A dynamic city set in the frame of streetscapes and crystal clear waterscapes is an awe-inspiring settlement. The cobblestone streets, chocolate aroma, historical grandeur, captivating nightlife, and contemporary buildings fabricate Zurich as one of the most lively and silk-stocking neighbourhoods. The aura of this swiss city caresses every visitor with warmth and excitement due to its varying yet blended sense of architecture.

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The city with an urban area of around a 1.315million (as calculated in 2009)  lies in the foothills of the Alps along the north-western end of Lake Zurich. It is easy to commute and explore cosmopolis with a rich heritage serving as the financial and cultural centre of Europe.

Revisiting the Timeline of Zurich

Zurich was discovered by Romans around 2000 years ago when it was addressed as ‘Turicum’. Though the first human settlement dates back to 6400 years ago, the presence of a city is never confirmed. Only traces of the inhabitants living in huts with pile foundations driven into the shore of the lake were found. Before becoming an imperial free city in 1218, the Swiss city was ruled by Romans, then Germanic Alemanni and then Franks, which came to an end after the death of the Zahringer family, who were the last rulers of the city. 

Until the 9th century, the historical facts about the city were unknown. It began to develop in the 12th century after being an independent settlement. Zurich started being recognized as an urban area by the 17th century and became an important cultural and financial centre of Switzerland at the beginning of the 19th century. 

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Zürich seen from the “Waid” around 1884_© Zentralbibliothek Zürich

Social Viability

Switzerland has the second-highest quality of life. According to the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU), it is the best place to be born in the world due to its rich heritage and educated population. Zurich, the largest city of Switzerland and the capital of Canton of Zurich, is utmostly accountable for the above-mentioned assertions. The never-sleeping citywith a humongous range of bars and clubs to choose from for partying at night to ample museums, restaurants, and churches for strolling in the daytimeprovides an interactive environment for people to gossip and chill, to relax and ponder.

Typical swiss activities like Yodeling and playing the alphorn are still organized in rural parts of the city. An annual activity called Alpabzug, in which cattle are driven from Alpine pastures to lower elevations, is joined by a large town farmer’s market connecting the rural and urban spaces.

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A peak into a neighbourhood of the city_©www.expatica.com

Cultural Dynamics

With people speaking German, Italian, English and following Catholicism, Islam, Judaismthe city is a bouquet from around the globe. The multi-cuisine food in restaurants and varying dresses in the streets of Bahnhofstrasse glorifies the cultural diversity of the city. Zurich Opera house- the Schauspielhaus and orchestra Tonhalle organizes events annually, often as fundraisers bringing together different communities. 

The city hosts several traditional annual festivals, namely, the Sechseläuten, the Zurich carnival Fasnacht and the Street Parade planning different events that are a blend of modernism and traditional values. The celebrations take place on the streets with people participating and enjoying historical attire. People following different beliefs and rituals come together, dance to the tunes of alpine folk music, and demonstrate the beauty of culturally harmonious living. 

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Street Parade_©www.thelocal.ch
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Zurich Tanzt dance festival_©www.thetravelmagazine.net
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A month long food Festival_©www.mondomulia.net

Architectural Style of Zurich: A blend of Eras

The old city is divided into two parts by the river Limmat running right through it, emerging from lake Zurich and moving out towards the west. The old city, Altstadt, is a combination of beautiful churches and alluring market spaces with walkable colourful streets. In the eastern part of the town lies the three famous churches, the Grossmunster, St Peter’s Church, and the Framunster. 

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Grussmunster_©Praveen Ramavath

The Grossmunster, simplified to great minister, is a protestant church constructed in 700 AD in Romanesque architectural style. The twin towers of the church visible from a distance are one of the striking features. The carved portals with grotesques adorning the capitals of medieval columns is a significant feature of the romanesque era. The church also houses a crypt dating back to the 11th and 13th centuries. St Peter’s church is also built of the same era with only a wooden roof in Zurich; the church has a vaulted roof and a three-story clock tower.

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Choir with Stained windows in Fraumunster_©Alfredo Haberli

The Fraumunster church of the Gothic era was built on the remains of the abbey of the aristocratic women. But, the most alluring feature of the church is the stained glass windows built in the choir by artist Marc Chagall in different bright colours, each depicting some biblical story. 

Another government building Rathaus which houses the legislative members and parliament, is a blend of renaissance style with elements of Baroque incorporated later. The bay windows and colourful buildings are the highlights of the architecture of the old city and differentiate it from contemporary designs. 

Augustinergasse is one such colourful street connecting Bahnhofstrasse and St Peter and is hard to ignore. Cabaret Voltaire and Odeon cafe is another historic structure that marks the beginning of the Dada art movement. The exiled artists used this place to sit and discuss art and its condition in the city. With its Art Nouveau interiors, the cafe now showcases art and has performances by artists.

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Law Library_©Pro Litteris

The Law Library at the University of Zurich is an example of the conversion of an old structure into a contemporary design. It was designed by Hermann Fietzz in 1909 in an L-shaped form for the university but 80 years later redesigned by Santiago Calatrava in 2004, keeping the exteriors intact and changing the interiors completely. 

The design constitutes six lenticular running galleries with desks for students and an elliptical glass dome in the roof pouring in natural light controlled by a mechanical solar shade system. Moving towards the contemporary side of the city, it also houses a varied bunch of intriguing modern designs. From Corbusier’s pavilion to Kunsthaus and modern villas, the city is a perfect combination of technology and aesthetics. 

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Le Corbusier pavillion_©www.zuerich.com

Le Corbusier pavilion is the last building designed by the architect and is his only building to be built completely from glass and steel. The colourful facade of white and primary colour enamel panels is a refined combination of architecture and art coming to life together. This structure on the lake of Zurich is a modular design crafted by the architect keeping in mind even the design of door handles. 

Demographics affecting Architecture

The population of Zurich constitutes more than one-third of immigrants from Italy, the Balkans, Portugal, Germany, and many Non-European countries. According to a survey conducted in 2018, 32% of the total population were non-swiss citizens from 172 different countries. This leads to a multicultural city with people from different backgrounds with different ways of living life. 

The difference in cultures to different housing patterns of the city ranging from traditional to modern housing catering to varying communities of people. For instance, middle-class neighbourhoods are located in the western and northern parts of the city.

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A street with houses for different communities_©www.wayfaringwithwagner.com
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A contemporary housing neighbourhood_©www.house-q1.web.app

Dadaists used to say, in Zurich, everybody dances to their own boom boom. It articulates the vibe and environment of the city where there is something for everyone, and this blend of culture and art relaxes you and attracts you and keeps you close to the natural landscape as well. 

And for your next visit, do not forget to enjoy a dip in the river at BADI (It is a riverside outdoor bathing area).


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Expat Guide to Switzerland | Expatica. (n.d.). Living in Zurich: the best neighborhoods for expats | Expatica. [online] Available at: https://www.expatica.com/ch/moving/location/where-to-live-in-zurich-1108190/ [Accessed 26 Jul. 2021].

www.zuerich.com. (n.d.). Faculty of Law Library | Attractions in Zurich. [online] Available at: https://www.zuerich.com/en/visit/attractions/faculty-of-law-library#&gid=1&pid=2 [Accessed 26 Jul. 2021].

Wikipedia Contributors (2021). Grossmünster. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grossm%C3%BCnster [Accessed 26 Jul. 2021].

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Aastha is an architecture graduate who is enthusiastic about playing with words and inditing the stories waiting to be told. Apart from being an expressionist she is an avid reader and a philomath on a journey to make a difference with her deeds.