On the shores of the River Aare, close to the Jura Mountains, the Swiss German-speaking town of Solothurn (Soleure in French) is the capital of its similarly named Canton. Approximately 40 km away from Bern, the capital city of Switzerland, Solothurn is easily accessible by public transportation. If you spend some time in the region, we suggest heading over to Basel, Fribourg, Murten or Thun.
The word Solothurn comes from the Latin ‘Salodurum’ used to designate the Roman camp that occupied the site of the current town. The Roman settlement probably dates back to 15-25 CE. Several temples dedicated to Roman gods and a castrum (military camp) had been erected, but everything has been destroyed over time. Today, the town is a flourishing cultural centre: the annual Swiss Film Festival is an example. Furthermore, Solothurn holds several monuments dating back to the 16th to the 18th Centuries. From 1530 to 1792, Solothurn hosted the seat of the French king’s ambassador: since then, the town has also been known as the ‘ambassador’s town’.
With less than 20,000 inhabitants, Solothurn is a small but lovely town. Its well-preserved baroque centre is definitely worth a visit. The historical centre is only a few hundred metres away from the railway station; several daily train services from Geneva, Lausanne, Bern and Basel call in Solothurn on their way to Zurich and Saint-Gallen. The old town of Solothurn is entirely pedestrian and packed with the finest examples of Swiss Baroque architecture. The most impressive monument is probably Saint Ursus’ Cathedral. Its large Neo-Classical silhouette can be seen from all around the town. The Baroque stucco covering the inside of the cathedral make it a beautiful example of the combination of styles.
Saint Ursus has been venerated in Solothurn since the 5th Century. The original church at the place of the current cathedral dates back to the Early Middle Ages. Over the centuries, it has been extended and remodeled to match the time’s standards and styles. The current footprint of the monument was designed in the 18th Century: at the time, the local authorities decided to renovate the deteriorated Gothic church. Gaetano Matteo Pisoni, an architect from Ascona in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, was in charge of this project. His nephew, Paolo Antonio Pisoni, ultimately finished the work as his uncle was dismissed because of disagreements with the local authorities. Another landmark is the Medieval clock tower, Solothurn's oldest monument. Dating back to the 13th century, the tower hosts a 16th-Century astronomical clock by Lorenz Liechti and Joachim Habrecht. Decorated with three symbolic figures of life, namely the knight, the king and the skeleton, the clock displays days, months and years.
Beside the Cathedral of Solothurn and the Clock Tower, the old town hosts several historical buildings. Some of them are small shops and inns, fountains and much of the town is surrounded by still-standing pieces of the fortified walls, gates and bastions. Do not forget to have a taste of the local delicacy: the Solothurner Torte. This round cake consists of a delicious combination of hazelnut biscuit, meringue and buttercream. You can find it seemingly in all patisseries and confectioneries in the old town. An 18 cm torte costs approximately 35 Swiss Francs (approximately 30 euros) - Switzerland is expensive!- but is definitely worth it!
Cover photo © credits to Marie-Madeleine & Giuseppe
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