Capital of Switzerland and of Bern canton, in the west of the country on the River Aare; population (2003 est) 122,700. Industries include the manufacture of textiles, precision instruments, chocolate, pharmaceuticals, and light metal and electronic goods.
There is a magnificent Gothic cathedral, dating from the 15th century. Bern joined the Swiss confederation in 1353 as its eighth member, and became the capital in 1848.
Bern was founded, according to tradition, in 1191 as a military post, and made a free imperial city by Emperor Frederick II in 1218. Its name is derived from the bear on its coat of arms, and there has been a bear pit in the city since the 16th century. The minster was begun in 1421, the town hall in 1406, and the university in 1834. It is the seat of numerous international agencies, including the Universal Postal Union (since 1875), the International Telecommunications Union (since 1869), and the International Copyright Union (since 1886). The Swiss topographical map service is also located here.
Features There is a university, the 16th-century clock tower, the Federal Parliament building, and the national library. The streets in the old town, flanked with arcades, reflect the prosperity of the Bern in the 18th-century; the numerous fountains mostly date from the end of the Middle Ages.
Location Bern is situated within a spectacular loop of the River Aare, on a high sandstone promontory overlooking the Bernese Alps.
Economy Bern trades in cheese, wine, and cattle. The city is an educational, administrative, transportation, and industrial centre, and has an international airport.
History Between 1288 and 1339 the city successfully resisted attacks by Rudolf of Habsburg, Albert his son, and Ludwig of Bavaria. In 1528 it embraced the cause of the Reformation, following the Disputation of Bern between Roman Catholics and Protestant Reformers. Bern's name is said to come from old Swabian bern, meaning a bear. When Switzerland was invaded in 1798 by the French during the French Revolutionary Wars, Bern was occupied and its territories dismembered. At the Congress of Vienna (1815), the city was given the Bernese Jura (the former bishopric of Basel) as partial compensation for the loss of Vaud and Aargau, which became independent cantons.
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