Our train journey granted us an afternoon and evening in Lucerne. I had visited Lucerne as a teenager; all I remembered was the iconic medieval covered bridge (translation: on every post card). What we found was a charming attractive small city, full of life — and full of tourists.
During its long history, Lucerne was important as a key trade and political connection between Italy and Germanic Northern Europe. Nonetheless, in the 14th century, only about 4,000 people lived here. Today Lucerne’s population is about 80,000. But about 10 million tourists pass through this small city each year.
Of course, we had to find and traverse the famous Chapel Bridge. We weren’t alone. While its genesis may have been in the 14th century, this incarnation of the Chapel Bridge is largely a reconstruction after a catastrophic fire in 1993.
Triangular painted panels fill the bridge roof structure. They tell stories from the history of Lucerne and Switzerland. This one tells a formative story, that of Mauritius, a Roman:
Mauritius, to whom a number of the bridge paintings was dedicated in 1611, was an Egyptian office serving in the Roman army as a Christian. Together with his Theban Legion, he secured the region of what is known as Switzerland today for the Roman Empire. Mauritius and his legion refused to worship the Roman gods and all suffered a martyr’s death. The city and republic of Lucerne honored Mauritius as a parton saint of the Catholic regions of Switzerland and of Lucerne.
The historic districts of the city straddle the Reuss River, which flows into Lake Lucerne. The historic architecture reflects in the water. We enjoyed the many vistas across the river to the hotels, churches and other buildings lining the water front.
Another covered bridge, the Spreuer Bridge, crosses the river a bit upstream from the Chapel Bridge.
It is famous for its Dance of Death paintings.
Very many of the buildings in the historic center are decorated with elaborate paintings and frescoes. We studied enough to know that they are part of an Alpine and Central European tradition called Luftlmalerei in German. Most of the painted façades that we see today date from the 19th and 20th centuries, although these types of building faces were popular in the previous centuries too.
Another Central European custom that we enjoyed is the projected sculptural signage. Traditionally businesses would advertise their function or service with imagery legible to illiterate customers. Today, these types of signs enliven the streets.
We noticed a pair of barely clad giant men on a number of building façades.
First thoughts were, Why are there Hawaiian Ali ‘i (chiefs) in Switzerland? Oh, they turn out to be giants and wild men of this hemisphere. There is a record of these two strong guys appearing on the face of a Lucerne clock tower in the 16th century. These giants are symbols of the strength and power of the soldiers and mercenaries of Lucerne. (Not Hawaii.)
The next morning, we savored this attractive city from the deck of our departing boat.