At the end of our cruise on the Vierwaldstattersee, we needed to cross the River Reuss to get from the schiff pier to the old section of the city of Lucerne, the ‘altstadt’. We walked along the river side to the old wooden Chapel Bridge.
Originally built in 1333 as part of Lucerne’s fortifications, the bridge is dominated by the water tower, which is not a water tower at all. It’s just a tower standing in water and it was built there 30 years before the bridge. It’s been used as a prison,a torture chamber, a municipal archive and today it houses a souvenir shop – a different type of torture chamber! It’s in a great position to capture the attention of just about every tourist who visits this city because this bridge is one of the top tourist attractions in the whole of Switzerland.
And in the waters below the bridge there are always plenty of swans.
They are an iconic part of an iconic scene.
As is usual in Switzerland, the bridge is decorated with flowers. It’s said that this is the oldest covered wooden bridge in Europe and the oldest ‘truss bridge’ in the world. Having stood as a symbol of Lucerne for so many centuries, it was a shock to everyone when it was almost burned down in August, 1993. I hadn’t been back since then and I was very keen to see what had been done to restore this architectural treasure.
A variety of geraniums were used in the floral decoration, but in softer colours than the usual Swiss red. How do they keep them looking so fresh?
Up close you can see the engineering of the bridge – and the beauty of the floral decoration.
One of the very special features of this bridge is on the inside where a number of paintings dating back to the 17th century decorate the triangular roof frames. This wasn’t done on any other European covered wooden bridges and I always delighted in ‘reading’ the stories told in the art. Many visitors, like me, took photos of the old paintings and they are now part of history since many of the paintings were destroyed in the 1993 fire. Out of 147 paintings only 47 ‘survived’ the fire and only 30 of those could be restored. This painting depicts the three original wooden bridges. The middle wooden bridge no longer exists but the third bridge, the Spreuer Bridge, or Mill Bridge, with its own series of triangular paintings, is still in use today.
Many of the original paintings, like this one, depict scenes promoting the Catholic Church’s saints and teachings. They were painted during the counter- reformation, a time when few people were literate and pictures told the stories.
The personal coat-of-arms of council members who sponsored paintings was also recorded.
Each panel was numbered. This is an important one of the surviving paintings showing the old city joined to the new city by the bridges. It also shows the fortified walls that stretched out on the hill above the city. Much of the wall and some towers still stand sentinel as they have for centuries.It’s worth a climb to enjoy the views – but not on a hot day!
A modern pedestrian bridge has replaced the original middle wooden bridge.
It’s well used by those wishing just to cross the river as it’s not a ‘tourist’ attraction.
The river banks near the bridge are lined with well patronised cafes and restaurants.
There’s a farmer’s market in this river side area on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
While the bridge has been well restored ‘in the old manner’, there are many empty painting spaces – those 400 year old paintings are impossible to replace.
Two attractive apartments buildings at the end of the bridge.
One of them now with a “Starbucks” cafe, attracting American tourists.
- Many buildings in Lucerne have paintings on their facades.
- A good example is the the painting on the old “Hotel des Alpes” which shows the coats-of-arms of all four cantons of the “Vierwaldstattersee.”
The riverside cafe’s looked inviting – but we would have to earn our afternoon tea.
We still had the streets in the old town to explore.
Like most old Swiss cities, there are water fountains in the main squares – some decorated in very colourful ways!
This is a much newer art work that decorates a well known tourist ‘fondu house’.
One of my favourite side streets looks up to a tower on the old city walls which were built 1350 to 1408.
Shop signs like this are common sights hanging out over the narrow streets.
They add to the ambience of the old town.
This old building is covered in historical art works that depict life in the warrior times of Lucerne.
Located in on of the main squares, it’s one of Lucerne’s real treasures.
A close up of part of the art work showing a knight in shining armour and stylised coats of arms.
This building has original hand made glass in its windows.
After our wander in old town, we found a cool cafe for that well earned ‘cuppa’ and a quiet relax before we headed back to the rail station for our final train journey back to Zurich. On our way, we crossed the River Reuss again, this time on the newer iron bridge, looking back across Chapel Bridge to Mount Rigi.
That sight was a fitting end to four great days in Switzerland.
Photography © JT for jtdytravels
( In my next series of journals, I’ll journey with David to Burma, or as its now called, Myanmar)