Lucerne (1437 feet a/s) is situated at the northwest end of the famous lake of the same name, at the issue of the blue-green river Reuss. Owing to its privileged position it pulsates from spring to autumn with cosmopolitan life. Indeed, Lucerne is the center of the Swiss tourist traffic and the noble mountains surrounding it, the Rigi, the Pilatus, the Bürgenstock, and Stanserhorn, are familiar figures in the mind of every tourist who has visited this spot, same as the proud old Musegg towers which crown old Lucerne, and the ancient wooden bridges spanning the Reuss.
History relates that a colony of monks from the Alsatian Benedictine Abbey of the Murbach founded a little monastery on the spot where the River Reuss leaves the Lake of the Four Cantons and that the foundation being dedicated to Saint Leodegar was known as “Luciaria.” The village which was gradually built around the ecclesiastical settlement soon developed into a town and documents of the 12th Century mention the same under the name of “Luzzeron” or “Lucerren.” These facts show that the presumption that Lucerne derives its name from the Latin Lucerna—lighthouse—is altogether of legendary origin, as archaeologists have ascertained that no Roman lighthouse has ever stood at the outlet of the Reuss.
Considering that the history of Lucerne is so closely connected with the Church of St. Leodegar, the traveler who cares about old Lucerne should, first of all, visit the time-honored place of worship which had to be restored in parts on the foundation of the Roman basilica after a fire in 1633.
The interior of the church is of classic beauty and is particularly remarkable for its exquisitely carved choir-stalls (in the separate choir sanctuary), its artistic forged ironwork, old stained-glass windows and its great organ. The latter is one of the oldest and finest instruments of its kind. It contains no fewer than 4950 pipes, and is fitted with a wonderful “vox humana” and a “vox celesta.”
In close vicinity to this ancient church is the celebrated ‘Lion of Lucerne;” executed in 1821 to the memory of 26 officers and 760 soldiers of the Swiss guard who fell in defending the Tuileries on August 10, 1792. The monument, which actually measures 26 feet in length, was chiseled in the face of a rocky cliff 60 feet in height, and forms, owing to its romantic natural surroundings, a most impressive picture. A spring flows down on one side of the rock and gathers in a pond at its base, surrounded by graceful trees and dark-green shrubs.
In a recess occupying the center of the cliff lies the Lion, pierced by a broken lance, his face contorted by physical pain, but still protecting the Bourbon shield with his paw. Above the animal is the simple inscription “Helvetiorum Fidei ac Virtuti,” together with the names of the fallen officers.
A few steps further on is the Glacier Garden, a monument of unique geological interest, left by Nature herself. It consists of nine so-called “pot-holes,” of an old glacier, and was discovered in 1872 by some workmen who were digging the foundation of a house. The largest of them is 31 feet deep and measures 27 feet in diameter. Scientists say that these holes must evidently have been formed in prehistoric times by waters flowing beneath the glacier which then extended from the St. Gothard to the northern frontier of Switzerland. Water trickling through the fissures of the glacier imparted a rotatory motion to stones which, after falling upon the ice, also found their way through the cracks. In the course of centuries those stones hollowed out the holes in the rock beneath and were left in them when the glaciers receded; they consist of gneiss, granite of the St. Gothard and Alpine limestones, and are yet to be seen in their respective places.
The time-honored towers of the city wall—the Musegg, which date from the year 1385 and which are now carefully preserved—are particular landmarks of Lucerne. Passing beneath the gate by the side of the Nöllitor and coming townwards by the Brüggligasse, one is at once fascinated by the many quaint and beautifully painted buildings.
Lucerne, some 500 years ago, was frequently nicknamed “the wooden stork’s nest,” because all its principal buildings and bridges at that time were made of wood, and according to the tendency of those days, they were brilliantly decorated with paintings of various descriptions. The modern Lucerne has, however, long before realized the immense value of those medieval structures and every effort has thus been made to restore the remaining ones.
The Spreuer Bridge, one of the two picturesque covered wooden bridges which have been preserved for the generations to come, dates from the year 1408, and between the years 1626 and 1632, Kaspar Meglingen decorated it with panels of the “Dance of Death,” that gruesome allegory which was so much fashion in those days.
The other wooden bridge, the Kapellbrücke is one of Lucerne’s most typical landmarks. Same as the Spreuerbrücke it crosses the Reuss diagonally, stopping to confer almost in mid-stream with a weather-beaten octagonal tower, the Wasserturm. In the Kapellbrücke, which was built in 1333, are 154 painted scenes from Swiss history and from the lives of the patron saints of Lucerne: St. Leodegar and St. Maurice.
The Wasserturm, to which tradition refers as a Roman lighthouse, was in reality—like the Musegg—nothing more than a part of the fortifications of the city. While it formerly contained the town treasury, it is still the storehouse of the municipal archives and documents.
If you cross the bridge from the left shore of the Reuss, you will notice the St. Peter’s Chapel, with its early 16th Century stone-carving of the Nativity and the impressing figure of Niklaus von der Flue.
Just a few steps further is the grand old Rathaus in the Kornmarkt. This building which is in the purest Renaissance style contains a Gothic staircase and some exquisitely inlaid wainscoting and carved woodwork, also portraits of magistrates of Lucerne and large mural paintings by Reinhard and Wyrsch. On the ground floor of this medieval edifice, there is a permanent Fine Arts Exhibition and a Historical Museum of Applied Arts, including the old collection of the Historical Society of the First Five Cantons. Here are also objects from the lake dwellings and from prehistoric tombs, numerous weapons and trophies from the old Swiss wars, Duke Leopold’s coat of mail from the Battle of Sempach, and various other relics connected with the most interesting events in the history of Lucerne.
Adjoining the steps of the Kornmarkt is the Guildhall “Zunfthaus zu Pfistern” one of the most unique old Lucerne houses. It belonged to the guild of bakers and thus bears the coat-of-arms of that profession.
On the white background is a spreading vine, from the branches of which hang sacks of flour, drinking pots, loaves of bread and 59 coats of arms of those guilds who helped finance the first, old Guildhall in 1408.
Skillful fresco works can be seen on many other houses, as on the Zunfhaus zur Metzger, the Hotel des Balances, the Hotel Hirschen and others.