BERN, SWITZERLAND (Fr. Berne), the capital of the Swiss canton of the same name, and, by a Federal law of 1848, the political capital of the Swiss confederation. It is most picturesquely situated on a high bluff or peninsula, round the base of which flows the river Aar, thus completely cutting off the old town, save to the west. Five lofty bridges have been thrown over the Aar, the two most modern being the Kirchfeld and Kornhaus bridges which have greatly contributed to create new residential quarters near the old town. Within the town the arcades (or Lauben) on either side of the main street, and the numerous elaborately ornamented fountains attract the eye, as well as the two remaining towers that formerly stood on the old walls but are now in the centre of the town; the Zeilglockenthurm (famous for its singular 16th-century clock, with its mechanical contrivances, set in motion when the hour strikes) and the Käficthurm. The principal medieval building in Bern is the (now Protestant) Münster, begun in 1421 though not completed till 1573. The tower, rising conspicuously above the town, has recently been well restored, but the church was never a cathedral church (as is often stated), for there has never yet been a bishop of Bern. The federal Houses of Parliament (Bundeshaus) were much enlarged in 1888-1892, the older portions dating from 1852-1857, and also contain the offices of the federal executive and administration. The town-hall dates from 1406, while some of the houses belonging to the old gilds contain much of interest. The town library (with which that of the university was incorporated in 1905) contains a vast store of MSS. and rare printed books, but should be carefully distinguished from the national Swiss library, which, with the building for the federal archives, is built in the new Kirchfeld quarter. There are a number of museums; the historical (archaeological and medieval), the natural history (in which the skin of Barry, the famous St Bernard dog, is preserved), the art (mainly modern Swiss pictures), and the Alpine (in which are collections of all kinds relating to the Swiss Alps). Bern possesses a university (founded in 1834) and two admirably organized hospitals. The old fortifications (Schanzen) have been converted into promenades, which command wonderful views of the snowy Alps of the Bernese Oberland. Just across the Nydeck bridge is the famous bear pit in which live bears are kept, as they are supposed to have given the name to the town; certainly a bear is shown on the earliest known town seal (1224), while live bears have been maintained at the charges of the town since 1513. There is comparatively little industrial activity in the town, the importance of which is mainly political, though of late years it has been selected as the seat of various international associations (postal, telegraph, railway, copyright, etc.). The climate is severe, as the town is much exposed to cold winds blowing from the snowy Alps. In point of population it is exceeded in Switzerland by Zürich, Basel and Geneva, though the number of inhabitants has risen from 27,558 in 1850 and 43,197 in 1880 to 64,227 in 1900. In 1900, 59,698 inhabitants were German-speaking; while 57,144 were Protestants, 6087 Romanists (including Old Catholics) and 655 Jews. The height of the town above the sea-level is 1788 ft.
The ancient castle of Nydeck, at the eastern end of the peninsula, guarded the passage over the Aar, and it was probably its existence that induced Berchtold V., duke of Zäringen, to found Bern in 1191 as a military post on the frontier between the Alamannians (German-speaking) and the Burgundians (French-speaking). Thrice the walls which protected the town were moved westwards, about 1250, in 1346 and in 1622, though even at the last-named date the town only stretched a little way to the west of (or beyond) the present railway station. After the extinction of the Zäringen dynasty (1218) Bern became a free imperial city, but it had to fight hard for its independence, which was finally secured by the victories of Dornbühl (1298) over Fribourg and the Habsburgs, and of Laupen (1339) over the neighbouring Burgundian nobles. In the second battle Bern received help from the three forest cantons with which it had become allied in 1323, while in 1353 it entered the Swiss confederation as its eighth member. It soon took the lead in the confederation, though always aiming at enlarging its own borders, even at great risks (see the article on the canton). In 1528 Bern accepted the religious reformation, and henceforth became one of its chief champions in Switzerland. In the 17th century the number of families by which high offices of state could be held was diminished, so that in 1605 there were 152 thus qualified, but in 1691 only 104, while towards the end of the 18th century there were only 69 such families. Meanwhile the rule of the town was extending over more and more territory, so that finally it governed 52 bailiwicks (acquired between 1324 and 1729), the Bernese patricians being thus extremely powerful and forming an oligarchy that administered affairs like a benevolent and well-ordered despotism. In 1723 Major Davel, at Lausanne, and in 1749 Henzi, in Bern itself, tried to break down this monopoly, but in each case paid the penalty of failure on the scaffold. The whole system was swept away by the French in 1798, and though partially revived in 1815, came to an end in 1831, since which time Bern has been in the van of political progress. From 1815 to 1848 it shared with Zürich and Lucerne the supreme rule (which shifted from one to the other every two years) in the Swiss confederation, while in 1848 a federal law made Bern the sole political capital, where the federal government is permanently fixed and where the ministers of foreign powers reside.
Authorities. - Die Alp- und Weidewirthschaft im Kant. Bern (Bern, 1903); Archiv d. hist. Vereins d. Kant. Bern, from 1848, and Blätter für bernische Geschichte, from 1905; Bernische Biographien (Bern, 1898-1906); E. Friedli, Bärndutsch als Spiegel bernischen Volkstums. vol. i. (Lützelflüh, Bern, 1905), and vol. ii. (Grindelwald, Bern, 1908); Festschrift zur 7ten Säkularfeier d. Gründung Berns, 1191 (Bern, 1891); Fontes Rerum Bernensium (to 1378), (9 vols., Bern, 1883-1908); K. Geiser, Geschichte d. bernischen Verfassung, 1191-1471 (Bern, 1888); B. Haller, Bern in seinen Rathsmanualen, 1465-1565 (3 vols., Bern, 1900-1902); E.F. and W.F. von Mülinen, Beiträge zur Heimathskunde d. Kantons Bern, deulschen Theils (3 vols., Bern, 1879-1894); W.F. von Mülinen, Berns Geschichte, 1191-1891 (Bern, 1891); E. von Rodt, Bernische Stadtgeschichte (Bern, 1888), and 6 finely illustrated vols. on Bern in the 13th to 19th centuries (Bern, 1898-1907); L.S. von Tscharner, Rechtsgeschichte des Obersimmenthales bis zum Jahre 1798 (Bern, 1908); E. von Wattenwyl, Geschichte d. Stadt u. Landschaft Bern (to 1400), (2 vols.); Schaffhausen and Bern (1867-1872); F.E. Welti, Die Rechtsquellen d. Kant. Bern, vol. i. (Aarau, 1902); Gertrud Züricher, Kinderspiel u. Kinderlied im Kant. Bern (Zürich, 1902).
(W. A. B. C.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)