History of Solothurn

Jede Schweizer Stadt hat eine lange Geschichte. Und diejenige von Solothurn hat eine lange und aufregende. Immerhin reicht Solothurns Geschichte bis in die Römerzeit zurück.


When the Romans were seeking a crossing of the Aare over which to build their road from Aventicum to Vindonissa, they decided on a place which the Celts called Salodurum, or “Water Gate”. The settlement which the Romans founded here in around 20 AD also bore the name of Salodurum. In around 330 AD, this small town with temples and baths was converted into a castrum, or fortress, by the Roman military. The impressive remnants of this can still be seen in various parts of the Old Town.

The town’s two saints, Ursus and Victor, were venerated as early as 400 AD. In the early Middle Ages, a pilgrimage church was erected over the grave of Ursus, which was maintained by canons from the ninth century onwards. Today, the site is home to the impressive St. Ursus Cathedral. 

Solothurn was the setting for a political event with international ramifica-tions in 1038 when the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad II held a court here and crowned his son, Henry III, as king of Burgundy.

When the last duke of Zähringen died in 1218, the town managed to place itself under the direct rule of the Holy Roman Emperor, and thus became a free imperial city. However, its citizens still had to fight for their freedom of self-determination against the claims of St. Ursus Abbey and neighbouring noblemen. Between 1344 and 1532, the town did then manage to gain a large, albeit rather dispersed, territory, what is today the canton of Solothurn. 

In 1481, Solothurn joined the Swiss Confederacy. Thanks to the Con-federacy’s mercenary alliance with France and the establishment in Solothurn of an embassy for the French king’s ambassador, many patrician families from Solothurn joined the mercenary service and built large fortunes as a result. To this day, the Solothurn townscape is shaped by buildings created to showcase the wealth of these families during the Baroque era. The close ties with France lasted until the departure from Solothurn of the French ambassador after the behead-ing of the French king in 1792.

Following hard times in the early nineteenth century, Solothurn experi-enced an economic upswing with the arrival of the railway in 1857, quickly developing into an important industrial centre. Today, most of the industry has vanished, and the town has developed a services-based economy, offering a great standard of living and a vibrant cultural scene.