Posted on 12/22/2005

Photo taken on November  1, 2003

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Statue of Charlemagne inside the Grossmunster in Zurich, Nov. 2003

Statue of Charlemagne inside the Grossmunster in Zurich, Nov. 2003
Grossmünsterplatz, CH-8001 Zürich,
Tel: +41 (0) 44 252 5949,
Open: 1 Nov-31 Mar 10am-4pm, 1 Apr-31 Oct 10am-6pm,
Tram 4, 15 to <>

As Zürich's most imposing landmark, the Grossmünster takes centre-stage on the Limmat's east bank, in the area known as the Niederdorf. The building's lofty twin towers, which dominate the skyline and small-scale architecture of the surrounding area, are in stark contrast to the cathedral's lack of decorative grandeur and (relatively) diminutive interior dimensions. It was, of course, Huldrych Zwingli, the 16th-century reformist preacher who ensured the Grossmünster - or Great Minster – was free of ostentation. Seen by many as the "bürgermeister, secretary, and council" of Zürich in one, he was the most "liberal" of all the Reformers and a key figure in the running of the city (being responsible for its transformation from a sparsely populated community into a renowned religious centre for European theologians).

Founded in the ninth century by Charlemagne (Charles the Great), the Frankish King and Holy Roman Emperor, the original Carolingian church had its foundations laid on a site of long-established religious significance, namely the burial place of Felix and Regula (third-century Christian Romans and the patron saints of Zurich who were martyred by decapitation). Indeed, legend has it that Charlemagne founded the church after his horse stumbled over their burial site.

Its present Romanesque form dates from 1106, although the Grossmünster's neo-Gothic twin domes, built in 1781, serve as a replacement for the original spires devastated by fire in 1763. Inside, many of the cathedral's decorative elements, including the pulpit, have been partially reconstructed or, in the case of the organ (1960) are modern day replacements. Other artistic touches, such as the stained-glass windows by Augusto Giacometti and Otto Müch's ornate bronze doors in the North and South portals, date from the early-1930s and mid-1940s respectively.

The impressive crypt, a long triple-aisled hall, is dominated by a weathered statue of Charlemagne (which originally adorned the Southern Tower), with a replica now crowning the same spot. Also of interest are the Romanesque cloisters, built in 1170–80 and partly demolished in 1851 by the neo-Gothic reconstruction undertaken by G.A. Wegmann, before being renovated in the 1960s. As a haven of peace and tranquillity from the hustle and bustle of the Old Town, the vaulted bays, which surround a central garden, boast arched windows decorated with grotesque faces, dragons, centaurs and other mythical creatures.

Needless to say, views of the city from the top of the Grossmünster's towers (accessed by ascending 187 steps) are impressive, although the climb is not recommended for small children or the elderly.

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