* Irene's Country Corner * - Around the World - Switzerland


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Pays de Fribourg - Freiburgerland

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Fribourg, an old town remarkably preserved


Administrative center of the canton of the same name, the region is made up of the parishes of Corminboeuf, Düdingen, Ecuvillens, Givisiez, Granges-Paccot, Grolley, Marly, Matran, Pierrafortscha, Posieux, Villarsel-sur-Marly and Villars-sur-Glâne.

Curled up within the bends of the Sarine, Fribourg was founded in 1157 by duke Berthold IV of Zaehringen, as part of his consolidation of regional power, which also saw the establishment of Bern, Burgdorf, Thun and Murten, as well as Freiburg-im-Breisgau northeast of Basel in Germany.

After 1218, the Zähringens were succeeded by the Counts of Kyburg, who were themselves bought out by the Austrian Habsburgs in 1277. Fribourg passed from hand to hand with each succession. In 1452, the House of Savoy took over, although in the Burgundian Wars shortly afterwards Fribourg backed the victorious Swiss against Savoy, and so became a free city.

Fribourg remained Catholic throughout the Reformation (and is still determinedly Catholic today). Virtually surrounded by Protestant Bern, it became a place of refuge for the exiled bishops of Geneva and Lausanne. The oligarchic ruling families retained their grip on power even throughout the 1798 upheavals, and in 1846 Fribourg joined the reactionary Sonderbund, fighting against Protestant liberalism all around. It lost, and suffered expulsion of its Jesuits as revenge. Intolerance was short-lived, though: Jews were allowed to return to Fribourg in 1866 after almost 400 years of banishment from the city, and a local entrepreneur, Georges Python, founded the Catholic university in 1889.

Fribourg stagnated for much of the twentieth century, stymied by economic depression, but the boom of the last third of the century has brought new wealth and energy to the city. It gradually became an economic center, a process completed in the middle of the 19th century by the construction of the Berne-Lausanne railway line and Fribourg station, around which the modern town was to develop.


© Irene. Not for download. Picture scanned from a postcard I bought in Fribourg.

The old town as a coherent urban whole, astonishingly beautiful and remarkably preserved, constitutes one of the finest groups of medieval architecture in Europe and is proving to be an attraction unique in Switzerland.

In this picture, you can see the Sarine and on the right, the Pont de Zaehringen. In the middle, the St. Nicholas Cathedral and its 73-meter-high tower.


Steep, cobbled streets, bedecked with wrought-iron lamp standards and ornate inn signs, are picturesque and characterful. Bridges, from medieval wooden fords to lofty modern valley spans, provide views back across the town of the old houses piled up together on the slopes.

On the left, a better view of the Zaehringen bridge and the tower of the cathedral. I took this picture from the site where the Loreto Chapel is located.

© Irene. Not for download.


© Irene. Not for download.

On top of the hill on the right, the Loreto Chapel (Chapelle de Lorette) and a tower of the "remparts" (on the left).


The Chapelle de Lorette (Loreto Chapel), a baroque building (1647-48) which offers a magnificent view of the old town of Fribourg, is a smaller copy of Santa Casa de Loreto, in Italy.

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Fribourg is perhaps Switzerland’s most amiable and easygoing town, thoroughly modern at heart despite the medieval appearance of some quarters. It is small enough to have kept most of its city center residential, but large enough to have attracted a lively, cosmopolitan mix of people to fuel the community atmosphere.


One of the country’s most prestigious universities – and its sole Catholic one – attracts a massive student body to Fribourg from all over the country, and especially from Italian-speaking Ticino, thereby generating a social dynamism that is tangible on the streets. In addition, the Sarine (Saane, in German), which carves a path through the town, is the local defining line of the Röstigraben.

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Fribourg is split roughly 70:30 between French speakers, who are a majority on the western bank; and Swiss-German speakers, who form a majority on the eastern bank.

The town’s radio station has two separate channels, many streets have two names, and almost everyone is instinctively bilingual.


The fortifications of Fribourg are the most representative of medieval military architecture in Switzerland. There two kilometres of ramparts, a big boulevard, and 14 towers. The city has 11 historical fountains that date from the Middle Ages and many bridges, for it was built on a bend in the Sarine River.



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Shopping streets lead east to the busy Place Python, at the centre of the modern city. From there, three routes lead into the Old Town. To the south, the trafficky Route des Alpes is supported on pillars above Neuveville, but its valley-side railings offer wonderful views of the river and of Fribourg’s rustic location.

On the left, the tower of the cathedral, seen from Route des Alpes.


Among the many bridges of Fribourg there are: The Berne Bridge (mid-18th-century; Fribourg's last covered wooden bridge; 40 metres long); The Middle Bridge (1720; four arches made of tufa stone; 70 metres long); St. John's Bridge (1746; three arches made of tufa stone); The Zaehringen Bridge (1924; 265 metres long; formerly a suspension bridge); The Gottéron Bridge (1956-1960; 150 metres long; formerly a suspension bridge).

The central Rue de Lausanne, a picturesque cobbled thoroughfare of pavement cafés and bookshops, heads directly downhill from Place Python.

All routes from the new town converge in the Old Town’s most historically important and prestigious district, known as the Bourg, home to churches, the cathedral, the town hall and an array of mansions and patrician townhouses.

The Bourg’s central square is a small space actually comprising four separate areas. The Brazilian city Nova-Friburgo, in the Rio de Janeiro state, which is a hommage to the Switzerland Fribourg city, gives name to the Place de Nova-Fribourgo, at the foot of Rue de Lausanne, with, opposite it, Place de l’Hôtel de Ville. Next to it is a tree-lined square known either as Place des Ormeaux (Square of the Elm Trees) or Place de Tilleul (Square of the Lime Tree); and next to that is Place de Notre-Dame.

In Fribourg, specially around the Rue de Lausanne area, it is not so difficult to find some Brazilians, who are either tourists, students or residents of Fribourg.


On the left, the Sarine and the roofs of the houses of Bourg.


An impressive presence to one side is the late-Gothic Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), a highly photogenic building dating from 1501–22, whose double exterior staircase was added in 1663. St. George spears the dragon on a fountain statue dating from 1525 in the square in front of the building.



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Fribourg’s highlight is the Gothic style St-Nicolas Cathedral, just off Place Notre-Dame, lying about 50m over the Sarine. Built over a church dating from the city’s foundation in 1157, the present building was begun in 1283 and took over two centuries to complete (1283-1490).

The cathedral has a rich architectural decor and houses precious objects from various periods, including Aloys Mooser's famous organs, Jozef Mehoffer's stained-glass windows and Alfred Manessier's Holy Sepulchre.


When night falls on December, 6, St. Nicolas (St. Nicholas), the patron saint of Fribourg, rides a donkey through the streets of the Old City leading a procession towards the platform erected under the portico of the cathedral. From the tribune, the student playing the role of the saint addresses the large crowd assembled in the square.

This traditional celebration of St. Nicholas Day, which can also be found elsewhere in the canton, e.g. Bulle, and which was revived at the beginning of this century, dates back to an ancient custom celebrated in Fribourg in the eighteenth century: the miracle performed by St. Nicholas.

According to the legend, St. Nicholas brought three children back to life after they had been cut up by a butcher and put in the salting tub. This story, which is depicted on the cathedral portico in Fribourg, has established St. Nicholas as the tutelary saint of children, especially boys, while St. Catherine is the guardian angel for girls.

St. Catherine's Day, November 25, used to be celebrated in similar fashion in Fribourg.


From the top of the tower, a 74-metre-high tower open to the public from mid-June to the end of September, there is a beautiful view of the whole city. The stairs of the tower have a total of 368 steps. If you are planning to visit the city and the tower, be prepared to go up in a narrow spiral until the top and hope there will not be so many people going the other way around. :o)

© Irene. Not for download.


© Irene. Not for download.

On the right, St. Nicholas Cathedral, seen from the Place Notre-Dame. About fifty metres north of it is the porticoed Basilique Notre-Dame, with white-and-gold stucco work dating from the late eighteenth century adorning the spacious, airy interior.

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This page was created on: February 28, 2002.
Last updated on: July 8, 2008.
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Information about Fribourg from Terre de Fribourg - 1980, Editions Fragnière S.A.,
A Rough Guide to Switzerland, by Rough Guides Ltd, London, from
Switzerland.isyours, Le Pays de Fribourg & Fribourg Tourism.



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