Early History of Zurich

Settlements of the 19th-century Neolithic and Bronze Age were discovered near and in Lake Zürich. In 2004, a formerly unknown Celtic, Iron Age La Tene settlement was discovered on the previous site of the Otenbach monastery in the city, which preceded the Romans.

In Roman times, a provincial civilian settlement, called Turicum, was situated on the territory of present-day Zürich, which was initially the Roman province of Gallia Belgica and Upper Germania after AD 90. Upper Germania comprised southwest Germany, the French Alsace and Jura regions, as well as western Switzerland.

After Emperor Constantine’s reforms in AD 318, the border between Gaul and Italy (two of the four praetorian prefectures of the Roman Empire) was located east of Turicum, crossing the Linth River between Lake Walen and Lake Zürich, where a castle and garrison looked over Turicum’s safety. The earliest written record of the town dates from the 2nd century, with a tombstone referring to this castle discovered at Lindenhof, in Zürich.

The patron saints of Zürich are Felix and Regula and their feast day is September 11. Legend has it that they were siblings in the Theban legion. The legion members were to be executed in AD 286, thus the siblings fled to Zürich, where they were caught, tried and executed. They continued walking uphill after they had been decapitated and were buried on the spot where they finally collapsed. A small abbey stood on this site in the 9th century. Around 1100, the Great Minster, one of Zürich’s three most impressive churches, was built on their graves, and the Wasser Church was erected on the site of their execution. Images of the saints began to be used on coins and official city seals in the 1200s.

In the 5th century, the Germanic Alamanni tribe settled in the Swiss plateau, which comprises the regions between the Alps and Jura and forms some 30 percent of modern-day Swiss territory. The Roman castle remained standing until the 7th century. The earliest historic mention of the Germanic settlement describes the mission of St Columbanus in AD 610. Canonised after his death, this Irish missionary founded numerous monasteries in the Italian and Frankish kingdoms around AD 590.

Ziurichi is mentioned on an 8th-century toponymic list from Ravenna, a city in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. Here is a mythical account of the Germanic duke Uotila living on, and giving his name to, the Uetliberg mountain, which is located in the Swiss plateau, which offers a memorable view of Zürich and its lake.

Zurich as the part of the German Empire

In AD 746, Zürich became part of Alemannia, after Frankish Duke Carloman executed several thousand noblemen for treason at a council in Cannstatt, known as the ‘blood court at Cannstatt’. The independence of the duchy of Alemannia came to an end, and was ruled by Frankish dukes thereafter.

The ruined Roman castle was replaced by a castle of the Carolingian dynasty, built by Louis the German, the grandson of Charlemagne, whose representatives eventually became the kings of the Franks. Louis also built the Benedictine convent Fraumunster abbey, and gave it authority over Albis forest and the lands of Uri and Zürich. By placing the convent under his direct authority, he granted it immunity. In 1045, Henry III gave the convent permission to hold markets, mint coins and collect tolls. The abbess was the effective ruler of the city as a result.

In 1218, Zürich attained a status comparable to statehood, after the last of the Zahringers, a German noble family, died. During the 1230s, a city wall enclosing 38 hectares was built, when the earliest stone houses at the Rennweg were built as well. The Carolingian castle was used as a quarry, as it had started to fall into ruin.

In 1234, Emperor Frederick II promoted the abbess of the Fraumunsterrank to duchess, who in turn appointed the mayor from then on. The duchess often delegated the minting of coins to citizens of the city. However, the political influence of the convent began to diminish in the 1300s, a process motivated by the establishment of guild laws by Rudolf Brun in 1336. Brun became the first mayor not appointed by the abbess. The guilds came to dominate the city, and as a consequence of the Protestant reformation in the 16th Century, the monasteries diminished. However, an important event in the early 14th Century was the completion of the Manesse Codex, a key source of medieval German poetry written and illustrated in Zürich.

Old Swiss Confederacy

On May 1, 1351, the citizens of Zürich had to swear allegiance before representatives of the cantons of Lucerne, Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden, the other members of the Swiss Confederacy. Thus, Zürich became the fifth member of the confederacy.

However, Zürich was expelled in 1440 after declaring war on the other states over succession to the territory of Toggenburg. This was known as the Old Zürich War. In 1436, Count Friedrich VII of Toggenburg died without leaving an heir or will. Zürich claimed Toggenburg territory, but so did also Glarus and Schwyz. Zürich occupied the disputed area and cut off the grain supplies to the other two cantons in 1438.

The canton turned to Roman Emperor Frederick III for support. He appealed to Charles VII of France, after Zürich lost the battle of St Jakob an der Sihl in 1443. Charles sent a large army of mercenaries, who faced off against the Swiss confederates in the Battle of St. Jakob an der Birs, near Basel, in 1444. The French suffered heavy losses and had to retreat. Both sides were exhausted by 1446 and reached a truce. Zürich reentered the confederacy in 1450.

During the second half of the 15th century, Zürich gained many new territories, including the Thurgau, Eglisau and Winterthur. In addition, it was the presiding canton of the Swiss Diet from 1468 to 1519. This authority was the executive council and lawmaking body of the confederacy, from the Middle Ages until the establishment of the Swiss federal state in 1848.

Reformation to Napoleonic Era

Huldrych Zwingli, independent of Luther, initiated the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland and gained support of the people of Zürich in the 1520s, when he was the main preacher at the Great Minster. The Reformation resulted in major changes in state matters and civil life in Zürich, spreading also to a number of other cantons. However, seven of the cantons remained Catholic and became the basis of serious conflicts that eventually led to the outbreak of the Wars of Kappel. The second war of Kappel, which affected Zürich to a greater extent than the first, was in 1531. The Catholic cantons achieved victory and implemented counter-reforms in some regions. The disagreements, which continued until the 18th century, caused a stagnation of the confederacy’s foreign policy because the cantons couldn’t find common ground.

The Zürich Bible, a bible translation based on that of Zwingli, was issued in 1531 and has been continuously revised thereafter. During the 1500s and 1600s, the Council of Zürich adopted an isolationist attitude, resulting in a second ring of imposing fortifications built in 1624. The Thirty Years’ War which raged across Europe motivated the canton to build these defenses. However, the fortifications required a lot of resources, which were taken from subject territories without reaching an agreement in advance. The ensuing revolts were crushed brutally. In 1648, Zürich proclaimed itself a republic, shedding its former status of a free imperial city and modeling itself on city republics like Venice.

The French Revolutionary Wars caused much strife in Zürich. The city lost territories to Linth, Thurgau and Aargau in the Helvetic Republic (1798-1803). The French overran Switzerland in 1798, and as the confederacy collapsed, a republic was proclaimed that same year. Feudal rights and cantonal sovereignty were abolished. The cantons resisted revolutionary ideals, but also failed to unite effectively against the invaders. Eventually the republic collapsed due to financial difficulties.

Furthermore, in 1799 the First Battle of Zürich ensued between France and the Second Coalition (Austria, Great Britain, Russia and the Ottoman Empire). French general Andre Massena had to give the city up to the Austrians and retreat. The French, however, regained control of Zürich in the Second Battle of Zürich that same year. Massena beat back the Austrians and Russians, and Russia withdrew from the coalition. In 1847, a war between the Catholic and Protestant cantons broke out, and only one later the federal constitution of Switzerland was adopted, making the country a federal state.

Modern History

During the 19th century, Zürich developed as Switzerland’s of trade and transport. However, Zürich was not without problems. After the Zuriputsch, a coup against the liberal local government in 1839, Zürich had to give in to the demands of the rural population; radicals felt the old religious order was in danger. Most of the 17th-century fortifications were destroyed without siege to allay concerns regarding the hegemony of the city.

Apart from these events, extensive developments took place during this century. The first railroad on the territory of Switzerland, the Spanisch-Brotli-Bahn, established a connection between Zürich and Baden in 1847. The main station was situated at the basis of the Swiss rail network. The current building of the main train station dates from 1871. The Sechselauten, a traditional guild holiday, also emerged in 1904, which includes a parade followed by burning an effigy of winter in the form a snowman containing explosives, called a Boogg (bogey or evil spirit).

Zürich’s Bahnhofstrasse (Station Street) was laid out in 1867, and the Zürich Stock Exchange was founded in 1877. In 1902, the medieval Otenbach monastery was removed to make room for the new Uraniastrasse car park and public buildings. As it was being used a prison at this time, the inmates were moved to a new prison in Regensdorf. Swiss citizens voted against joining the European Economic Area in 1992, and Switzerland is not a European Union (EU) member. It is believed that the EU’s united economic community would cause a drop in the Swiss standard of living.

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