Silhouette of Solothurn (Photo: LC)

Solothurn might seem to a foreign traveler like any other small town in Switzerland. The city of 18,000 inhabitants has a medieval old town with windows decorated with geraniums and countless fountains also decorated with flower beds. A city that breathes opulence and tranquility with its banks, its tower and its astronomical clock or its museum of fine arts.

And yet, the elegance of the facades distinguishes Solothurn; an uncommon elegance for a city of this size. Just like the gigantic white stone cathedral, whose imposing dome dominates the city’s skyline.

Royal ambassadors, Jesuits and Napoleon

… In fact,

Solothurn, a bastion of the Counter-Reformation, was elected in 1530 as the city of residence for the ambassadors of the French Kingdom. They had a great influence on the city until their departure in 1792, with the end of the monarchy. We owe them in particular the construction of churches of baroque and classical style, magnifying the Catholic religion. This is the case of the beautiful Jesuit church built in 1680 and the cathedral, a masterpiece built in 1762 by an Italian architect.

The presence of the French ambassadors created a real “court”, where the patricians displayed their decorum through their sumptuous residences. You can admire the rich facades as you stroll along the Hauptgasse. To finally stop in front of the Crown Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Switzerland, facing the cathedral.

One of the most famous guests of the hotel was Bonaparte, in 1797. Exasperated by the Bernese government’s reception and fearing for his life, the future Napoleon settled for a glass of water and left immediately. However, he left a bill of more than 2,580 gold louis, which he had spent on the preparations for his arrival. The bill is still posted in the hotel lobby. And still awaits the payment of the French State!

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Luc Citrinot