Why is Bern the Capital of Switzerland?

Why Is Bern The Capital of Switzerland?
Why Is Bern The Capital of Switzerland?

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Ask many people what the capital of Switzerland is, and there is a pretty strong chance that they will get it wrong. This is because Switzerland is one of those countries where the capital may not be immediately obvious. So, what is the capital of Switzerland? Let’s take a look! 

What Is The Capital of Switzerland?

The capital of Switzerland is Bern. You may sometimes see this spelled as Berne, but we will be using the ‘Bern’ spelling throughout this page.

A lot of people incorrectly believe that the capital is Zurich. This is because you are much more likely to hear somebody talk about Zurich in relation to Switzerland. Over the course of this page, you will learn why Bern is the capital of the country. 

Where Is The Capital of Switzerland Located?

Where Is The Capital of Switzerland Located?
Where Is The Capital of Switzerland Located?

Bern is located in the West of the country. It has a population of slightly over 100,000. So, by European capital sizes, Berne is actually pretty small. However, this was one of the intentions when it was decided as the capital of the country. Again, this is something that we will be discussing in a short while. 

Brief History of Bern

Bern, Switzerland. View of the old city center and Nydeggbrucke bridge over river Aare.
Bern, Switzerland. View of the old city center and Nydeggbrucke bridge over river Aare.

Outside of being the capital city, Bern hasn’t really played an important role in the development of Switzerland or in Europe. Although, this was planned.

What we can tell you is that there was nobody living around Bern until the 12th Century. This is a stark contrast from many of the other capital cities in Europe. Many of those capital cities had people living there for thousands of years prior. 

Back when Bern was founded, we didn’t have countries as such. At least, not in Switzerland. Each area was ruled by a different group of people. Bern was founded by the Bahringer Family. It is likely that this happened in 1191. However, by 1218, the Bahringer Family had died out. Bern was put under the rule of its people. Although, how well this worked out is anybody’s guess.

By 1353, it didn’t really matter. The beginnings of Switzerland (the Swiss Confederacy) were formed, and Bern became one of the founding members. This was a loose alliance of regions that formed under one banner.

Since then, the city has gone through a lot of growth. It has even been the victim of several wars and natural disasters. However, nothing really stands out on the history front, at least not in comparison to other European capitals. Bern just doesn’t have a whole lot of history behind it. That’s not to say that there isn’t history here. A walk around Bern will show you an ancient Medieval city that has grown through a lot of different time periods. However, it hasn’t been ravished by war (Switzerland was not involved in either World War). 

When Did Bern Become The Capital of Switzerland?

Old Town of Bern, capital of Switzerland, covered with white snow in winter
Old Town of Bern, capital of Switzerland, covered with white snow in winter

Bern became the capital of Switzerland in 1848. 

Why Is Bern The Capital of Switzerland?

Head to most European countries, and you will notice that the largest city tends to be the biggest city. This isn’t always the case, but it is how history has developed these places. The capital city was decided centuries and centuries ago. When a capital city is decided, a ton of people move there and you get a population explosion.

This isn’t the case with Bern. Now, Switzerland isn’t a massive country in comparison to its neighbors. However, Bern is only the fifth largest city. Zurich is 5x smaller.

So, why is this? Why did Bern become the capital city and not somewhere like Zurich? Well, the reason for this is pretty simple. 

Up until 1798, Switzerland wasn’t really a country. There was an alliance of regions, but they were all independent. Every so often, the alliance members would meet and have a discussion, but there wasn’t a fixed place for them to meet. However, something happened and the Swiss alliance members decided that the way they worked should change.

In 1798, Napoleon invaded Switzerland. Since the region was just a group of allied regions, the defense wasn’t the greatest. The allies decided that they needed to become a nation. This meant that they would need to all join up and decide on a capital city. Bern was chosen in 1848.

Bern was selected because it was small. It wasn’t a major seat of power at the time (and the area still isn’t as powerful as other parts of the country). This made it a great choice. When you have a ton of allied regions joining up, you don’t want to make one region seem more powerful. By giving it to Zurich, there was a risk that trade would seriously impact government policies. Other regions would have been impacted by the cultures that had developed there, which may not necessarily have been the same culture as other regions.

Bern also had the benefit of not being a populated place. There was a ton of land there, and it was all available for free. It made it perfect for developing a city, including government buildings. 

Best Places To Visit in Bern 

There are a few awesome places that you may want to head if you take a trip to Bern. Here are a few of our highlights.

Einstein Museum

Einstein is one of the most famous people to come from Bern. The Einstein Museum (part of a larger museum) will show you various exhibits that detail his life and how he came to win a Nobel Prize.

Old Town

The Old Town is always a stunning place to visit in any European city. This is where you get to see the oldest buildings and, as anybody who knows Swiss architecture will attest, these buildings are gorgeous. 

Einstein Haus

Another Einstein exhibit! Here, you will be visiting one of Einstein’s residences. 

Clock Tower

The Clock Tower is over 800 years old. It is a beautiful piece of architecture that stands in the center of Bern. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else in Europe.

See Also

Capital Cities 

Hi and welcome to my travel blog! Based in London, I work in investment banking in a quantitative field and although I am not part of the travel industry, I have a ton of passion for travel. My blog is a reference guide for my fellow travelers with the same passion as me. Hopefully the blog is easy to navigate and my aim is to bring the most relevant and interesting information before you begin your journey!