BIENNE, or Biel, an industrial town in the Swiss canton of Bern. It is built between the N.E. end of the lake of the same name and the point at which the river Suze or Scheuss (on the right bank of which it is situated) issues from a deep cleft (called the Taubenloch) in the Jura range. Bienne is 19 m. by rail N.E. of Neuchâtel, and 21 m. N.W. of Bern. Its industrial importance is shown by the fact that it is the site of the West Swiss technical institute, which has departments for instruction in watch-making, in electricity, in engraving and chasing, and in subjects relating to railway, postal and telegraph matters. Its chief industries are watch-making, chain-making, the manufacture of machines and other objects for use on railways, etc. Its rapidly increasing commercial activity accounts no doubt for the rapid rise in its population, which in 1850 was but 3589, rose in 1870 to 8165, and in 1900 was 22,016, mainly Protestant, and two-thirds German-speaking. The parish church of St Benedict dates from 1451, but was restored in 1775 - it has some fine 15th-century painted glass in the choir. In the town is the Schwab museum, which is chiefly notable for its fine collection of objects from the lake-dwellings. To the north-west of Bienne two funicular railways lead up to Evilard (or Leubringen) and Macolin (or Magglingen), both situated on the slope of the Jura.
First mentioned in the 12th century, Bienne continued for centuries to be under the jurisdiction of the prince-bishop of Basel. In 1279 (permanently in 1352) it made an alliance with Bern, in 1344 with Soleure, and in 1382 with Fribourg. But its attempts to be admitted into the Swiss Confederation were fruitless, though after it adopted the Reformation in 1525, it was closely associated with the Protestant cantons. In 1798 it was seized by the French, but in 1815, with the greater part of the bishopric of Basel, it became part of the canton of Bern.
See C.A. Bloesch, Geschichte der Stadt Biel (to 1854), (3 vols., Biel, 1855-1856).
(W. A. B. C.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)