Located on Lake Geneva in Switzerland’s French-speaking region of Vaud, the city of Lausanne is the site of one of the country’s most interesting and intellectual Old Towns. Although it’s most famous today as home to the International Olympic Headquarters, Olympic Park, and the Olympic Museum, the city’s medieval defense system evolved into a political and commercial hub. When visiting Lausanne, be sure to stroll through the Old Town to admire historically significant sites like the following.
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In the first century BC, the ancient Romans established a trading colony in what is now Lausanne. By the Middle Ages, the settlement’s grand cathedral was an important pilgrimage stop. Completed during the 13th century, the cathedral was consecrated in 1275. Its current pristine appearance is thanks to Viollet-le-Duc, a French master restorer who directed the restoration in the late 1870s.
While touring the cathedral, take note of the rose window on the southern facade. Dating back to the 13th century, the window was painted even before the one at Cathédrale Notre-Dame in Chartres. Also, look for the sculptural figures on the cathedral’s southern portal where you’ll find traces of medieval paint and the sandstone carving of the Virgin and Child in the Narthex.
Visited by over 400,000 travelers every year, the most unique part of this famous cathedral in Switzerland is the dedicated Lookout calling out the hours from the tower between 10 pm and 2 am every night of the year.
Old Bishop’s Palace
Situated next to the cathedral, The Old Bishop’s Palace was constructed between the 11th and 15th centuries and became one of the region’s most important dioceses. Today it houses the small but history-packed Musée Historique de Lausanne (Lausanne Historical Museum.) Its fascinating collections chart Lausanne’s history from early Roman times.
Exhibits at the museum detail the area’s importance as a Middle Ages trade route and political, economic, and social history especially during the 17th century. The vast physical changes the city went through to create a more accommodating infrastructure are noted. Visitors can explore artifacts that formed the daily lives of early inhabitants.
The displays are in French but are translated into English in each room. In addition to permanent displays, the museum presents changing temporary exhibits
Constructed during the late 16th century by architect Abraham de Crousaz, Lausanne’s imposing Town Hall building still houses municipal offices. It’s situated on the picturesque Place de las Palud where its belfry towers over it. During that time, the wheat market was housed on the ground floor and the belfry tower was used to warn of danger.
Today, the Town Hall remains a much-admired example of Vaud architecture. The roof has an aesthetically pleasing shape typical of the region’s country homes while rows of bay windows provide a striking horizontal effect. Composed of three floors, arcades are on the ground floor. The impressive windows are on the first floor, and the second floor’s shorter bays are topped off by the large, sloping roof.
No official tour is given, but visitors are free to walk around. You’ll find information about the Town Hall on the first floor.
Tour de l’Ale
The Tour de l’Ale was built in the 14th century as part of the fortifications to defend the district of Faubourg de l’Ale which included the front of the Porte de Saint-Laurent. A century ago, it was used as a pig slaughterhouse. Today, it’s the last important relic of Lausanne’s medieval fortifications.
The town voted to demolish the tower in 1890, but the decision faced strong opposition from a heritage conservative movement. It was listed as a historical monument in 1900. Three years later it was restored. Today, visitors stumble upon it at the end of a block of houses.
Located at the north end of the City hill, the Château St-Maire is a castle that has served as a regional seat of power since the Lausanne’s bishops built it between 1397 and 1425 to serve as their residence. Today it is the seat of the cantonal government, the Council of State of Vaud, and has been since 1803. It’s also an important Swiss heritage site.
Made of brick with slits and low-cut merlons, its architecture is thought to have been designed by Italian masters commissioned by Bishop Guillaume de Challant (1406-1431.)The fortress in Verona and the Kremlin in Moscow are predecessors of its architectural type.
Place de la Palud
Near the cathedral, the Old Town’s winding streets are car-free for pedestrians to meet and mingle on Place de la Palud and admire the Fontaine de la Justice, the city’s oldest fountain presenting Justice on its central pillar. Visitors gather on the steps around the fountain to see the animated scenes from history on the clock above every hour from 9 am to 7 pm. Historical figures from the city’s history make a round around the clock and then return inside.
The Town Hall, the Hôtel de Ville, and old apartments overlook the wedge-shaped square. Market stalls sell local produce on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
The Ancienne Académie (Lausanne Academy) was built during the latter part of the 16th century and was the first college of Protestant and French theology in Europe and served as the University from 1890 to 1987. It was the first building in Switzerland used for higher education. It was briefly used as barracks for occupation troops during the French Occupation.
Today the building is used for educational courses as a prerequisite for entrance to the university. For the best view of the enormous building, cross André-Bonnard Place in the middle of Rue Cité-Devant and then turn left.
Where Is Lausanne Old Town Located?
Lausanne’s Old Town is built around the Notre Dame Basilica of Lausanne and is located on the north side of the Lausanne train station. At its center stands the famous Place de la Palud and many other famous landmarks are within walking distance.