shepherd’s Clock” is still on display in one of the King of Spain’s palace museums).

Jaquet-Droz was by now wealthy enough to retreat from business life and concentrate on problems of applied mathematics, exemplified in his construction of incredibly complex mechanical figurines – the earliest of computers – designed to do particular tasks. He trained his son, Henri-Louis, and a colleague, Jean-Frédéric Leschot, to work with him; together, they produced the Writer, the Draughtsman and the Musician, and presented all three for the first time to the public in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1774. Writers of the day reported that people flocked from all over the country to see such extraordinary works of whimsy and technical skill. The same year, the three craftsmen showed their figurines in drawing rooms and royal palaces all across Europe, from London to Russia and Paris to Madrid, receiving high acclaim wherever they went. Perhaps aware of impending revolutionary violence in France and Switzerland, Jaquet-Droz sold the figurines to a collector in Spain in 1778. After the conflicts, in 1812, they reappeared in Paris and began touring again. Some twenty years later, they became the centrepiece of Martin and Bourquin’s “Museum of Illusions”, which toured Central Europe until the turn of the century. In 1906, helped by a grant from the Swiss federal government, Neuchâtel bought the figurines back, and they have been on display in the town’s museum ever since, in virtually the same condition as when they were first made, almost 230 years ago.

Culture

During the summer of 2002, Neuchâtel was one of five sites which held Expo.02, the sixth Swiss national exhibition, which was subject to financial controversy. The festival of the Fête des Vendanges, representing the wine harvest, is held traditionally in early Fall.

Notable people

Jean Piaget, Robert Miles, and Marcel Junod were all born in Neuchâtel. Friedrich Dürrenmatt lived in Neuchâtel the last 30 years of his life. Roger Schutz, founder of the Taize Community in France, was born on 12 May 1915 at the village of Provence near Neuchatel. He was stabbed to death on 16 August 2005 by a mentally deranged woman during a prayer meeting in Taize's Church of Reconciliation.

Coat of arms

The blazon of the town's coat-of-arms is: "Or, an Eagle displayed Sable beaked, langued and membered Gules, escutcheon Or, on a pale Gules three Chevrons Argent".

Gallery

See also

External links

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