Old City of Bern

The jade green waters of the River Aare meander along three sides of the Old City of Bern, a picturesque and beautifully preserved example of a medieval town that has rightfully earned its place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The city was founded in 1191 by the Zähringen family as a strategic stronghold. In those days the river served as a natural defence against invaders. Today, though, the River Aare serves as a refreshing recreational spot for the city’s residents during the summer months.

Old City of Bern
Old City of Bern © Keystone, Urs Hubacher
Facts & figures


Old City of Bern, founded in the 12th century. Town structure is High Middle Ages while the architecture is late Baroque.


Bern, capital of the canton of Bern, capital of Switzerland and seat of the federal government

UNESCO inscription



Unique testimony to a civilisation and culture which has disappeared (Criterion 3 of UNESCO Operational Guidelines)


The city of Bern is an exceptionally coherent example of medieval town planning. Despite the constant changes it has undergone over the course of its history, the original structure remains intact. Surrounded on three sides by the River Aare, it is an outstanding example of how a medieval urban structure can be adapted to meet the requirements and functions of a modern capital city. The Old City of Bern is characterised by its compact rows of houses, an impressive skyline, arcades, cellars, tours and fountains, not to mention its many government and administrative buildings.

World Heritage and Swissness

As the government buildings help shape the cityscape of Bern, likewise the perception and self-perception of the Swiss is strongly shaped by their unique political system. It is different from those used in most countries, which are based on the dynamics between government and opposition parties, in that it is a system based on consensus. In Switzerland, national cohesion is achieved by involving the whole population in the decision-making process and by allowing citizens to participate in direct democracy. You can find out more about Switzerland’s political structure and one of the oldest democracies in the world in the Resources section of our website.

Virtual tour

UNESCO world heritage - Old city of Berne
Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA