The walking tour of Zurich

Zurich (“Zu-reich” in German means too rich), the business and cultural capital of Switzerland, lies at the north end of Zurich Lake, in the valley formed by the ridges of Uetliberg on the west and Zurichberg on the east. Extending along both sides of the River Limmat, with hills and mountains rising up around it in all directions, Zurich is set in a spectacularly scenic, almost alpine location.


Zurich

Zurich dates its origins from 15BC, when the Roman customs post of Turicum was founded. Zurich was at the centre of the Swiss religious Reformation in the 16th century, under the leadership of Huldrych Zwingli, whose motto ‘pray and work’ had a profound effect on this diligent city and by the 19th century it had grown into the commercial and financial centre of Switzerland.

Despite its size, Zurich retains much of its old world charm and is both large enough to offer every amenity and small enough to discover on your own. So, on Thursday, October 10, immediately after walking past some of the exciting food kiosks (and there are over 200 of these) at the Hauptbahnoff (HB) railway station and asking for directions from the Tourist Office, we headed for Bahnhofstrasse, the store-crammed boulevard (Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Cartier, Tiffany, Dior, Globus, Manor, H&M and what not!!), which is one of the world’s most prestigious and exclusive shopping avenues.

Station Zurich HB
Hauptbahnoff (HB) railway station

Bahnhofstrasse starts at Bahnhofplatz by Zurich HB and ends 1.4 km away at Burkliplatz on Lake Zurich. This is the gateway into the modern city, where all of Zurich comes to walk, eat or shop, whether to browse in inexpensive department stores that crowd the first third of the street, or to sign away Swiss Frs. 25,000 on a Rolex watch or on a Vuitton handbag at some super-chic boutiques further south.

Walking up the Bahnhofstrasse, and along the elegant, uniform and neat nineteenth century buildings, we visited Globus, Zurich’s famous department store, set beyond a small park on the right hand side. The food hall, located in the basement, was simply overwhelming. It is a good place to buy truffles, by all accounts, or cheeses, but whatever you buy it comes attractively packaged. Manor is another good store worth a visit. There are so many varieties of chocolates and cheeses there that at times, making a selection becomes a problem. Manor also has a less expensive cafeteria “Manora” on the fifth floor.


Bank

Further up along the Bahnhofstrasse is a busy square called Paradeplatz. It is around there that Zurich’s serious money begins. The streets in this area are home to most of the banks, insurance companies and top designer outlets. Most Swiss banks are headquartered here, generally housed within imposing eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings. No wonder then that in the Paradeplatz, blonde matrons of indeterminate age, generally dripping in jewels and in winter, enveloped in the longest and most exotic-looking of furs, strut along with little dogs on fancy leashes.

Switzerland’s most luxurious hotel, Baur au Lac Hotel, is located just off the Bahnoffsrasse and walking past this hotel, I recalled an episode from the celebrated book The Haj by Leon Uris, where Ursula calls Haj Ibrahim, (the central character of the book and an Arab leader) and asks him to meet her at a shop called Madame Hildegard, close to Baur au Lac Hotel. That luxurious hotel still stands in all its glory.

Zurich
Birds around the lake

Crossing the famous bridge, Quaibrucke, under which River Limmat empties itself into Lake Zurich, we reached Burkliplatz, to take the suggested 90 minutes boat trip. The Swiss pass entitled us to a free passage in the second class and we settled in the bow of the boat. The boat was large enough to house a small cafeteria and a well- stocked bar and had two levels of decks. The boat zigzagged its way through the crystal clear water and provided us wide-angle views of the Swiss mountains and the impressive Lake Zurich shoreline. It was a serene and pleasant morning with the glorious sunshine, which even the geese and ducks were enjoying.


Ducks

Most round trips stop on the right bank, known locally as the Gold Coast (as it gets the late afternoon sun), before crossing the lake at Kusnacht Helsibach. From here the boat sailed down the left bank back into town. We got off the boat at Kusnacht Helsibach, for refreshment in the scenic lakeside bar, had a quick beer and some sizzling hot snacks and returned by the next boat.

Cows are highly prized in Switzerland, as the dairy and chocolate industries are dependent directly on the quality of milk provided by the Swiss cows.

The Zurich skyline is dominated by four spires, with the dual towers of the Grossmünster on one side of River Limmat and the towers of the thirteenth century Fraumunster and St. Peter’s Church on the other. The Old Town spans this river, and some of the most interesting lanes and buildings are clustered along its banks. We headed there from Burkliplatz, the distance being just less than half a kilometer.

I got this particular photo from internet, to show you the real beauty.

Zurich Skyline

In a city of modest, small-scale architecture, Grossmunster (“great minster”), a Romanesque-Gothic style church that played an important role in the history of the Protestant Reformation, looks dauntingly gigantic.

Grossmunster Cathedral

Construction on the Grossmunster began in 1090, and most of the cathedral was completed by 1230. It was dedicated to Felix, Regula, and Exuperantius, the patron saints of Zurich.

Before talking about the cathedral, it would be pertinent to say a few words about the Patron saints of Zurich – Felix and Regula. Legend has it that these two Roman Christians fled to the city after the massacre of their legions in Valais in the third century AD. They were decapitated for refusing to pray to the Roman Gods, whereupon they picked their heads and carried them up the hill to the spot where they wished to be buried. According to popular belief, when Charlemagne (King of the Franks and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, 742 – 814) arrived at the same spot during a hunting expedition, his horse suddenly went down on its knees in deference to the saints buried there. Charlemagne founded a church, the forerunner of the Grossmunster, and an adjacent chapterhouse in honour of these saints. Ever since the thirteenth century, images of the saints carrying their heads were used in the official seals of the city and on their coins (they still appear on the seal of Zurich).


Grossmunster

Zurich was at the centre of the Swiss religious Reformation in the sixteenth century, under the leadership of Huldrych Zwingli, who initiated the Swiss-German Reformation in Switzerland from his pastoral office at the Grossmunster, starting in 1520. Zwingli won a series of debates presided over by the magistrate in 1523 which ultimately led local civil authorities to sanction the severance of the church from the papacy. These reforms make this church one of the most important sites in the history of the Reformation.


Inside Grossmunster

Its two three-storey towers stretch into the sky above Limmatquai. The view from the left tower (about 200 steps up) is impressive and provides a good view of the entire city, including some of the nearby churches.

The most impressive approach to the cathedral is across Zwingliplatz to the main North Portal, which has a carved door and capitals adorned with Romanesque carvings of animals, birds, and a fiddle player (on the far left). At the base of the north tower is a modern statue of Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor.

The interior of Grossmunster, unlike the interior of many other churches, is quite bare, still entirely stripped of the statues and paintings denounced by Zwingli. The beauty of the cathedral lies in its simple Romanesque architecture, lofty austerity and venerable history.

The original ornamentation consists of some capitals decorated with battle scenes and Charlemagne’s discovery of the graves of Felix and Regula (third pillar on the north side), as well as some unique faded frescoes in a side chapel. Most of the ornamentation one sees today has been done later as has the pulpit (1851) and the organ (1960). The beautiful stained-glass windows in the choir were made in 1933.

Grossmunster’s crypt is the largest of its kind in Switzerland. The long triple-aisled hall is dominated by a weather-beaten, fifteenth-century statue of Charlemagne, which once stood atop the south tower. A replica now takes its place on the tower.

Left of the Grossmunster on Zwingliplatz is the cathedral’s chapterhouse, now the University’s Theological Institute. Here a door leads to a cloister, built in the twelfth century and renovated in the 1960s. The Romanesque arched windows and capitals are carved with an interesting variety of gargoyles, monkeys, dragons, humans and centaurs. The church houses a Reformation museum in the cloister.

We had spent the morning walking around and needed a lunch break. As we walked down a lane, I was thrilled to see a bookshop displaying some books on sale. Though most of the books were in German, we did manage to pick up couple of rare books –The Obstacle race on renowned women painters and their works and another one on the Dutch painter, Vermeer and that too for a pittance – just five francs each – a sort of loot in the real sense.

Bookshop

Further up the street, there were about half a dozen art galleries, where we saw some of the good modern art, the price tags of which are better not discussed. However, if you have always wanted a Degas or a Renoir but not been able to afford one, this treasure-trove of the high-quality reproductions of the world’s famous masterpieces by Picasso, Chaggal, Van Gogh, and Rembrandt might provide a reasonably priced alternative.

Fraumunster

Crossing the nineteenth century bridge, and walking past the statue of Burgomaster Waldman, during whose rule the city gained influence over much of the surrounding lands, we reached the slender, blue spire of Fraumunster (Minster of Our Lady), which is best known for housing magnificent stained glass windows.


On the way to Fraumunster

At the reception, we were given a leaflet with a brief history of this magnificent edifice.

The Benedictine abbey was founded in 853 by Emperor Ludwig (Louis the German), the grandson of Charlemagne for his daughter Hildegard. She became the first abbess. In 874, her sister Bertha added a simple basilica with a crypt beneath to hold the relics of Felix and Regula, who were martyred nearby.

The abbesses gained considerable rights in the eleventh century and the convent was the home of many German noblewomen until the thirteenth century. The present church dates from the 13th century, but the crypt of the old abbey church is preserved in the undercroft.

The convent was closed during the Reformation in 1524 and the last abbess (Katharina von Zimmern) was subscribed to the Reformation movement. She donated the church and abbey to the city of Zurich. As at the Grossmunster, all the icons, images and the organ were destroyed here too.

The chief attractions of Fraumunster are five stained-glass windows – each with its own colour theme- designed by Marc Chaggal in 1970. These are best seen in the bright morning light. The basilica has three aisles and the nave is in Gothic style.

At this point my wife’s aching feet needed some rest so we spent a pleasurable half an hour at the nearby café and then proceeded to St. Peter’s Church.


St. Peter’s Church

Zurich’s oldest church, St. Peter’s Church is on the left bank, south of Lindenhof. The church was built in the 13th century. It features the largest clock face in the world – 9 meters (28.5 feet) in diameter. The minute hands alone are almost 4 meters (12 feet) long. The bells date to 1880. The interior of the church is marked by Romanesque and baroque ornamentation.

Located close to the railway station, the Swiss National Museum is a massive edifice that provides a comprehensive survey of the culture and history of the Swiss people. The museum’s collection is housed in a nineteenth century Neo-Gothic castle. The collection includes a vast amount of religious art, including sixteenth century stained glass from Tanikon Convent and frescoes from the Convent Church of Mustair. Some of the Carolingian art dates back to the ninth century. The altarpieces are carved, painted, and gilded. The prehistoric section is also exceptional, with some of the artifacts dating back to the fourth millennium BC. The rest of the collection includes a large display of Roman clothing, medieval silverware, fourteenth-century drinking bowls, and seventeenth-century china, as well as painted furniture and costumes of various periods. A display of weapons and armour shows the methods of Swiss warfare from 800 to 1800. There’s also an exhibit tracing Swiss clock- making from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

By the time we time had finished seeing the artifacts in the museum, we were close to calling it a day, we took Bus No. 13 to the railway station, picked up our hand bag from the cloak room and headed for the Youth Hostel, where we planned to spend the rest of the evening.

Friday, October 11

Zurich is surrounded by some of the most interesting sightseeing areas in Switzerland. One of the best short trips out of the city is to the hill of Uetliberg, which is just a twenty minute train ride. This is a favoured getaway for the locals and a popular hiking route. It is only a ten minute walk up the hill to the summit, from where one can have 360-degree views over Zurich, the whole curve of the lake and on a clear day can even see Austria and as far as southwest as the Jungfrau.

And who has not read or heard about “Heidi”, the most enchanting book by Johanna Spyri. Don’t be surprised if I tell you that Heidi’s world is not just a children’s story – it really exists! It’s a world of mountains and valleys, alpine lakes and meadows, waterfalls, gorges, caves and fascinating scenic reserves, just a fifty minute rail ride from Zurich.

I will endeavour to write something about Ueteliberg, Heidiland and the Rhine Falls in my next post.

Thank you for visiting.

37 Comments

  • Madhavi Srivastava says:

    Dear Mr. Dhall
    A very vivid account – an armchair travelogue. It was like being there & taking the walk myself. Some of the pictures were very beautiful.

    Regards

    Madhavi

  • Subhash Gupta says:

    Dear Ram,

    You have taken me on dream journey of Zurich and to add to it are the fabulous pics.

    Ram, how do you remember the tongue twisting names of the persons and places one wonders?

    Wonderful write up. Keep writing for benefit of all of us.

    Warm regards

    Subhash

  • Nomadic Matt says:

    Zurich is a awesome city and your photos do it justice. I just wish I was there right now for the Euro Cup.

  • Nandan says:

    As always, Ram comes up with another marvelous documented sojourn of his. I also wonder that how did he remember all the names. Splendid.

    Keep them coming.

  • Celine says:

    Ram,

    A brilliant post on Zurich. You took me on a lovely walking tour of the city while I was still seated in my chair. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and these gorgeous pictures. Waiting for next part.:)

  • Aditya says:

    Though I have been in Switzerland for more than 3 months but could not visit Zurich. I think, this walk gave me complete view of the place.

    Really amazed by your memory, that you still remember (difficult) names of places in zurich.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Thanks Madhavi for your kind words. Much appreciated.

    Thanks Matt. I wish I too was there to watch this mammoth event. Who are your favourites !!

    Subhash Bhai and Nandan,

    As usual, you are very kind and generous.

    Now about your query: See every one has his / her own way of memorising the things. I take the help of camera and a small notebook.

    Incidentally, there are over 1000 Bahnhofstrasses in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Bahnhof refers to the railways and strasse is like street. Like our Railway Roads, there is a Bahnhofstrasse in practically every city. So remembering this is easy. Likewise Platz is like our Plaza, say Ansal Plaza, etc.

    Swiss- German Reformation is a changing facet of the history, which almost all of us are aware of. So some of the important names are always there in your sub-conscious memory.

    Trust this will answer your query.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Celine,

    Reading your articles, poems, comments on various contributions and seeing some of the excellent pictures posted by you, has always been a great pleasure.

    Getting such kind remarks from a virtuous person like you is a big honour.

    Thank you and God’s blessings.

  • Neerja Dhall says:

    Dear Ram,

    As always,iam impressed with a lucid and vivid account of your trip to Zurich.
    Your reference to “Heidi” takes me down the memory lane and I can recall how impressed i was with the beautiful location of her Grandfather’s house in Swiss alps.

    Lively pictures make this beautifully illustrated write up a “Readers delight”.
    Waiting eagerly for your next post.

  • Geetha Saravanan says:

    Dear Ram uncle,

    It has been an amazing, picturesque tour of Zurich that you’ve taken us through. You paint a wonderful picture in art, architecture, history and the very essence of the city. ‘The blonde matrons…indeterminate age… dripping with jewels…furs’ and not to forget even the leashes are ‘fancy’! I loved this vivid description!
    I seem to have been with you all through in your journey… and how effortlessly you seem to have strung all the places, monuments and events into a neat storyline. Also the photographs complement the narration beautifully. Its a pleasure to read your stories.

  • Patrick Jones says:

    Another jewel from one and only Ram Dhall.

    Your historical perspective is truly amazing. The vast knowledge you posses is evident when you write about alien subjects like church during reformation period.

    The desire to visit central Europe is reaching alarming levels.. the place names are a put off though.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Patrick,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    I am on cloud nine and it will take me sometime to come down and attend to your remarks. I reckon even if I wish to find suitable words to thank you for your generosity, Iwill find it difficult.

    Nevertheless, I would reiterate what I said elsewhere – you are yourself a great source of strength to others. So Keep on providing this support to all of us.

    God bless you.

  • Rajesh Kumar says:

    What I truly admire in Rams writing is his sheer understanding and ability to express so vividly the finesses of art, world history, and culture. From his works, one can easily make out that he is a well read intellectual with keen observation skills. His account of the places he writes about takes us on a naturalistic journey that almost seems real.

    This travelogue about Zurich is actually a peep into the citys soul apart from making an interesting read.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    I am indeed very grateful to all of you for your very kind and highly motivating words.

    Geetha: Your mails and comments have always been very impressive. Your keen observation of even the minutest things is highly appreciative. Reading your remarks about the “blond matrons — fancy leashes” amused me too.

    Neerja: The first time I read “Heidi”, I was around fifteen years old and ever since have always been trying to find some excuse to read it again. I will try to write some of my observations about this outstanding book in my post on “Heidiland”.

    Rajesh: The articulately written remarks from a scholar like you always add value to my posts.

    I am a very simple and humble person and write what I see and observe normally. If the readers find my posts interesting, it is simply God’s mercy.

    BTW I liked your remarks “a peep into the city’s soul” – highly encouraging.

    God bless you all.

  • Cuckoo says:

    Such a brilliant description ! I know I am late in commenting but now your post makes me think what do I write about Zurich ? There is nothing left. You have written it all and so beautifully.

    Maybe I can share only the photos. :-)
    I have many photos of those cows and Grossmunster. If compared to any Indian city, I find Zurich much as Mumbai.

  • Nomadicmatt says:

    I’m rooting for holland! (who just beat italy 3-0)

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Cuckoo: Thanks for your very kind words.

    Yes, I also had the same feelings – Zurich does remind you of the Fort area of Mumbai.

    Matt: I think Holland are going to go all the way, considering the crushing defeat they have given to Italy. But Friday’s match is going to be interesting, considering the come back of Henry and Vieira to the French team.

    The venues – Zurich, Vevey, Berne, Basel, Geneva, etc do bring back the fond memories our travels to these places.

  • Ravindra Gosain says:

    Dear Ram Sahab,

    I must say that, documentation of tour is amazing and brilliant. It make you feel as if you are there and if I happen to visit Zurich, I would not be surprised that it would give me feeling, as if I have been already there before.
    Another most amazing thing I admire is your memory absolutely brilliant. How do you remember all those tough name. Pictures are brilliant and they go along with journey to Zurich.

    Brilliant work Keep continue to write
    Regards
    Ravindra Gosain

  • Bindiya says:

    Hello Ram Sir!

    So we get to visualize your trip again & visualize literally because your style of writing makes it so easy to be able to see, all that you may have experienced. Not only can one ‘see’ the scenic beauty but also visualize the art & culture that you so beautifully describe.

    I hope you get to travel a whole lot more, so that we can get to read about the same.

    Take care, happy writing!

    Bindiya

  • manish khamesra says:

    Ram Uncle,

    Its indeed very well crafted and beautifully photographed post. I am waiting to read about heidiland :)

    Great going and very well written, though sometimes I get confused with tongue twisting name of churches.

    Stories about patron saints of Zurich and discoveries of the spot they were buried by Charlemagne’s horse is very interesting. I came to know about Heidi recently when I bought some books for my kid and you read about her when you were 15 yrs old. So many things to learn from you :)

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Thank you very much Ravindra ji, Bindiya and Manish for your very kind and gracious words.

    Ravindra ji,

    I think it is the first time you have visited the site. I am so happy that you liked the post. The basic idea was to give the readers a glimpse of Zurich, the most beautiful city of Europe, which is also the commercial and cultural capital of Switzerland. So obviously, a small historical background of the monuments was pertinent.

    Manish,

    You have always been very kind and generous.

    Now about the names of some of the churches – actually it is not difficult to memorise these. Munster in German is equivalent to minster or church, gross (great) and frau is a German title equivalent to Mrs. and fraulein is used for spinsters. Likewise Limmat is the name of a river and quai is like quay, hence Limmatquai. It is just a matter of getting used to such names.

    I do have a couple of photographs of the statue of Charlemagne’s horse, which I will try to share with you. In our own history, some of the horses like Chetak will be long remembered.

    Yes, I would be very happy to write something about Heidiland shortly.

    Bindiya,

    You have proved that you are a great source of encouragement for me. It will give us all immense pleasure to see your contributions to the site.

    Thanks once again and God bless you all.

  • backpakker says:

    One of the best posts that Ive read in recent times..I cant tell you how oeverwhelmed I feel as it brought back some brilliant memories..Ive been to all the places mentioned in the post and I have had some of the best times there …thanks for sharing

    lakshmi

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Lakshmi,

    I am overwhelmed to see your most kind remarks. Honestly, I have no words to thank you for being such an enormous source of motivation, not only to me but also to many other contributors to this site.

    It’s an honour to be associated with a person like you.

    Thanks and God’s blessings.

  • backpakker says:

    Your words are very kind..Ive realized that travelling is often a humbling experience, but the best part is to meet people who share the same interests ..and ghumakkar is a great platform for the same..I must say that Im privileged as well to be able to meet so many people like you here .

    Lakshmi

  • Deepak says:

    Ram Saab,

    Your amazing as ever !! I just had a trip of Zurich. I couldn’t explain the experience in any better way.

    Regards
    Deepak

  • Vanitha Deepal says:

    Considering Zurich being one of my fav city in the ‘ to be visited’ list….i was profoundly glad to have experienced your travelogue and awesome pics…..it was ‘being’ there and seen it all…..

    Great Going!

    All the best.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Vanitha ji,

    Thanks for your kind remarks. I am happy that you found the post informative.

    Thank you very much for visiting. Please do keep on apprising us of your views from time to time.

    Deepak,

    As usual, your words have been highly encouraging. Much appreciated.

    Regards

  • Philip Mathai says:

    Dear Mr. Ram Dhall,
    I could Read this only now. Wonderful description of Zurich in fluent English! I wonder how you remember all this place names and its history, especially the reformation of Zwingli. Only a good journalist, a historian and a traveler combined can write like this. It is a pleasure to read it.

    Philip

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Most revered Philip Mathai Sir,

    I am totally overwhelmed by your most kind remarks. I don’t think I can find appropriate words to thank you for your generosity.

    Sir, I am a very simple and humble person and whatever little I have learnt, it is all due the blessings of my teachers and friends as well as well wishers like you.

    Your kind inputs will always encourage me to do still better.

    Warm regards,

    Ram Dhall

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Ram has been a banker most of this life and most of us can imagine that how boring that can be, especially when you consider other professions like journalism, traveling, writing :)

    I think he should write under some pen name to keep his current job relevant.

  • Kalyan says:

    Hi Ram,

    You have captured the city wonderfully through your lens. It’s fascinating viewing this city again and reading your lovely descriptions. Your posts are always so detailed & informative along with some marvelous pics…wonderful work!

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Kalyan Da,

    I am extremely grateful to yu for your kind words.

    Your inputs would always encourage me to do still better.

    Warm regards,

    Ram

  • Amit Dixit says:

    Dear Sir,
    First of All extremly sorry for late Rply!!!
    You know what ?? When u right something it becomes inspiration for others.
    I have read your previous articles also (Canterbury).I found each and every article to be very rich in subject and ofcourse flawless “Vocab”.I have never been to Zurich (Very Rich).U know i always think how one can remember so typical names of places.That is really amazing!!!
    It is always a great pleasure to read these type of awesome articles.
    keep writing good articles.

    Regards,
    Amit Dixit

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Thanks Amit. Scholarly readers like you keep me encouraged. I am a simple person and describe what I see and understand in a candid way. In the process if someone likes my posts, it’s simply God’s merciful blessing.

    As I requested you earlier too, please do enrich us with your experiences. I am aware that you have been writing for the print media in Lucknow.

    Regards,

  • MEGHA says:

    This once for my dear uncle

    “The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence.”
    and thats what i felt while reading it. The pics are fabulous and you have actually taken me on a dream journey of zurich.It is a pleasure to read it.

    take care ‘n’ keep writing

    Regards,
    Megha

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Megha,

    I am very happy to see your remarks. Thank you very much.

    Please do remain in touch and keep on apprising us of your views on the various posts.

    God’s blessings.

  • Azeem Beg says:

    Dear Ram Sir,

    You are a real genious.

    Only few people had got the ability to write such a wonderful discription of any event.

    So, request you to kindly continue it.

    Azeem

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