Zurich (German: Zürich, German pronunciation: [ˈtsyːrɪç]; Swiss German: Züri ) is the largest city in Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Zurich. It is located in north-central Switzerland at the northwestern tip of Lake Zurich. The municipality has approximately 390,000 inhabitants, and the Zurich metropolitan area 1.83 million. Zurich is a hub for railways, roads, and air traffic. Both Zurich Airport and railway station are the largest and busiest in the country.
Permanently settled for around 2000 years, the history of Zurich goes back to its founding by the Romans, who, in 15 BC, called it Turicum. However, early settlements have been found dating back more than 6400 years ago. During the Middle Ages Zurich gained the independent and privileged status of imperial immediacy and, in 1519, was the place of origin and centre of the Protestant Reformation in German-speaking Switzerland, led by Ulrich Zwingli.
Zurich is a leading global city and among the world’s largest financial centres. The city is home to a large number of financial institutions and banking giants. Also, most of the research and development centres are concentrated in Zurich and the low rate of tax attracts overseas companies to set up their headquarters there.
Monocle’s 2012 «Quality of Life Survey» ranked Zurich first on a list of the top 25 cities in the world «to make a base within». According to several surveys from 2006 to 2008, Zurich was named the city with the best quality of life in the world as well as the wealthiest city in Europe.
Many museums and art galleries can be found in the city, including the Swiss National Museum and the Kunsthaus. Zurich also hosts one of the most important theatres in the German-speaking world.
Settlements of the Neolithic and Bronze Age were found around Lake Zurich. Traces of pre-Roman Celtic, La Tène settlements were discovered near the Lindenhof hill. In Roman times, Turicum was a tax-collecting point at the border of Gallia Belgica (from AD 90 Germania superior) and Raetia for goods trafficked on the Limmat river. After Emperor Constantine’s reforms in AD 318, the border between Gaul and Italy (two of the four praetorian prefectures of the Roman Empire) was located east of Turicum, crossing the River Linth between Lake Walen and Lake Zurich, where a castle and garrison looked over Turicum’s safety. The earliest written record of the town dates from the 2nd century, with a tombstone referring to it, discovered at the Lindenhof.
In the 5th century, the Germanic Alamanni tribe settled in the Swiss plateau. The Roman castle remained standing until the 7th century. A Carolingian castle, built on the site of the Roman castle by the grandson of Charlemagne, Louis the German, is mentioned in 835 (in castro Turicino iuxta fluvium Lindemaci). Louis also founded the Fraumünster abbey in 853 for his daughter Hildegard. He endowed the Benedictine convent with the lands of Zurich, Uri, and the Albis forest, and granted the convent immunity, placing it under his direct authority. In 1045, King Henry III granted the convent the right to hold markets, collect tolls, and mint coins, and thus effectively made the abbess the ruler of the city.
Zurich became an Imperial immediacy (Reichsunmittelbar or Imperial free city) in 1218 with the extinction of the main line of the Zähringer family and attained a status comparable to statehood. During the 1230s, a city wall was built, enclosing 38 hectares, when the earliest stone houses on the Rennweg were built as well. The Carolingian castle was used as a quarry, as it had started to fall into ruin.
Emperor Frederick II promoted the abbess of the Fraumünster to the rank of a duchess in 1234. The abbess nominated the mayor, and she frequently delegated the minting of coins to citizens of the city. The political power of the convent slowly waned in the 14th century, beginning with the establishment of the Zunftordnung (guild laws) in 1336 by Rudolf Brun, who also became the first independent mayor, i.e. not nominated by the abbess.
An important event in the early 14th century was the completion of the Manesse Codex, a key source of medieval German poetry. The famous illuminated manuscript – described as «the most beautifully illumined German manuscript in centuries;» – was commissioned by the Manesse family of Zurich, copied and illustrated in the city at some time between 1304 and 1340. Producing such a work was a highly expensive prestige project, requiring several years work by highly skilled scribes and miniature painters, and it clearly testifies to the increasing wealth and pride of Zurich citizens in this period.
On 1 May 1351, the citizens of Zurich had to swear allegiance before representatives of the cantons of Lucerne, Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden, the other members of the Swiss Confederacy. Thus, Zurich became the fifth member of the Confederacy, which was at that time a loose confederation of de facto independent states. Zurich was the presiding canton of the Diet from 1468 to 1519. This authority was the executive council and lawmaking body of the confederacy, from the Middle Ages until the establishment of the Swiss federal state in 1848. Zurich was temporarily expelled from the confederacy in 1440 due to a war with the other member states over the territory of Toggenburg (the Old Zurich War). Neither side had attained significant victory when peace was agreed upon in 1446, and Zurich was re-admitted to the confederation in 1450.
Zwingli started the Swiss Reformation at the time when he was the main preacher in the 1520s, at the Grossmünster. He lived there from 1484 until his death in 1531. The Zurich Bible, based on that of Zwingli, was issued in 1531. The Reformation resulted in major changes in state matters and civil life in Zurich, spreading also to a number of other cantons. Several cantons remained Catholic and became the basis of serious conflicts that eventually led to the outbreak of the Wars of Kappel.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Council of Zurich adopted an isolationist attitude, resulting in a second ring of imposing fortifications built in 1624. The Thirty Years’ War which raged across Europe motivated the city to build these walls. The fortifications required a lot of resources, which were taken from subject territories without reaching any agreement. The following revolts were crushed brutally. In 1648, Zurich proclaimed itself a republic, shedding its former status of a free imperial city. In this time the political system of Zurich was an oligarchy (Patriziat): the dominant families of the city were the following ones: Bonstetten, Brun, Bürkli, Escher vom Glas, Escher vom Luchs, Hirzel, Jori (or von Jori), Kilchsperger, Landenberg, Manesse, Meiss, Meyer von Knonau, Mülner, von Orelli.
The Helvetic Revolution of 1798 saw the fall of the Ancien Régime. Zurich lost control of the land and its economic privileges, and the city and the canton separated their possessions between 1803–1805. In 1839, the city had to yield to the demands of its urban subjects, following the Züriputsch of 6 September. Most of the ramparts built in the 17th century were torn down, without ever having been besieged, to allay rural concerns over the city’s hegemony. The Treaty of Zurich between Austria, France, and Sardinia was signed in 1859.
Zurich was the Federal capital for 1839–40, and consequently the victory of the Conservative party there in 1839 caused a great stir throughout Switzerland. But when in 1845 the Radicals regained power at Zurich, which was again the Federal capital for 1845–46, Zurich took the lead in opposing the Sonderbund cantons. Following the Sonderbund war and the formation of the Swiss Federal State, Zurich voted in favour of the Federal constitutions of 1848 and of 1874. The enormous immigration from the country districts into the town from the «thirties» onwards created an industrial class which, though «settled» in the town, did not possess the privileges of burghership, and consequently had no share in the municipal government. First of all in 1860 the town schools, hitherto open to «settlers» only on paying high fees, were made accessible to all, next in 1875 ten years’ residence ipso facto conferred the right of burghership, while in 1893 the eleven outlying districts were incorporated with the town proper
Extensive developments took place during the 19th century. From 1847, the Spanisch-Brötli-Bahn, the first railway on Swiss territory, connected Zurich with Baden, putting the Zürich Hauptbahnhof at the origin of the Swiss rail network. The present building of the Hauptbahnhof (the main railway station) dates to 1871. Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse (Station Street) was laid out in 1867, and the Zurich Stock Exchange was founded in 1877. Industrialisation led to migration into the cities and to rapid population growth, particularly in the suburbs of Zurich.
In 1893, the eleven outlying districts were incorporated within Zurich, including Aussersihl, the workmen’s quarter on the left bank of the Sihl, and additional land was reclaimed from Zurich lake.
The blue and white coat of arms of Zurich is attested from 1389, and was derived from banners with blue and white stripes in use since 1315 . The first certain testimony of banners with the same design is from 1434. The coat of arms is flanked by two lions. The red Schwenkel on top of the banner had varying interpretations: For the people of Zurich, it was a mark of honour, granted by Rudolph I. Zurich’s neighbours mocked it as a sign of shame, commemorating the loss of the banner at Winterthur in 1292.
Today, the Canton of Zurich uses the same coat of arms as the city.