The population of Lausanne in 2015 was 133,897 of which 18% are of French origin, followed by the Portuguese 17%, the Italians 11%, and in equal place, the Spanish and citizens from countries of the former Yugoslavia, 8%.  Lausanne is the capital of the Canton of Vaud, beautifully situated on hills and intervening valleys.  It enjoys the advantage of a salubrious climate and a moderate temperature in winter.

Though Lausanne is so near Geneva, its history, in historical times, has been widely different from that of the neighboring town. Geneva enjoyed a modified independence from an early date and became completely independent early in the sixteenth century. Lausanne, until nearly 300 years later, endured the domination, first of Savoy, and subsequently of Berne.

Lausanne (1624 feet a/s), is the city where Gibbon wrote the last three volumes of his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Proudly seated on the lower slope of the Mount Jorat and crowned by its ancient cathedral and castle, the beautiful capital of Canton Vaud is as fascinating as it is picturesque—with its steep streets, its high-pointed roofs and its fine terraces overlooking beautiful Lake Leman and the Savoy Alps. The town is far up on this slope, being about a mile and a quarter above the port of Ouchy.

On the Esplanade de Montbenon is the Palace of Justice, a beautiful building in the Italian Renaissance style, site of the Supreme Court, the highest judicial authority in Switzerland.

Justice Palace in the Park of Montbenon with the statue of William Tell.

Lausanne has an enviable reputation as an extremely healthy and pleasant residential town, enjoying a mild and equable winter climate. It is a suitable place of residence not only for the strong and healthy but also for the delicate. As an educational center, Lausanne is equally well known. It possesses numerous public and private schools, headed by the university, which is attended by students of all nationalities.

Seen from the Lake, it is so discursive a city that no one could venture to define its outlines. Its houses are scattered in all directions, among trees and lawns, gardens and green fields. It is as if a drop of stone-colored paint, falling from a height, had been spattered over a green cloth.

Lausanne, when seen from a distance and Lausanne when viewed from within, are two towns that are totally unlike. A more deceptive place does not exist.  From afar Lausanne seems to occupy a hill-side as smooth as a cushion. There is nothing to suggest that it contains streets, much fewer railway stations, tramlines, and shops. When, on the other hand, you enter the city, it is found to be as irregular and tumbled a town as could be imagined, a place built in detachments without a plan, a labyrinth of streets, of green terraces and gardens, many-arched bridges all joined up with a “central square” which is neither square nor central. To this very disorder, the town owes much of its attraction, due to the fact that Lausanne is located, not on an even slope, but on three abrupt hills separated by deep valleys. Were it not that these valleys are crossed by a series of bridges, life in Lausanne would consist in climbing up the hill and in walking down again.

The Grand Pont Bridge built in 1844.

From ancient prints, it can be seen that old Lausanne was a very romantic looking town. Its three hills were crowned with castle and spire, with turrets and high soaring roofs; while around it ran a zigzag wall pierced by gates and surmounted by many towers. The dwellings that made up the mass of the city were of dark wood with lofty gables. They huddled in the valleys like a drift of autumn leaves in a gully. Of the fortifications, no trace remains with the exception of one tower, the Tour de I’Ale, which stands on the Rue de la Tour on the St. Laurent hill. It is a high round tower of the days of the Musketeers, which finds itself now very inappropriately placed in a modest street of private houses.

Lausanne – photograph form Itineris Alpini, a book by Johann Jako Scheuchzer, published in 1723.

Modem Lausanne is, in spite of its uneasy site, a striking city, clean and prosperous. It has many fine public buildings, but they are nearly all new because the passion for improvements has been so strong,  that old Lausanne has almost passed away, while in its place is a city that might have been built within the memory of living men.

The La Cité, or the predominant hill, are the castle and the cathedral. This hillock is, and always has been, the high place of the town and the stronghold of its government. Located on the far north end of the City hill, the Château Saint-Maire has been the seat of regional power since it was established.  Lausanne’s bishops built it between around 1397 and 1431 as their new residence, choosing the site for its distance from the lower city, and its turbulent bourgeoisie.  The Cite was then well fortified and was surrounded by a wall. Between the roof and a line of machicolations, the castle wall is of pale red brick, while at each corner of the building is a turret also made of brick. The whole castle is a realization of solidity, of simplicity and of terrific strength.

Château Saint-Maire.

One of the most memorable years in the history of the chateau was the year 1536. For some three centuries before this date, Lausanne, together with the whole Swiss shore of the Lake, belonged to Savoy. The rule of Savoy was indulgent and was committed to the hands of the bishops of Lausanne, who lived with the splendor and dignity of princes on the Cite hill. The whole country was, of course. Catholic. The Reformation, which had already begun, spread rapidly to Berne. In Berne, it assumed a bellicose form, for the Bernese were earnest and determined men who regarded as enemies those who held opinions that differed from their own. They approached Lausanne with an army under General Nsegueli on March 31st, 1536. They entered the town without difficulty. Indeed, the people, who were themselves mostly reformers, welcomed their coming.

The first object of the Bernese was to seize the bishop. His name was Sébastien de Montfalcon. He was sitting in his room in the castle very uncomfortably, for while he hurried to and from stuffing things into his pockets he was compelled, at every moment, to take a look through the windows at the hot, excited men who were swarming up the hill. The castle was readily taken, and the leading Bernese, dashing up the stair, broke into the bishop’s chamber with a shout. They found it empty.  Now, concealed behind a great seat or desk was a secret passage which led by means of a stair in the thickness of the castle wall to the Chemin Neuf at the foot of the hill.  The bishop had taken advantage of this passage and had escaped. He fled to Glérolles.

Sébastien de Montfaucon, Bishop of Lausanne. A medieval stained glass panel in the choir of the Reformed Worb Church from 1520.

The identical chamber he left is still to be seen. It is on the first floor of the castle and is a small, lowpitched, comfortable room with two windows and a  fireplace. The ceiling is elaborately decorated, while carved on the chimney-piece are the arms of Montfalcon and the motto, ”Si qua fata sinant.”’  The embrasures of the windows serve to show the enormous thickness of the walls. The long corridors of the chateau are impressive, as is also the main entry, but the site of the drawbridge has completely disappeared.

Also on the Cite hill is the famous Cathedral of Notre-Dame, built between the years 1165 and 1275, and so fully restored at the end of the 18th century (from the plans of Viollet-le-Duc) that it appears almost a new building. The fine Gothic tower and the exquisite steeple form the actual pinnacles of Lausanne.

Constructed from 1165 onwards but not consecrated until 1275, Lausanne Cathedral is the biggest in Switzerland.

The Apostles’ Porch, the great rose-window, the carved stalls of the 15th century and the wall paintings of the same period are too well known to need description. No one can fail to be impressed by the main entry, with its huge flamboyant window, its statues of saintly men, its elaborate ornamentation and its old brown doors with their very ancient lions’ heads in bronze.

This cathedral was the scene of the famous Disputation held on July 5th, 1536, in which Farel, Calvin, and Viret took part, with the result that Vaud separated from the Romish Church and the episcopal see was removed to Fribourg.

The Bernese, having scared the bishop from his castle, dealt in effective fashion with the treasures in the church. Aided by the people, they broke up the altar with hammers, tore down the sacred images and left them, headless and armless, amid the dust of the floor, put their feet through precious paintings and stripped from the walls the hangings of fine silk.  The men of Berne kept a firm hold upon Lausanne and established in the castle a hail or governor, who ruled the converted city with a rod of iron.

In addition to the chateau on the Cite was an episcopal palace in Place de la Cathédrale No. 4. This seems to have been in existence as late as 1705. It was subsequently pulled down to make room for the chestnut terrace which is one of the delights of Lausanne. One tower of this palace remains. It still looks down, with an assumption of superiority, upon the town it once kept in awe, although it has now become a part of a most interesting museum.

The old Episcopal Palace and The Cathedral of Lausanne.

The fine mansions on the Cite have all vanished, but behind the cathedral, in the Rue Cite Derriere, there are some old houses of modest pretense—such as No. 23—which are of interest. It was in this street that Gibbon lodged when he first came to Lausanne.

The hill of the Bourg was also fortified and surrounded by a wall.  Between it and the hill of the Cite flowed the river Flon, the course of which is marked by the present Rue Centrale. The Bourg and the Cite were by no means always at peace in the early days. They were, indeed, for years the most quarrelsome of neighbors and flew at one another across the Flon on occasion with much beating of drums, much shrieking of women from the walls and much shaking of fists.  For example, in 1240 there were two competitors for the episcopal chair of Lausanne. The Bourg sided with Jean de Cossonay, the Cite with Phillippe de Savoie. Although the question was one merely of the Church government, the men of the two hills fought with such intemperance that there were no fewer than 300 casualties. Fighting was a chronic condition around most fortified towns, and Lausanne was no exception. The cause of the fighting was often obscure and as often trivial. One reads that in a certain bloody encounter without the walls in 1476 an English knight was killed. His skull was found long after in a cemetery of Lausanne with a rose noble (an English gold coin first issued by Edward IV in 1465) fixed between the teeth.

On the Bourg, in the Place St. Francois, is the church of St. Francis. It dates from the 15th century, but it has—like every other old edifice in Lausanne — been so restored that it appears to be quite a new building. It is composed only of a nave and choir, is a church of great dignity, grand in its proportions and most simple in its decoration.

The 13th-century Saint-François Church.

In the valley between the Cite and the Bourg is the curious Place de la Palud. It was in ancient days the business center of the town as well as its market-place.  There is a fountain in the Place, surmounted by the figure of an oddly-shaped woman, clumsily clad, who realized in 1585 the popular conception of Justice.

The fountain dates from 1557, and the original statue, made in 1585, was replaced by a copy in 1930.

Here also is the Hotel de Ville, with its great motherly roof, its gaily painted clock-tower, and its superb facade. It was founded in 1454, but the present structure dates from 1674.  It is definitely the most handsome building of its kind in the city.

Facade of the city hall with its tower.

Leading from the Rue Mercerie to the terrace by the cathedral are the Market Stairs. In a simple way, they form one of the most picturesque features in the city and are designated as one of its historical monuments. The stairway is of old grey wood and is very steep. It is covered, in all its length, by a roof of red tiles held up by wooden pillars. It is very shady, very full of echoes, very old and a stair of some mystery, for one wonders where it will end.

The Escaliers du Marché staircase is one of the most picturesque sites in Lausanne.
The Escaliers du Marché staircase from 1922.

The upper part of the stairway was interrupted in 1911 with the construction of Rue Pierre-Viret, the continuation of the Pont Bessières bridge, but it was then artificially restored thanks to the addition of an underground walkway in 1975.  To the day-dreamer, I would recommend this spot above all in Lausanne. The place is always quiet, always drowsy, and there are many benches to choose from, so the dreamer can sit and gaze at buildings dating back to the 16th Century.

Have you visited Lausanne? Please share your favorite place so that others can add it to their list!

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