Fribourg (; , ; or Freiburg im Üechtland, Swiss German pronunciation: ; or Friborgo) is the capital of the Swiss canton of Fribourg and the district of Sarine. It is located on both sides of the river Saane/Sarine, on the Swiss plateau, and is an important economic, administrative and educational center on the cultural border between German and French Switzerland (Romandy). Its Old City, one of the best maintained in Switzerland, sits on a small rocky hill above the valley of the Sarine.
The region around Fribourg has been settled since the Neolithic period, although few remains have been found. These include some flint tools found near Bourguillon, as well as a stone hatchet and bronze tools. A river crossing was located in the area during the Roman Era. The main activity in the Swiss plateau bypassed the area to the north, however, and was instead centered around the valley of the Broye River and Aventicum. Therefore only a few remains from the Roman era have been found in Fribourg. These include the traces of a wall foundation on the plains near Pérolles.
The town was founded in 1157 by Berchtold IV von Zähringen. Its name is derived from German frei (free) and Burg (fort). Its most ancient part is conveniently located on a former peninsula of the River Sarine, protected on three sides by steep cliffs. The easily defended city helped the Dukes of Zähringen to strengthen and extend their power in the Swiss plateau in the area between the Aar and the Saane/Sarine.
Beginning at the time of its inception, Fribourg built a city-state; initially, the land it controlled lay some distance away. When the dukes of Zähringen died out in 1218, the city was transferred to the related Kyburg family. They granted the city its former privileges and wrote the municipal laws in the so-called Handfeste in 1249, in which the legal, institutional and economic organizations were established. Several treaties with neighbouring city-states, including Avenches (1239), Bern (1243), and Murten (Morat) (1245), were signed at this time.
The city was sold to the Habsburgs in 1277. Trade and industry began as early as the mid-13th century. In the early period, Fribourg consisted of four distinct inner city districts: Burg, Au, Neuenstadt (La Neuveville), and Spital. The city developed rapidly, which led to its first expansion: the Burg district expanded to the west in 1224, a town was established across the river in 1254, and in 1280 development began near Place Python. These expansions reflect the economic boom in Fribourg. The 14th century was dominated by trade, and cloth and leather production, which brought the city renown in Central Europe by 1370. In 1339, Fribourg participated alongside the Habsburgs and the County of Burgundy in the Battle of Laupen against Bern and its Swiss Confederacy allies.
The treaty with Bern was renewed in 1403. The leaders of the city began a territorial acquisition, in which they gradually brought more nearby land under their control. This laid the ground-work for the Canton of Fribourg. By 1442 the city had control of all the land within about , on both sides of the Saane. It was therefore directly controlled by the city leaders, not by any intermediate administration.
The mid-15th century was shaped by various military conflicts. First, considerable losses in a war against Savoy had to be made good. The Savoyard influence on the city grew, and the Habsburgs ceded it to them in 1452. It remained under the control of Savoy until the Burgundian Wars in 1477. As an ally of Bern, Fribourg participated in the war against Charles I of Burgundy, thereby bringing more land under its control.
After the city was released from the sphere of influence of Savoy, it attained the status of Free Imperial City in 1478. The city and its canton joined the Swiss Confederation in 1481, and has long influenced Swiss and European Catholicism. In the 16th century, Fribourg continued to grow, first following the invasion of Waadtland (Pays de Vaud) in 1536 with the help of Bern, and then in 1554 through the annexation of land formerly controlled by the Count of Greyerz (Gruyère).
Several prominent families developed as a result of the cloth and leather trade, beginning in the 14th century, including Gottrau, Lanthen, Affry, Diesbach (originally from Bern), Von der Weid, Fegeli, and Weck. Together with the local nobles (the Maggenberg, Düddingen/Velga, Montenach, Englisberg and Praroman families) they formed the 15th century patrician class. This contributed to the decline of the cloth trade, however, as the families involved in the industry began to be more concerned with governing the city and its surrounding possessions.
An important milestone for the politics of the city was reached in 1627, when the patricians drew up a new constitution, in which they declared that they were the only people capable of ruling the city, and thereby took control of all voting rights. This consolidated the oligarchy which had begun to form as early as the 15th century.
Importance of monasteries and churches in Fribourg
The monasteries of Fribourg have always formed a centre of religious culture, which includes architecture, sculpture and painting, and have contributed to the culture of the city. The Franciscan monastery was donated by Jakob von Riggisberg in 1256. In early times, it was closely associated with the city council, because it housed the city archives and its monastery church was used for town meetings until 1433.
Similarly, the Augustinian monastery was founded in the mid-13th century, and enjoyed the support of the noble Velga family for a long time. Additionally, Maigrauge Abbey has existed since 1255, and has belonged to the Cistercians since 1262. An important institution was the public hospital, opened in the mid-13th century, which provided services for the poor.
During the Reformation, Fribourg remained Catholic, although it was nearly surrounded by the Protestant Bern. This led to repeated conflicts over religion in border regions, and in areas controlled jointly by Fribourg and Bern. The city was a major centre of the Counter-Reformation. At the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th, new monasteries were established in the city, including: a Capuchin monastery (1608), another on Bisemberg (1621), an Ursuline monastery (1634), and a Visitandine monastery (1635). The most influential monastery, however, was that of the Jesuits, which contributed to a large extent to the advancement and prosperity of the city. It established the College of Saint Michael in 1582, the theological faculty of which formed the basis of the University of Fribourg. The concept of an objective press was also begun by the Jesuits.
In 1613 Fribourg became the seat of the Bishop of Lausanne, who, after the Reformation, was forced first into Evian, and then into exile in Burgundy. Today it is the seat of the Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg.
The strong patrician regime, consisting of no more than 60 families, filled all of the influential positions in the city and dominated all political, social, economic and cultural arenas of Fribourg. On several occasions unhappy citizens joined together to attempt a revolt, including in 1781 under the leadership of Pierre-Nicolas Chenaux. These revolts were repressed with the help of Bern and Bernese troops. The invasion of Switzerland by French troops in 1798 lead to the downfall of this Ancien Régime. Fribourg capitulated to the French on 2 March and relinquished leadership of its lands. This freed the way for the first municipal elections, in which Jean de Montenach was elected the first mayor. With the introduction of the Act of Mediation under Napoleon in 1803, the separation of the city of Fribourg from its Canton was finally carried out. Fribourg was made the capital of its region and Canton, and, between 1803 and 1809, was one of the capitals of Switzerland.
The patricians regained control of the city in 1814 during the Restoration period. They ruled until 1830. Its leadership was followed by a new and more liberal constitution. Fribourg was part of the 1845-1847 Sonderbund, a "separate alliance" of Catholic cantons attempting to secede from Switzerland. Fribourg and the Sonderbund capitulated to Federalist forces under General Dufour on 14 November 1847 in what amounted to a brief and nearly bloodless Swiss civil war. Since 1848, the new national constitution and the amendment to the Canton constitution has guaranteed every citizen the right to vote.
The later 19th and the 20th century brought about drastic changes to the city's culture and physical nature. In 1848 the city wall was partially torn down and a new bridge constructed across the Saane/Sarine. The opening of the midland railway line through the city in 1862 led to the development of a "railway station quarter" of the city. The improved transportation enabled Fribourg to undergo industrialisation. The city centre shifted from the Old City to the new Train Station quarter. Extensive areas in Pérolles, Beauregard and Vignettaz were developed with industry or houses around 1900. The inauguration of the University in 1889 was an important event in Fribourg. Another economic boon to the city was the opening of the nearby A12 highway.