Zurich to Bregenz

On The Road Travel Essays

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Zurich to Bregenz

(COURIER: This short stretch is mainly on the Autobahn, and passes few cities. You might use an all-purpose section like "Swiss Democracy" to supple ment these notes; but, as in all cases, gauge the quantity of your commentary to the mood of your group.)

Winterthur  This city, off the highway to our right, is an industrial city with a long history. The city claims to have been founded as early as 294 A.D. During the Middle Ages it became a leading craft center, and was famous for its porcelain stoves. These stoves were large enough to heat rooms and whole houses, and they can still be seen in some of the older houses. With industrial wealth came patronage of artists, a tradition preserved in two well-known art collections in the city. Winterthur also boasts a 300-year-old symphony orchestra. Industry and art continue to go hand in hand; the city manufactures Diesel engines and locomotives.

Wil  Off to the left is the little town of Wil, famous mainly for its castle, perched up on the hill. In this castle lived the prince-abbots of St. Gallen, a city we'll be coming to shortly. These abbots held political as well as religious authority, and although based in the town of St. Gallen, lived out here in the castle, built in the 15th century.

St. Gallen  Today, this city of 80,000 people is known mainly for its textile craft, a tradition going back hundreds of years. But its origins go back to a simple abbey, built in 612 by the Irish missionary named Gallus. In the 7th century, Christianity was not so well established in Europe, and had to contend with pagan cults. Generally, Christianity was the religion of the cities and towns, paganism of the farms and countryside. So missionaries, many from Ireland, traveled all over Europe founding abbeys and schools. Within two hundred years, this abbey in St. Gallen had become an important religious center, and by the 10th century, it had become one of the leading intellectual centers in Europe. Its school attracted students from many countries (300 students), its library contained thousands of manuscripts, and it preserved the best of ancient learning at a time generally called the Dark Ages. The abbey and its school were administered by a prince-abbot. This was a common pattern in medieval Europe, where church and state tended to overlap. The abbot functioned as a feudal lord, collecting revenue from 4,000 farms and from over 50 churches. In turn, he was responsible for the military defense of these communities. As an important political-religious figure, the prince-abbot lived handsomely in his castle at Wil (as we saw earlier). But by the 1400's, feudalism was breaking down in Europe. Cities and towns were beginning to demand independence from nobles and prince-abbots. In particular, the townspeople in St. Gallen wanted freedom from the authority of the abbot. So they allied themselves with the farmers in the neighboring canton of Appenzell and forced the abbot to grant the city its liberty. A century later, religious freedom came with the Reformation, introduced at St. Gallen by the scholar Vadian. That marked the end of the abbey's prestige and influence.

Textiles: This local craft started out in workrooms inside the abbey, where monks developed the art of linen weaving and embroidery. Later, cotton making supplemented linen, and these arts spread all over the canton and are its chief industry today.

Canton of St. Gallen: German-speaking and Catholic, formed in 1803.


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