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St. Gallen or traditionally St Gall, in German sometimes Sankt Gallen is the capital of the canton of St. Gallen in Switzerland. It evolved from the hermitage of Saint Gall, founded in the 7th century. Today, it is a large urban agglomeration (with around 160,000 inhabitants) and represents the center of eastern Switzerland. Its economy consists mainly of the service sector.
The main tourist attraction is the Abbey of Saint Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Abbey's renowned library contains books from the 9th century.
The official language of St. Gallen is (the Swiss variety of Standard) German, but the main spoken language is the local variant of the Alemannic Swiss German dialect.
The city has good transport links to the rest of the country and to neighbouring Germany and Austria. It also functions as the gate to the Appenzell Alps.
Founding of the city
The founding of St. Gallen is attributed to the Irish monk Gallus (ca 550–620 or 640), who built a hermitage by the river Steinach in 612 AD.
Founding of the Abbey of Saint Gall
Around 720, one hundred years after Gallus's death, the Alemannian priest Othmar built a monastery and gave it the name monasterium sancti Gallonis (monastery of Saint Gall). In 719, its first abbot Otmar extended it to an abbey. In 926 Hungarian raiders attacked the abbey and surrounding town. Saint Wiborada, the first woman formally canonized by the Vatican, reportedly saw a vision of the impending attack and warned the monks and citizens to flee. While the monks and the abbey treasure escaped, Wiborada chose to stay behind and was killed by the raiders.
Between 924 and 933 the Magyars threatened the abbey, and its books were removed for safekeeping to Reichenau. Not all the books were returned.
On 26 April 937 a fire consumed much of the abbey, spreading to the adjoining settlement. However, the library was spared. About 954 a protective wall was raised around the abbey; by 975 abbot Notker finished the wall, and the adjoining settlement began growing into the town of St Gall.
In 1207, Abbot Ulrich von Sax was granted the rank of Imperial Prince (Reichsfürst) by Philip of Swabia, King of the Germans . As an ecclesiastical principality, the Abbey of St. Gallen was to constitute an important territorial state and a major regional power in Northern Switzerland. However, in 1803 it lost its independence and was incorporated into the new Canton of St. Gallen.
The city of St. Gallen proper progressively freed itself from the rule of the abbot, acquiring Imperial immediacy, and by the late 15th century was recognized as a Free imperial city. By about 1353 the guilds, headed by the cloth-weavers guild, had gained control of the civic government. In 1415 the city bought its liberty from the German king Sigismund.
Freedom from the Abbey
In 1405, the Appenzell estates of the abbot successfully rebelled and in 1411 they became allies of the Old Swiss Confederation. A few months later, the town of St. Gallen also became an ally. They joined the "everlasting alliance" as full members of the Confederation in 1454 and in 1457 became completely free from the abbot. However, in 1451 the abbey became an ally of Zurich, Lucerne, Schwyz, and Glarus who were all members of the Confederation.
Ulrich Varnbüler was an early mayor of St. Gallen and perhaps one of the most colorful. Hans, the father of Ulrich, was prominent in city affairs in St. Gallen in the early 15th century. Ulrich entered public affairs in the early 1460s and attained the various offices and honours that are available to a talented and ambitious man. He demonstrated fine qualities as field commander of the St. Gallen troops in the Burgundian Wars.
In the Battle of Grandson (1476) his troops were part of the advance units of the Confederation and took part in their famous attack. A large painting of Ulrich returning triumphantly to a hero's welcome in St. Gallen is still displayed in St. Gallen.
After the war, Varnbüler often represented St. Gallen at the various parliaments of the Confederation. In December 1480, Varnbüler was offered the position of mayor for the first time. From that time on, he served in several leadership positions and was considered the city's intellectual and political leader.
According to Vadian, who understood his contemporaries well, "Ulrich was a very intelligent, observant, and eloquent man who enjoyed the trust of the citizenry to a high degree."
His reputation among the Confederates was also substantial. However, in the late 1480s, he became involved in a conflict that was to have serious negative consequences for him and for the city.
In 1463, Ulrich Rösch had assumed the management of the abbey of Saint Gall. He was an ambitious prelate, whose goal was to return the abbey to prominence by every possible means, following the losses of the Appenzell War.
His restless ambition offended the political and material interests of his neighbours. When he arranged for the help of the Pope and the Emperor to carry out a plan to move the abbey to Rorschach on Lake Constance, he encountered stiff resistance from the St. Gallen citizenry, other clerics, and the Appenzell nobility in the Rhine Valley, who were concerned for their holdings.
At this point, Varnbüler entered the conflict against the prelate. He wanted to restrain the increase of the abbey's power and at the same time increase the power of the town that had been restricted in its development. For this purpose he established contact with farmers and Appenzell residents (led by the fanatical Hermann Schwendiner) who were seeking an opportunity to weaken the abbot.
Initially, he protested to the abbot and the representatives of the four sponsoring Confederate cantons (Zurich, Lucerne, Schwyz, and Glarus) against the construction of the new abbey in Rorschach. Then on 28 July 1489 he had armed troops from St. Gallen and Appenzell destroy the buildings already under construction.
When the Abbot complained to the Confederates about the damage and demanded full compensation, Ulrich responded with a countersuit, and in cooperation with Schwendiner rejected the arbitration efforts of the non-partisan Confederates. He motivated the clerics from Wil to Rorschach to abandon their loyalty to the abbey and spoke against the abbey at a meeting of the townspeople at Waldkirch, where the popular league was formed. He was confident that the four sponsoring cantons would not intervene with force, due to the prevailing tensions between the Confederation and the Swabian League. He was strengthened in his resolve when the people of St. Gallen re-elected him as their highest magistrate in 1490.
The invasion of St. Gallen
Ulrich Varnbüler had made a serious miscalculation. In early 1490, the four cantons decided to carry out their duty to the abbey and to invade the St. Gallen canton with an armed force. The people of Appenzell and the local clerics submitted to this force without significant resistance, while the city of St. Gallen braced itself for a fight to the finish. However, when they learned that their compatriots had given up the fight, they lost confidence; and they agreed to a settlement that greatly restricted the city's power and burdened the city with serious penalties and reparation payments.
Ulrich, overwhelmed by the responsibility for his political decisions, panicked in the face of the approaching enemy who wanted him apprehended. His life was in great danger, and he was forced to escape from the city disguised as a messenger. He made his way to Lindau and to Innsbruck and the court of King Maximilian. The victors confiscated those of his properties that lay outside of the city of St. Gallen and banned him from the Confederation. Ulrich then appealed to the imperial court (as did Schwendiner, who had fled with him) for the return of his property.
The suit had the support of Friedrich II and Maximilian and the trial threatened to drag on for years: it was continued by Ulrich's sons Hans and Ulrich after his death in 1496, and eventually the Varnbülers regained their properties. However, other political ramifications resulted from the court action, because the Confederation gained ownership of the city of St. Gallen and rejected the inroads of the empire. Thus, the conflict strengthened the relationship between the Confederation and the city of St. Gallen. On the other hand, the matter deepened the alienation between Switzerland and the German Holy Roman Empire, which eventually led to a total separation after the Swabian War.
Despite the unpropitious end of his career, Ulrich Varnbüler is immortalized in a famous woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, which is now part of the Smithsonian Institution's woodcut collection.
Among Varnbüler's sons, the eldest (Hans/Johann) became the mayor of Lindau. He is the patriarch of the Baden and Württemberg Varnbülers.
Starting in 1526 then-mayor and humanist Joachim von Watt (Vadian) introduced the Protestant Reformation into St. Gallen. The town converted to the new religion while the abbey remained Roman Catholic. While iconoclastic riots forced the monks to flee the city and remove images from the city's churches, the fortified abbey remained untouched. The abbey would remain a Catholic stronghold in the Protestant city until 1803.
Helvetic Republic and Act of Mediation
In 1798 Napoleon invaded the Old Swiss Confederation, destroying the Ancien Régime. Under the Helvetic Republic both the abbey and the city lost their power and were combined with Appenzell into the Canton of Säntis. The Helvetic Republic was widely unpopular in Switzerland and was overthrown in 1803. Following the Act of Mediation the city of St. Gallen became the capital of the Protestant Canton of St. Gallen.
One of the first acts of the new canton was to suppress the abbey. The monks were driven from the abbey; the last abbot died in Muri in 1829. In 1846 a rearrangement in the local dioceses made St. Gall a separate diocese, with the abbey church as its cathedral and a portion of the monastic buildings designated the bishop's residence.
Gustav Adolf, former king of Sweden, spent the last years of his life in St. Gallen, and died there in 1837.
St. Gallen as a center of the textile industry
In the 15th century, St. Gallen became known for producing quality textiles. In 1714, the zenith was reached with a yearly production of 38,000 pieces of cloth. The first depression occurred in the middle of the 18th century, caused by strong foreign competition and reforms in methods of cotton production. But St. Gallen recovered and an even more prosperous era arrived.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the first embroidery machines were developed in St. Gallen. In 1910 the embroidery production constituted the largest export branch (18% of the total export value) in Switzerland and more than half of the worldwide production of embroidery originated in St. Gallen. One fifth of the population of the eastern part of Switzerland was involved with the textile industry. However, World War I and the Great Depression caused another severe crisis for St. Gallen embroidery. Only in the 1950s did the textile industry recover somewhat. Nowadays, because of competition and the prevalence of computer-operated embroidery machines, only a reduced textile industry has survived in St. Gallen; but its embroidered textiles are still popular with Parisian haute couture designers.
Between 1981 and 2010 St. Gallen had an average of 141 days of rain or snow per year and on average received 1,248 mm (49.1 in) of precipitation. The wettest month was July during which time St. Gallen received an average of 172 mm (6.8 in) of rain. During this month there was precipitation for an average of 13.8 days. The month with the most days of precipitation were June and July May. The driest month of the year was February with an average of 57 mm (2.2 in) of precipitation over 9.1 days.
Climate data for St. Gallen
|Average high °C (°F)||2.5|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||−0.3|
|Average low °C (°F)||−3.0|
St. Gallen is situated in the northeastern part of Switzerland in a valley about 700 meters (2,300 ft) above sea level. It is one of the highest cities in Switzerland and thus receives abundant winter snow. The city lies between Lake Constance and the mountains of the Appenzell Alps (with the Säntis as the highest peak at 2,502 meters (8,209 ft)). It therefore offers excellent recreation areas nearby.
As the city center is built on an unstable turf ground (its founder Gallus was looking for a site for a hermitage, not for a city), all buildings on the valley floor must be built on piles. For example, the entire foundation of the train station and its plaza are based on hundreds of piles.
St. Gallen has an area, as of 2006, of 39.3 km2 (15.2 sq mi). Of this area, 31.1% is used for agricultural purposes, while 28.9% is forested. Of the rest of the land, 38.4% is settled (buildings or roads) and the remainder (1.7%) is non-productive (rivers or lakes).
As of 2007, St. Gallen had an unemployment rate of 2.69%. As of 2005, there were 336 people employed in the primary economic sector and about 95 businesses involved in this sector. 11,227 people are employed in the secondary sector and there are 707 businesses in this sector. 48,729 people are employed in the tertiary sector, with 4,035 businesses in this sector. As of October 2009 the average unemployment rate was 4.5%. There were 4857 businesses in the municipality of which 689 were involved in the secondary sector of the economy while 4102 were involved in the third. As of 2000 there were 28,399 residents who worked in the municipality, while 8,927 residents worked outside St. Gallen and 31,543 people commuted into the municipality for work.
Helvetia Insurance is a major company headquartered in St. Gallen.
Transportation - Get In
St. Gallen is the major hub for northeastern Switzerland. Trains between St. Gallen and Zurich depart twice an hour with a travel time of 1h10min. The St. Gallen train station is 500 m from the old town and is surrounded my numerous hotels, restaurants, and shops. If you want to get quickly to Munich, 3 times a day the Eurocity from Zurich stops at Saint Gallen. The main train station also acts as terminus for a number of local train lines running to Appenzell and Trogen.
Outside the main train station is a central hub for bus and Postbuses to get around St. Gallen and to surrounding smaller villages.
Transportation - Get Around
The Old Town of St. Gallen is almost void of traffic and is therefore best enjoyed on foot. The VBSG buses connect to the fringes of the city and run frequently and punctually. Bus tickets can be purchased at major bus stops or on the bus from the onboard vending machine. Standard fare is Fr. 2.50 and is valid for one direction only. Taxis are always waiting at the train station and along the Marktplatz in the old town.
The Trogenerbahn is your connection from St. Gallen to great hiking trails in Speicher and Trogen.
Bike rental is available at the train station, but check the opening hours before planning a trip.
Parking is available underground in the Migros shopping centre garage, near the train station. The garage is spacious and safe but like many things in Switzerland it closes on Sunday.
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The area between the Bahnhof (railway station) and the Old Town is the Marktplatz, the main street of a collection of pedestrian-only streets filled with shops. Within the area, there are numerous shoe stores, tea shops, coffee houses, perfumeries, and mainstream clothes stores like H&M.
While the weather is nice, there are occasionally flea markets set up along the streets of Old Town, just a few streets away from the Abbey. If you happen to be lucky and catch a glimpse of some tents, check them out. There are some surprisingly good deals and treasures.
Nothing can be more St. Gallen than the OLMA bratwurst. You can get a juicy OLMA bratwurst, served with a hard roll, at a number of street stands around Marktplatz and around the entire city.
- Restaurant & Bistro Neubad, Bankgasse 6, . closed on weekends. Traditional Swiss restaurant with excellent kitchen and service in the heart of the Old Town.
- US-MEX, Marktplatz, am Bohl 4, . is a great place for US and Mexican style snacks and variety of drinks.
- Schwarzer Engel, Engelgasse 22, . Excellent cooperatively run restaurant, with organic food. Nice garden in the back.
Coffe & Drink
St. Gallen has its own brewery that makes at least two beers that are definitely worth a try. These are the "St. Galler Klosterbräu" and the "Schwarzer Bär".
Sights & Landmarks
The St. Gallen Stiftsbibliothek, in the Abbey of St. Gallen, is St. Gallen's most famous tourist attraction. The Stiftsbibliothek contains many books dating back from the early Medieval times, and the library itself is a stunning piece of baroque architecture. The abbey itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Within the city centre, just a short while from the Stiftsbibliothek, there are several museums:
- Kunstmuseum St. Gallen.
- Kunst Halle St. Gallen.
- Point Jaune Museum.
- Naturmuseum St. Gallen.
- Textilmuseum. Which displays St. Gallen's rich history as a centre for textile production and design.
If you are interested in beer, visit St. Gallen's local brewery, Schutzengarten. Schutzengarten also hosts a beer bottle museum and a restaurant next door to the brewery itself.
On top of the northern hill at Rotmonten there is the Peter und Paul Wildlife park.
On the top of the southern hill there are three little lakes called "die drei Weihern". In the summer you can swim there and you also have a nice view over the city. It is an excellent place to jog or simply spend an afternoon.
At the eastern corner of the city you can find the Botanical Garden which houses over 8000 plants.
In August there is the Inline one-eleven, 111km Inlining Marathon.
- Museum im Lagerhaus, Davidstrasse 44, . Museum for naive art and outsider art.
Museums & Galleries
- Historical and ethnographical museum (collections of regional early history, city history, folk art, cultural history as well ethnographical collections from all over the world)
- Art museum (painting and sculptures from the 19th and 20th century)
- St. Gallen art gallery (national and international modern art)
- Natural history museum (natural history collection)
- Museum in the storehouse (Swiss native art and art brut)
- Textile museum (historical laces, embroidery and cloth)
- Lapidarium of the abbey (building blocks from 8th to 17th century)
- Point Jaune museum (Mail Art, Postpostism, 'Pataphysics)
- Beer bottle museum (located at the Schützengarten brewery—the oldest brewery in Switzerland)
Festivals and events
- The St. Gallen Symposium attracts about 600 personalities from economics, science, politics and society to the University of St. Gallen every year. It hosts the world's largest student essay competition of its kind with about 1,000 participants, of whom the 100 best contributions are selected to participate in the St. Gallen Symposium. The Symposium celebrated its 40th anniversary in May 2010.
- OLMA, traditional Swiss Fair for Agriculture and Nutrition in autumn as well as numerous other exhibitions at the OLMA Fairs St. Gallen.
- OpenAir St. Gallen is an annual open air festival in the Sitter Valley.
- Children's Feast, a triennial observance, originally a product of the textile industry.
- Nordklang Festival takes place in multiple sites around St. Gallen.