The great urban treasure hunt

The mussel shaped design by Santiago Calatrava covers the police control room in St Gallen.

The tourist board has launched a new theme route enticing travellers to discover the diversity of Swiss art and architecture.

This content was published on March 29, 2005 - 10:53

By launching a two-year campaign "Art and Architecture", Switzerland Tourism aims at appealing to a wide range of travellers.

The trail takes tourists through 26 Swiss towns and cities introducing them to artistic and architectural landmarks of different styles from different regions and epochs.

It also shows how the country has managed to merge the traditional with the modern.

The treasures range from the baroque abbey in St Gallen to such impressive modern buildings as the marble chapel in canton Ticino by renowned architect Mario Botta, the Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre by Jean Nouvel and the Beyeler Foundation by Renzo Piano.

The theme route "Art and Architecture" was launched in the Beyeler Foundation near Basel - an artistic and architectural jewel itself. The city, which lacks typical tourist attractions but is rich in cultural highlights, has accordingly chosen as its motto "Basel – Culture unlimited".


"Art and Architecture" is the third and last in a series of themes tours. The first two, "Gastronomy and Wine" and "Luxury and Design" have been a great success since they were launched a couple of years ago.

Jürg Schmid, director of Switzerland Tourism, told swissinfo the latest route was unique because all of Switzerland’s cultural treasures were readily available in a single brochure and on the internet.

"It is the first time that all Swiss cities affiliated with the Association of Swiss Cities have collaborated with Switzerland Tourism to present their highlights as well as many unknown landmarks," said Schmid.

He explained that the sites had been chosen in collaboration with art experts but inevitably without being able to mention every landmark.

"We have focused on urban areas, but [we know] that great architecture can also be found in alpine regions, which we could not include because we would have ended up having a very long list," he said.

Merging old and new

According to Köbi Gantenbein, editor-in-chief of the Swiss magazine for architecture and design, Hochparterre, the theme route teaches tourists about old and new architecture and art.

"The tour merges [traditional and modern architecture], because Switzerland set great store by this fascinating connection between 'old’ and 'new’," he explained.

He said a number of examples in the theme route illustrated this, such as the medieval castle Castelgrande in Bellinzona that was refurbished in the 1980s by Swiss architect Aurelio Galfetti, or the new residential areas in the north and west of Zurich that used to be large industrial sites.

"The preservation and protection of ancient monuments in Switzerland is exemplary, aimed at harmonising the traditional and modern," Gantenbein explained.

He added that diversity was one of the qualities of 'Swiss architecture’ that makes it so appealing. He said that good architects took into account cultural, social and topographical variety.

"In Switzerland there does not exist one [standardised] Swiss architecture but a diversity of architectural styles," he maintained.

Increasing popularity

"Thematic tours have become very popular and people choose their holiday according to their interests and hobbies," Schmid said.

Tourists are likely to select a few landmarks to visit rather than trying to get around to everything listed in the booklet. But that is the goal of the brochure; to serve as a source of inspiration rather than as a guidebook.

"We wish to promote how much the country has to offer in the area of art and architecture, which is impressive but little known," Schmid explained.

According to Schmid, the campaign aims at city travellers interested in art, especially well-educated and well-heeled female visitors.

He expects to see a rise in the number of over 55-year-old women and Asians coming to Switzerland on cultural tours.

Gantenbein said that Switzerland Tourism had made a great effort to combine modern architectural pearls in cities such as Bern, Basel and Zurich with their old town treasures.

He said the tourist board was keen on making beautiful landmarks better known but also to draw people’s attention to smaller but nonetheless impressive sites.

swissinfo, Katalin Fekete in Basel

In brief

Switzerland Tourism has launched "Art and Architecture", the last in a series of three theme routes.

It is a worldwide campaign lasting two years to promote tourism in Swiss towns and cities.

Switzerland has a high density of museums, with 980 museums galleries across the country.

The tourist board hopes to appeal to people interested in cities and art in the broadest sense.

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In compliance with the JTI standards

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