1902 Encyclopedia > Lucerne, Switzerland


LUCERNE (German, Luzern), a canton of Switzerland lying north-west of the central mass of the Swiss Alps, having the canton of Aargau to the north, Bern to the west and south, and the small cantons of Zug, Schwyz,. and Unterwalden on the east and south-east sides. Like most of the Swiss cantons its form is very irregular, and it includes, besides a part of the Lake of Lucerne, the Lakes of Sempach and Baldegg, and several smaller sheets of water. To this circumstance is probably due the dis-crepancy in the various estimates of the area, which range from 498 to 585 square miles. The greater part of its territory lies in the low hilly region of north-western Switzerland, most of which is under cultivation ; but it has one considerable valley, the Entlebuch, enclosed by mountains, several of which exceed 5000 feet in height, which is devoted to pasturage. The only considerable mountain in the canton is the Pilatus, a steep jagged ridge with numerous peaks, the highest of which is 7290 feet above the sea, forming the boundary between this and the canton of Unterwalden. The only river is the Reuss, which issues from the lake at the town of Lucerne, but soon turns abruptly to the north-east, and passes the boundary of the canton. Of many smaller streams that Water its surface, the most important is the Little Emme, _which drains the Entlebuch and its tributary valleys. The soil is moderately fertile, and produces good crops of cereals, but the vine is grown only in a few exceptionally favourable situations. Some of the higher valleys, espe-cially the Entlebuch, are mainly devoted to pasture, and furnish cheese and butter in considerable quantities, of which the surplus is exported. The population in Decem-ber 1880 was 134,806, of whom all but 5634 were Roman Catholics. The language is exclusively German, and the people belong to the Teutonic stock. Excepting the inhabitants of the town of Lucerne, they are mainly employed in agriculture. The men of the Entlebuch, leading a pastoral life and little exposed to intercourse with strangers, have preserved more of the original simplicity of manners and costume than is now often found elsewhere in Switzerland. They are famed for their strength and skill in wrestling and other athletic exercises, as may be seen at the Schinngfeste, still frequently held in that district.

Like the rest of northern Switzerland, Lucerne was subject to the house of Austria until 1332, when its people joined the league of the forest cantons, Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, thus forming the fourth in date of the confederation. They bore their share in the brilliant victory of Sempach, fought in 1386 near the village of that name, and in 1402 acquired the Entlebuch by purchase from tha Austrian duke. The government was until the end of the 18th century an oligarchy in the hands of a few families, but in 1798 the French invasion substituted democratic institutions. These, with several changes all tending to give more complete power to the people, have continued to the present time. The constitution now in force dates from the 17th February 1869, and is based on the principle which prevails throughout the whole of Switzerland, that the sovereign power is vested exclusively in the people, but may bo exercised either directly or through delegates elected by universal suffrage. Lucerne formerly sent a contingent of 1734 men to the federal army, but according to the latest return the number of men belonging to the canton on the rolls (in 1879) was 5176. In 1846 Lucerne-took a leading part in the formation of the Sonderbund, a league of several of the Catholic cantons to oppose forcible resistance to the decree of the federal government for the expul-sion of the Jesuits from Switzerland. In the brief campaign that _ensued in the following year, the forces of the Sonderbund were utterly routed, and after a few days the conflict ceased. Since that _date the canton seems to have enjoyed complete internal tranquillity. Lucerne lias produced a fair proportion of men who have distin-guished themselves in science, literature, philosophy, and art. Among many others whose reputation is confined to their own _country, the names of the naturalists Cappeler and Lange, the historians Etterlin and Balthasar, and the philosopher Troxlerhave _acquired more permanent reputation.

LUCERNE, the chief town of the Swiss canton of that name, stands on both banks of the Reuss, where that liver issues from the north-west end of the chief arm of the lake of Lucerne. The position of the town is singu-larly beautiful. Beyond the lower hills, rich with plant-ing and cultivation, which slope towards the shores of the lake and the river, loftier summits of very varied form rise in the background. Most prominent of these is the many-peaked Pilatus, only about 7 miles distant, while the double summit of the Mythen, at the opposite end of the lake, is flanked by other less imposing summits, amongst which the Righi draws attention, owing to the fame of its panoramic view. The picturesque aspect of the town is much enhanced by the ancient walls, now partly removed, and the circular or octagonal towers which surround it. One of these, called the Wasserthurm, rising from the water's edge, is said to have served as a lighthouse (lucerna), and to have originated the name of the town and canton. The town appears to owe its origin to a Benedictine monastery which stood on the site of the present Hofkirche. The buildings which clustered round gradually increased, until, early in the 14th century, the walls were erected for protection, and bridges were carried across the river. The Rathhaus, which is the seat of the cantonal Government, is an ancient building adorned with wood carving and quaint pictures. In a large hall are pre-served the portraits of the chief magistrates (ScJmltheissen) from the earliest times to the year 1814. The libraries of Lucerne are said to possess the most complete and important collection of documents connected with the history of Switzerland during the Middle Ages. The town library, now in the museum, contains about 12,000 volumes, and is especially rich in manuscript chronicles. The cantonal library, reckoned at over 80,000 volumes, with many incunabula, was chiefly formed from the libraries of suppressed monasteries. Other curious books are to be found in the library of the Capuchins at Wesemlin outside the town.

Besides two modern bridges which span the river, there are two wooden causeways, roofed over, and passable only on foot, which anciently served the wants of the inhabi-tants ; a third, the longest of all, was removed in the pro-gress of modern improvements. Of those remaining, the more ancient, called the Muhlbriicke, was adorned with illustrations of the "Dance of Death," a favourite subject with German and Swiss mediaeval artists; though much injured by time, they are still visible. The other wooden bridge—the Kapellbrucke—is decorated with numerous paintings representing events in Swiss history and in the lives of Saints Leodegar and Mauritius, the patrons of the city. The principal church, which has little architectural merit, possesses a fine organ. Along with various religious and charitable institutions which seem fully adequate to the wants of the population, a museum has been opened of late years which, among various other objects, contains an interesting archaeological collection, going back to the prehistoric period, and including relics of historical interest, such as trophies taken on the field of Sempach, formerly preserved in the arsenal. The town contains one object of genuine artistic interest—the colossal lion designed to commemorate the men of the Swiss guard who fell in the defence of the Tuileries in Paris on the 10th August 1792. The idea, which might easily have led an inferior artist into extravagance and vulgarity, was well suited for the simple and manly genius of Thorwaldsen, who supplied the model; and, although the execution is necessarily somewhat rude, the effect is touching and impressive. In an architectural point of view the most notable part of the town is the wide quay formed on land reclaimed from the lake in 1852, planted on one side with trees, and on the other showing a succession of those great hotels which everywhere in Switzerland have been built to accommodate and to tempt the strangers who annually resort to the country. This constant flow of visitors has led to a large increase of population; that of Lucerne, which twenty years before was little over 10,000, was 17,850 at the census of 1880. (J. B.)

The above article was written by John Ball, M.A., F.R.S., author of Alpine Guide.

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