Solothurn’s history dates all the way back to the Paleolithic era. It was then settled by the Romans, followed by the citizens of the Middle Ages. This means that you can find layer upon layer of history in Solothurn, Switzerland, which is full of Baroque architecture, and 18 structures listed as World Heritage Sites.
Solothurn is located in the northwestern part of Switzerland at the foot of the Jura Mountains. The old town has changed drastically since its first structure was built in 1530. It is now an eclectic combination of French, Italian, and Swiss architecture. The district won an award in the 80s, the Wakker Prize, for the preservation and promotion of its architectural heritage.
If you happen to be in this part of Switzerland, you can be sure you’ll get information overload. The whole history of man is cramped into a single district. Here are a couple of must-sees from this grandezza town:
1. Go church hopping
There are about 16 churches in Solothurn. One of the most significant, and recognized as Swiss Heritage of National Significance, is St. Ursus Cathedral or Solothurn Cathedral. Ursus was a Roman martyr and saint who refused to worship the emperor.
The Jesuit Church is another important stopover as it is a magnificent example of the splendor of Baroque architecture. There’s also St. Peter’s Chapel, which has a choir balcony on three sides and lancet windows.
Many of these churches are still places of worship today. You can attend mass or just sit quietly in the corner, observing worshippers as they scoot through the pews during different times of day. You can go through all 16 churches with a tour guide or you can choose to visit them yourself.
2. Play knight in shining armor at the Cantonal Museum
The old Armory has many names. It is now also called the Arsenal Museum, Cantonal Museum, or the Museum Altes Zeughaus. It houses one of the largest collections of armor in Europe, along with weapons, arms, and military equipment. It also highlights the long-forgotten art of blacksmithing. Here, you can go through the steps of the craft in detail. The building itself is of historical significance as it is over 400 years old. The exhibition stretches to a total of four floors and you can see over 200 suits of armor in the former arming hall. The display is quite extraordinary and while you can’t try on armor or touch any of the exhibits, you can be sure to have a deeper appreciation for knights when you leave.
3. Visit the Art Museum and the Naturmuseum
These museums pack a lot of punch even with such a small space. First, the Solothurn Museum of Art is a must-visit time and time again. It features a well-curated collection of old and new artists including the prolific works of Hodler, Buchser, Amiet, Frolicher, and many others. It also features the Solothurn Madonna by Hans Holbein the Younger. Apart from these, there are more modern Swiss artists such as Oppenheim, Luginbuhl, and Tinguely. The museum also features the double collection of the Muller sisters, which holds works by Van Gogh, Klimt, Cezanne, Matisse, Degas, and Ferdinand Hodler.
On the other hand, the Naturmuseum features several exhibitions of animals, plants, minerals, and fossils found in Solothurn. There are specimens that date back as far as 150 million years ago including the fossilized turtles and the Lommiswil dinosaur tracks. It’s a bit more interactive as visitors are allowed to touch some of the open exhibits.
4. Look for the magical number 11 in old town Solothurn
The number 11 has always been considered a sacred number in Solothurn. And if you’re intent on working that notion out, and question why it’s so, go on a tour in old town so you can see where this sacred number is manifested. There is a clock in town that plays music on the 11th hour instead of the 12th, playing the Solothurned Lied, the unofficial theme of the city on 11 bells. St. Ursen Cathedral is also equipped with 11 altars, a 66-metre (215.5 ft) high steeple, and a stairway with 33 steps. The town also has 11 historical fountains, 11 museums, and 11 recognized churches and chapels. Go on a themed tour and see where else the number 11 appears in Solothurn.
5. Tour Blumenstein Castle
Blumenstein Castle is now the Historical Museum of Solothurn. Other than the artworks and artifacts, you might want to check out the building itself, which was built from 1725 to 1728 for the Governor Franz Heinrich von Staffis-Mollondin. It is a wide terraced park with over 20 hectares (49 acres) of greenery. After a long dispute, the building was eventually sold to the municipality of Solothurn. The museum has been there since 1952 although the former owner’s wife, Lucie, still retained rights to stay in several of the rooms until she passed away in 1977.
History and modern living all in one place
If you think that Solothurn is just one big museum, it isn’t exactly so. While history can be found throughout the city, it is constantly being reinvented to be a livable, breathable space not just for visitors but for its citizens as well. The city holds several events such as Solothurn Literature Days, the Market Festival, and L’Orfeo at Waldegg Castle. There are film festivals, races, beer days, and carnivals as well.
All in all, Solothurn is considered the finest Baroque town in Switzerland. It combines the charm of the French and the practicality of the Germans, so much so that many consider it the Ambassador’s Town. You’ll find a lot of gems in Solothurn, so stay a little longer, won’t you?