Solothurn, canton of northwest Switzerland extending from the fertile Aare River lowland across the high, parallel ridges of the Jura Mountains to the Birse River valley. The complex shape of the canton results from purchases and conquests made by the powerful imperial free city of Solothurn during the 15th century. Solothurn joined the Swiss Confederation in 1481.
With its cathedral, Solothurn holds the record with Trier in Germany for being the oldest Roman settlement north of the Alps. The city´s fortifications, different sections dating from successive periods of Solothurn´s long history, are of great interest. More recently, elegant homes with lovely gardens have contributed to the unique charm of the town.
A legend relates that Ursus and Victor, two of the early Christians who had fled to Solothurn from Agaunum, the present Saint-Maurice in the canton of Valais, in the year 303, had been tortured and put to death in Solothurn by the Romans on account of their faith.
The Cathedral is dedicated to their memory, and their sufferings are immortalized by three reliefs on the facade. The Cathedral of St. Ursus, designed by architects Gaetano Matteo Pisoni and Paolo Antonio Pisoni was built 1762-73. A cemetery with urns and cremation burials on the eastern end of the Vicus was discovered in 1762-63 during the demolition of the old church of St. Ursus. The Cathedral is considered to be the most excellent specimen of the late Italian Renaissance in Switzerland.
Two interesting fountains, bearing statues of Moses and Gideon, stand at each side of the imposing marble stairs which lead in three times eleven steps to the entrance. Eleven marble altars of exquisite design, individual masterpieces of as many artists, add to the beauty of the interior, which has been conceived in the shape of a Latin cross. The church treasury in the sacristy contains a very ancient collection of artistic work in metal and textile fabrics.
In the year 272 a.d., when the Allemans threatened the Romans, a fortification was erected on the river Aar, where the present city stands and remains of the Castrum walls are still visible in the Lowengasse and on the cemetery.
While the bustle of modern commercial life has transformed the placid medieval quarters of Solothurn, the city now being recognized as one of the leading Swiss watchmaking centers, there is still a little oasis of absolute peace to be found in the vicinity – the Hermitage in the romantic gorge of St. Verena. The path lies through the beautiful ravine known as the St. Verena Tal. Near the village of St. Nicholas is the Hermitage where the saint resisted the devil.
The Arsenal (Zeughaus), built between 1609 and 1614, contains an excellent collection of French, Austrian, and Burgundian standards and armor. It is the best of the kind in Switzerland. The imposing building served as a storage place for the personal equipment of the citizens of Solothurn and was a symbol of the fortification of the city-state. At the same time, it was a weapon and armament warehouse for the mercenary trade.
The most ancient building in the town is the Clock Tower built at the start of the 13th Century. At the striking of the clock, there is a performance of automatic figures similar to that of Berne – three symbolic figures (the knight, the king, and the skeleton) portray the meaning of life every hour.