of Stone Age stilt house, Neuchâtel
|| In the year 3810 B.C. the
first piling was sunk into the earth to begin the oldest known village
in the French part of Switzerland. Many more pilings shortly followed
and between these verticals, horizontal poles fastened. Walls and
roofs followed. Soon seven suspended rectangular wooden houses made
up this village above the shores of the lake. The inhabitants surrounded
their little village by palisades, and built fifteen shelters or ring
More information on the
'pre-history of the Neuchâtel region
| Much later the Romans
lived in and around what was to be known as Neuchâtel. No building
still exists from Roman times, but the foundation stones
from one of Neuchâtel's still existing defense towers were borrowed,
many centuries ago, from some Roman structure.
Roman era stones,
base of defense tower, Neuchâtel
Foot bridge across
castle moat, Neuchâtel
|| In time a "new castle," which
is what 'Neuchâtel' means, was built on top of a steep
hill. The castle served to keep an eye on traffic at the foot of the
Jura mountains, and the comings and goings on and around
the lake. Within a few steps of the castle the foundation stones of
the present cathedral were laid around 1000 A.D. By the middle of
the 1200s the town had expanded down the slopes and across the River
| The first mention of the
lords of Neuchâtel is from the middle of the 12th century.
These lords were succeeded, around the end of the 1300s, by the Fribourg-en-Brisgau
and the Baden-Hochberg families. In 1504 the Orléans-Longuevilles
were the ruling princes. The town continued to prosper and expanded
by the end of the 1600s to the mouth of the River Seyon where
the river emptied into Lake Neuchâtel. The reign of the
kings of Prussia began in 1707.
middle ages, Neuchâtel
and Restaurant Banneret, Neuchâtel
|| In 1714 a fire destroyed
the oldest section of the town and rebuilding began immediately -
this time of stone and not wood. These buildings make up one of the
most picturesque parts of Neuchâtel, and you can have
have lunch or dinner in one of these buildings, the Restaurant
| The River Seyon
once flowed through the middle of town. Ancient buildings lined the
river, bridges linked one side of Neuchâtel to the other.
The river flooded on occasion though, and there was some loss of life.
In 1843 a tunnel was bored through a rock hill, and the river Seyon
was diverted through the tunnel. The river now cascades over a waterfall
into the lake about four or five city blocks up the lake shore. You
can see where the river exits the tunnel. Walk down to the pedestrian
promenade on the lake shore and take a right heading west. Continue
along the promenade walking pass the one story tram depot, and the
lakeside playground on the point. In a few minutes you will come to
a small footbridge. Standing in the middle of the footbridge you will
see and hear the waters of the River Seyon as they descend to Lake
Rue du Seyon, the
converted river, Neuchâtel.Enlarge
|| The bridges over the River
Seyon were torn down, and the former river bed filled in with
rubble and dirt to make a wide street today know as the Rue de
Seyon. Whatever ancient buildings that still lined the Seyon
before 1843 have since been torn down and replaced with more modern
buildings, some of questionable aesthetic value. City buses and pedestrians
now make their way down Seyon where water once flowed. Nineteenth
century pragmatism had destroyed a beautiful feature of the town.
One wonders if something else could have been done to save the Neuchâtel
section of the River Seyon.
| The river is lost but not
forgotten. In memory of the river a small channel of water about 18
inches across and nine inches deep runs the length of the Rue de
Seyon today. The channel is covered over with wood planks during
the Harvest Festival to keep visitors and tipsy party-ers from stepping
into the channel and breaking their legs and other parts of their
Covering the Channel for the Festival.
Chateau on Shores
of Lake Neuchâtel, Colombier
| Diverting of the River
Seyon was not the only change to nature by man that affected
Neuchâtel. In 1870 Swiss officials drained millions of
cubic feet from Lake Neuchâtel, the largest lake within
Switzerland, lowering the lake level by 10 feet. This created
thousands of additional acres for farmers, but no doubt destroyed
an invaluable bird and fish habitat as well. Not much thought was
given to that sort of thing in those days. But the lowering of the
lake had a few more effects. For one, buildings, stone bulwarks and
piers, which had been directly on the shores of the lake, were now
many yards from it.
| Owners of lakeside chateaus
who had built bulwarks protecting their shoreline and mansions from the storm-tossed
waves of the lake now found their expensive cut stone bulwarks high and dry.
Look at the photograph on this page. My son with fishing pole over his right
shoulder is walking where the waves of Lake Neuchâtel used to crash against
the rocks to the left. The rocks protected the property of the chateau in
the previous photo. The waves have not hit these hand hewn rocks in over a
High and Dry Bulwark at Colombier Chateau.
| Neuchâtel townspeople
would saunter on a walkway called Promenade Noire which skirted
the lake. With the lowering of the lake Promenade Noire was
roughly a block away from the water. Eventually rubble was piled on
top of the newly exposed land, and in the 1800's new four story residences
and a new roadway built along the new lakeshore. The residents in
the buildings along Promenade Noire must have been really ticked
off. They once had a lovely view of the lake and the whole range of
the Alps beyond. Now they only had the view of apartments across the
| Granted, the new buildings
were attractive, and made of the same lovely sandstone of which the
rest of Neuchâtel was made. But still, there is no comparison
between a lake and alp view, and a row of apartment buildings no matter
| You can still walk down Promenade
Noire, but there is no lake view. And, as you walk down the street
you will easily notice that the buildings on each side are of quite
different eras. The buildings on one side date to the 1600s. Their
beige stone facades once reflected off the the surface of Lake
Neuchâtel. The buildings bordering the lake on the other
side of the street date to the 1800s and now have the lake view.
| In the 19th and 20th centuries
Neuchâtel continued to expand along the shores of the
lake, and up the hills replacing terraced vineyards. If you walk or
drive into the residential areas up the slopes of Neuchâtel
you can still see the stone retaining walls that once supported vineyards,
but which now support the foundations of homes and apartments.
Neuchâtel is still a wine growing region, but now the
vineyards are much further from the ancient town center.
Check out a timeline of events in Swiss history.