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Fribourg (French), ( or , often Fribourg) is the capital of the Swissmarker canton of Fribourgmarker 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.


Fribourg has an elevation of (in the Old City), and is situated southwest of Bernmarker. It is located on the Swiss plateau, and extends on both sides of the Saane/Sarine River, which, in the vicinity of Fribourg, has cut deeply into the molasse. The Old City is located on a hill, only about wide, which rises about above the valley floor. Most quarters of the city are located on the High Plateau and the surrounding hills, which have an average elevation of . The valley floor is only settled in the area immediately around the Old City.
View of Fribourg
Valley of the Sarine near Fribourg
The area of the municipality, which, at , is relatively small for a city, covers an area of Molasse in the central part of Canton Fribourgmarker. The area is cut through from south to north by the tightly wound Saane/Sarine River, which has eroded a valley, in some places, to a depth of below the surrounding Plateau. In general, the valley floor is between wide. Pérolles-Seemarker, formed as a reservoir by Maigrauge Dam, the first Gravity Dam in Europe, in 1872, is located south of the city. The head of the Schiffenenseemarker is located just north of the city. At both of these artificial lakes, the Saane/Sarine covers nearly the entire valley floor.

The flat valley floor is flanked on both sides by steep, largely wooded, slopes. To the east, the municipality reaches up the slopes of Mount Schönberg, which, with an elevation of , is the highest point in Fribourg. The Galtera River, also deeply cut into the plateau, flows between the mountain and the river, emptying into the Saane/Sarine near the Old City.

The former village of Bourguillon lies within the municipality. Fribourg borders on Düdingenmarker and Tafersmarker to the east, Pierrafortschamarker to the southeast, Marly to the south, Villars-sur-Glânemarker and Givisiezmarker to the west, and Granges-Paccotmarker to the north.



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 Broyemarker river and Aventicummarker. 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.

Middle Ages

Fribourg Tour de Bourguillon

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 would help the Duke of Zähringen strengthen and extend their power in the Swiss plateau in the area between the Aarmarker and the Saane/Sarine.

Beginning at the time of its inception, Fribourg built a city-state; initially, the land it controlled was somewhat distant. 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 neighboring city-states, including Avenchesmarker (1239), Bern (1243), and Murtenmarker (1245), were completed 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 was formed of four distinct quarters: Burg, Au, Neustadt, and Spital. The city developed rapidly, and required its first expansions: the Burg quarter 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 to renown in Central Europe by 1370.

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.
Fribourg City Hall
The mid 15th century was shaped by various military conflicts. First, large losses in a war against Savoy had to be settled. 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 been influential on Swiss and European Catholicism. In the 16th century, Fribourg continued to grow, first from the invasion of Waadtland in 1536 with the help of Bern, and then in 1554 through the annexation of land formerly controlled by the Count of Greyerz.

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 nobels (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 worry more about governing the city and its surrounding possessions.

An important milestone for the politics of the city came in 1627, when the patricians wrote 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 solidified 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 center of religious culture, including 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 monastic church was used for town meetings until 1433.
Maigrauge Abbey in Fribourg
Likewise, 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 center 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). monastery, however, was that of the Jesuits, which heavily contributed to the advancement and prosperity of the city. It established the College of Saint Michael in 1582, the religious faculty of which formed the origin of the University of Fribourgmarker. 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.


Saane/Sarine river near the city
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. Multiple times 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 the\is 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 Darfour 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.

Modern Times

The later 19th and the 20th century rendered 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 lead to the development of a "railway station quarter" of the city. The improved transportation enabled Fribourg to undergo industrialisation. The city center 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.


Nowadays, Fribourg and surrounding developed area has a population of 94,867 inhabitants with Fribourg itself having 33,008. Surrounding municipalities include Givisiezmarker, Granges-Paccotmarker, Villars-sur-Glânemarker, Marly, as well as Corminboeufmarker, Belfauxmarker, Grolleymarker, and stretches as far as Düdingenmarker (French Guin) and Tafersmarker (French Tavel) on the right bank of the Sarine.

Population Growth
Year Population Percent German-Speaking
1450 6,000
1798 5,117
1850 9,065
1870 10,581
1888 12,195 37.1 %
1900 15,794 35.4 %
1910 20,293 33.0 %
1930 21,557 33.3 %
1950 29,005 33.2 %
1960 32,583
1970 39,695 28.0 %
1980 37,400
1990 36,355 22.8 %
2000 35,547 21.2 %
With a population of 34,084 (as of December 2008), Fribourg is the largest city in Canton Fribourg. About 29% of the inhabitants are foreigners. The population of Fribourg grew markedly at the beginning of the 20th century, as well as from 1930 to 1970. The maximum population of 42,000 was reached in 1974. Since then, there had been a population loss of approximately 14%, which might have recently reversed.

The population of the agglomeration around Fribourg is 110,000, or, counting only the most nearby suburbs, 70,000. This includes the municipalities of Avry, Belfaux, Corminboeuf, Givisiez, Granges-Paccot, Marly, Matran and Villars-sur-Glâne.

The growth of the agglomeration around Fribourg has fused the city proper with the neighboring towns of Villars-sur-Glâne, Givisiez, and Granges-Paccot. The town of Klein-Schönberg, which belongs to Tafers, and the village of Uebewil, which belongs to Düdingen, are located right on the eastern edge of town. This settlement area itself has a population of 50,000.


As of 2000, 63.6% of the population speak French, 21.2% speak German, 3.8% speak Italian, and the remaining 11.4% speak numerous other languages including: Albanian, Serbian, Spanish and Portuguese. Fribourg has two official languages, and French clearly outweighs German, unlike in other nearby towns.

Fribourg has always been located on the Swiss language border, but at the time of the city's founding in the 12th century, German was the prevailing language. Although German was the official language of the city until 1800, French gradually became more influential. This was aided by industrialization, which led to an influx of French-speaking immigrants. Since the political changes of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the German-speaking population has been a minority. Even in the German language, the town is often called "Fribourg" instead of the more Germanic "Freiburg".


The population of Fribourg is predominantly Catholic. As of 2000, 69% are Catholic, 9% Protestant, 14% belonged to other faiths and 8% are Atheist. The city remained Catholic during the Reformation, and has since become a center of Catholicism. It has a greater than average number of churches and monasteries. Fribourg has been the seat of the Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg since 1613. (See Sonderbund0



Legislative authority is vested in an 80-member general council elected by the citizens of the municipality every four years. The delegates are selected through a proportional representation method. The responsibilities of the city council include the budget and audit, and the establishment of local regulations.


The executive power in Fribourg is the municipal council. It is formed of five members elected by the people using a Proportional Representation method. In 2001, the number of members was decreased from nine to five. The term of office is five years. The responsibilities of the municipal council include the enforcement of the resolutions of the general council, the execution of the legislation of the Swiss federation and canton government, as well as representing and guiding the city. The mayor (Stadtamman) has additional authorities.

The five current members are (since 5 March 2006):
  • Pierre-Alain Clément (SP) - Mayor (Stadtamman)
  • Jean Bourgknecht (CV]) - Deputy Mayor (Vize-Stadtamman)
  • Marie-Thérèsa Maradan Ledergerber (SP)
  • Madleine Genoud-Page (CSP)
  • Charles de Reyff (CVP)


Development of trade and economy

Several types of industry developed in Fribourg as early as the 13th and 14th centuries. The extension of the city along the east bank of the Saane/Sarine River made about this time indicates a strong economic upswing. In Galterntal, water power was used for various mills. Along the Saane new trade districts developed with the towns of Au, Neustadt and Matten.

The tanneries and cloth manufacturers, strengthened by widespread sheep raising, led an economic boom in the 14th and 15th centuries. This helped Fribourg by making its trades well-known throughout central Europe. A gradual decline in cloth making in the second half of the 15th century occurred as local farmers replaced their sheep with cattle. Other reasons for the collapse of the cloth industry in the 16th century include the fact that the guild refused to use new materials or modern styles, and that the social structure of the city changed with the rise of the patrician class.

After this time, Fribourg was shaped by low-level trade, and was not industrialized until it was connected to the Swiss Railroad, beginning in the 1870s. After Lake Pérolles was built in 1872, energy could be supplied to the plateau south and west of the city. Thus, an industrial area developed there, dominated in its early years by a wagon factory and a lumber mill. Later, two breweries were established in this area. A chocolate factory was established in Villârs-sur-Glâne in 1901, but it came under Fribourg's jurisdiction in 1906 after a change of borders.

In the course of the 20th century, the plateau became the industrial section of the city. The development of new industrial areas in neighboring municipalities, beginning in the 1970s, has allowed for continued economic growth.

Economic situation today

About 25,000 jobs are offered in Fribourg today. The 0.6% of these positions which remain in the agricultural sector have little impact on the modern economy. Agriculture in the area is concentrated in cattle raising and dairy farming. 17% of the jobs are in the Industrial sector, and about 82% of the worker are in the Service sector.

Fribourg has more jobs than laborers, and is therefore a large commuter destination for the largely agricultural surrounding area. Local industry includes food and luxury products, drinks (the breweries are owned by the Danishmarker firm Carlsberg), metal and machine construction, electronics, and computer technology.

The largest number of workers are active in the service industries. Many of these work in government administrative positions. Other important sectors are education (at the University), banks and insurance companies, tourism and restaurants, as well as health services. Fribourg is home to the administrative offices of several international companies. The Cantonal hospital is on the border with Villars-sur-Glâne.


Schools at the compulsory and pre-university level are available in both French and German. The University is officially bilingual, meaning students are expected to have a passive knowledge of both languages, even though it is possible to graduate with a degree exclusively in either language, or both. It is also reputed abroad for its legal and theological studies.

The Villa St. Jean International School was also located in Fribourg.
  • University of Fribourgmarker
  • Ecole de multimedia et d'art de Fribourg: multimedia and art school, Fribourg, is a professional school on new media communication, image and technics.


Fribourg is the most important transport hub of the canton of Fribourg.


The town lies on the old main road, from Bernemarker to Veveymarker, an acts as an access point with Payernemarker, Murtenmarker and Thunmarker. The connection to the Swiss motorway network was established in 1971 with the opening of the A12 motorway from Bern to Matranmarker, which was extended in 1981 to Vevey. The Swiss east-west A1 from the West Bern bypasses the town to the north and west, only effecting the communities of Tälchen and Chamblioux. The access points of Fribourg-Sud and Fribourg-North are each about 3 km from the city centre.


Zaehringen bridge crossing the Sarine
The connection to the railway network, took place in several stages from 1860. Initially, the railway line from Bern to Fribourg opened on 2 July 1860 with a temporary terminal at Balliswil about 4 km north of the city, as the Grandfey Viaduct over the Saanegraben was not yet finished. On 4 September 1862, the whole of the line from Balliswil to Lausanne via Fribourg opened, with a temporary station at Fribourg, until the permanent building opened in 1873. A line to Payernemarker opened on 25 August 1876 and to Murtenmarker on 23 August 1898.


TPF trolley bus in Fribourg
A funicular railway has been operated from the Neuveville district to the upper city since 1899 by the sewage works. From 1897 to 1965 in Fribourg there was a long tram network in operation, with the trams replaced from 1949 with trolley buses. The current bus network is now operated by the (Transports publics Fribourgeois), with connections to Bulle, Avenches, Schmitten, Schwarzenburg and in the tourist region Schwarzseemarker.


The regional Bern-Belp Airportmarker is an hour away from the area.

Culture and tourism

Fribourg Hôtel Ratzé
Fribourg is a day trip destination for tourists who want to visit the sights of the city. These include the historic Old City with its Gothic Cathedral of Saint Nicholas renowned for its stained glass windows designed by Józef Mehoffer, and the museums. The Natural History Museum was founded in 1873, and is now located in the natural sciences building at the University. The Museum of Art and History, located in the Ratzéhof since 1920, has exhibits on ancient and early history, sculpture and paintings, traditional tin figures, arts and crafts, as well as money and graphic collections. In the cathedral, a treasure chamber has been on display since 1992. Other museums include the Swiss Museum of Marionnettes, the Swiss Sewing Machine Museum, the Gutenberg Museum and a beer museum.

Cultural experiences include the festival of religious music, the international folklore convention, the jazz parade, an international film festival and Cinéplus (since 1972).

Like its sister city Bern, Fribourg has preserved its medieval center as a whole that is now one of the largest in Europe. It is located on a spectacular peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the Saane/Sarine river. The architecture of the Old City date primarily from the Gothic period; it was built predominately before the 16th century. Most houses are built of the local molasse stone. Consisting of the neighborhoods Bourg, Auge and Neuveville, its old town is rich in fountains and churches dating from the 12th century until the 17th century. Its Gothic cathedral, reaching in height, was built between 1283 and 1490.The fortifications of Fribourg form the most important medieval military architecture of Switzerland: of ramparts, 14 towers and one big bulwark. The protections are especially well preserved east and south of the city.



The most popular sports club in the town is the ice hockey club HC Fribourg-Gottéron, who play in the National League A and have so far won four Vice-Swiss championship. Games are held in the Patinoire St-Léonard (capacity: 7433 spectators).

Basketball is played by Benetton Fribourg Olympic, who play their home games at the 3,500 capacity gym of the Holy Cross College. The club has been successful, winning 13 championships: 1966,'71,'73,'74,'78,'79,'81,'82,'85,'91,'92,'98,'99 and 2007; 6 Swiss-times Cup winners: 1967,'76,'78,'97,'98 and 2007 and 1 League Cup winner: 2007; it is the leading national association.

The football club FC Fribourg plays in the Swiss 1st League, the highest amateur class.

Since 1933, on the first Sunday in October the Murten run between Morat-Fribourg takes place. Commemorating the Battle of Murten, the route is one of the most popular fun runs in Switzerland.

Famous Fribourgeois


The canton and the capital share the same name but have different coats of arms.

See also


  1. See linked articles for reference sources.

External links

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