Mountains of art, and culture, in Switzerland

Most people know Switzerland for scenery and chocolate, but it is a country rich in art and culture if you just take the time to see it. Photo: Villa Favorita, Lugano, Switzerland Photo: Lugano Tourism

SWITZERLANDMarch 9, 2013 – When most travelers consider the great European centers of art, they usually think of Florence, Rome, Paris or Madrid among others.

Mention the name Switzerland ( and the images that first come to mind are majestic peaks rising from the earth, villages nestled upon the shores of deep glacial lakes or panoramic tableaus that fade into infinity.

Oddly enough, these are only a prologue to a country that ignites the flames of artistic expression which are frequently unknown to many visitors. Switzerland is a place where the omnipotent hand of nature has created a breathtaking palette for the brushstrokes of man.

Renoir painting in Winterthur

To understand the art and culture of Switzerland, you must first look at its history. Centuries before Christ, people settled among the hills of what is now Bellinzona; a gateway between northern and southern Europe near the border of Italy. Switzerland has been a crossroads ever since.

Julius Caesar came to Geneva in 58 BC. The Romans later migrated north near present day Basel to establish a colony known as Augusta Raurica in 44 BC. The thriving commercial center of 20,000 people was the oldest Roman settlement on the Rhine.

By 15 BC the Romans had developed a customs post at a place called “Turicum.” Today we know it as Zurich.

With the conquering of the Alps, Switzerland’s cultural landscape was altered forever during the latter part of the 18th century with the onset of tourism.

Am Romerholz, Winterthur

By the middle of the 20th century, Switzerland was home to some of the finest private art collections in the world; the Buhrle Collection in Zurich, the Oskar Reinhart Foundation in Winterthur and Thyssen-Boremisza in Lugano; all world class exhibitions featuring Monet, Renoir, Gauguin and Van Gogh to name a few.

When the city of Basel founded the oldest university in Switzerland in 1460, it began to etch an indelible impression upon the cultural canvas of the country.

In 1661, the Amerbach Collection of Basel was acquired for the university, establishing the first public art museum in the world. Today, the Holbein collection combined with the works of native son, 19th century painter Arnold Bocklin, are among the highlights that contribute to Basel’s Fine Arts Museum as one of the best in the world.

Painting by Bernardino Luini

The canton of Ticino has been called “a fragment of the Mediterranean on the fringes of the north” and the frescoes of Bernardino Luini in the Church of St. Mary of the Angels in Lugano are superb examples of the Italian influence on the art of the region. Luini is often compared to his Renaissance contemporary  Leonardo da Vinci.

Lugano is also home to internationally acclaimed architect Mario Botta. Among Botta’s most recent projects was renovating La Scala Opera House in Milan.

At the Swiss Alpine Museum in Bern, Ferdinand Hodler paints man’s challenges of conquering nature by attempting to ascend to the summit of the Matterhorn. Hodler was clearly influenced by his surroundings, as was Alexander Calame who was the chief exponent of the Geneva School of Romantic Alpine painting.

In the early part of the 20th century, Expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner also took his inspiration from the mountains. While living in several locations around Davos, the region provided a temporary refuge and solace in Kirchner’s deeply troubled life. Today the Kirchner Museum has received accolades as an excellent example of modern Swiss architecture.

Just over the mountains tucked in the corner of a hillside in St. Moritz, sits a museum that honors Giovanni Segantini. Segantini’s mountain motifs are characterized by short, thick brushstrokes that magically blend into poetic rural scenes.

Eternal flame, Olympic Museum, Lausanne

At the Olympic Museum in Lausanne the concept of “Olympism” combines the development of man’s physical and moral senses with his cultural and artistic qualities. The museum rises from wide-stepped, landscaped terraces overlooking the Lake of Geneva.

It has been called “a child of the gods” where the Olympic flame burns as an eternal symbol of the games outside the museum built from white Grecian marble. Here the equipment becomes an art form all its own. It is a celebration of the games of antiquity that is both archive and learning center.

Chagall windows, Fraumunster, Zurich

At the Fraumunster in Zurich, Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows attract visitors from all over the world. Just across the river, the Kronenhalle is one of the city’s liveliest and most sophisticated restaurants where diners are surrounded by original works of many of the world’s greatest artists.

As art critic Judd Tully says, “Switzerland is really a very rich and diverse palette, if you will, of what you can see without having to know that much about it, really.”

With a vibrant artistic heritage, Switzerland looks brightly toward the future, and for the visitor traveling with a Swiss Rail Pass, the rail pass alone allows free admission to more than 400 museums throughout the country.

Art tells a story in Switzerland that is a chronology of man’s evolving creativity. It tells of men’s lives and the world in which they lived, yesterday and today with an eye always toward tomorrow.

Art is a visual diary of the centuries. It is a footnote to history.

Contact Bob at  <ahref=””>Google+</a>

Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in CharlotteNCTaylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club, which creates, and escorts customized tours to SwitzerlandFrance and Italy for groups of 12 or more.

Inquiries for groups can be made at Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others.

As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 71 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries. He also played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte.





This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

More from Travels with Peabod
blog comments powered by Disqus
Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


Contact Bob Taylor


Please enable pop-ups to use this feature, don't worry you can always turn them off later.

Question of the Day
Photo Galleries
Popular Threads
Powered by Disqus