Abundant in seemingly countless sites and attractions and no less rich than Bern, Zurich, Lucerne and Geneva, while cozily curling up as a small-sized city on the vine-yard covered shores of scenic Lake Geneva in the Swiss Riviera region at the base of the majestic snow-covered Alpine peaks, basking in the warm rays of sun, seeping in its every corner, Lausanne is, probably, the only one Swiss city that despite the size and preserving of more measured flow of life than in its more famous big cosmopolitan neighbor, Geneva, allows you to as much insight at the life, character, culture and history of the Swiss and the educational and medical services, as a myriad of ideas and opportunities for cultural, sightseeing, active and passive pastimes, while managing to never disappoint in any kind of weather and under any circumstances, casting such a strong spell that those, who have ever been lucky to be there, carry this fondness throughout their lifetime, just like the Thai King that has once ended up in Lausanne at his mother’s wish and chose to stay here for his entire youth, falling in love with this city and preferring it to the dozens of far more well-known others.
So, let’s discover what had got him so fascinated, in turn unraveling the most interesting pages of Lausanne’s history, getting to know its people, way of life and culture, and learning about all the wonders and delicacies that await us here.
Lausanne is the fourth largest city in Switzerland
It comes as no surprise, seeing as Lausanne is the capital and biggest city of the canton of Vaud, conveniently located in one of the best geologically and agriculturally blessed areas.
With a population of 146,372 citizens ( 2015) within city limits, its urban area extends further, making the entire agglomeration area a home for 420,000 inhabitants (2015). Lausanne is a very diverse city, where people from Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Turkey call it their home.
Lausanne started out as a Roman military camp
The modern-day capital of Vaud was a Roman military camp built on the site of a Celtic settlement, and was known as Lousanna. It was originally located near the lake southwest of the present location. During the 4th century, people were leaving the lake to take refuge in the hills above, where they built a settlement.
The name Losanna was mentioned in 990, resembling the current name and being the exact replica of today’s Italian version.
Until the 19th century the spoken language in Lausanne was the Franco-Provençal language
The reason for that is the fact that after the revolution in France many French nobles emigrated to the canton of Vaud. Nowadays, most of the population speaks French, with German being second most common and Italian being the third one.
The city has served as a refuge for European artists
A lot of poets, writers and painters had fled to Switzerland and Lausanne in particular during World Wars and other conflicts. Besides, plenty of royals, as well as people related to art and literature have visited Lausanne.
T. S. Eliot, staying in Lausanne under the psychiatric care in 1922, wrote his well-known poem The Wasteland . Hemingway and his wife had holidays here in the 1920s. Lausanne with its beautiful surroundings attracted many creative people including a historian Edward Gibbon, poets of the Romantic era Shelley and Byron, and others who lived, sojourned and created here.
Lausanne was the center for witch trials in the Middle Ages
Contrary to this refugee acceptance, the Lausannoise were less than civil towards witches and all suspected in the magical stuff.
At the end of the 16th – the middle of the 17th century, witch-hunts were held in the city. Since the 15th century there have constantly been trials of witches. It was only in 1669 that the last fire was lit in Lausanne.
The city, despite its population, is rather small and can be squeezed into a square of 4×4 kilometers
The area of the city takes up 41.37 km ², but Lausanne can be covered in a short period of time, as the length of the city in latitudinal and meridian directions is only about four kilometers.
Lausanne is called the Swiss San Francisco for the steep hilly relief
What was the first image that popped up in your head? Probably, the infamous San Francisco tram that climbs up and down the streets at seemingly impossible angles. The same thing can be attributed to Lausanne, though, it’s the city’s metro that covers the most difficult routes.
Despite the seemingly easy task of walking around the canton Vaud’s capital, the terrain will prove to be rather challenging. Lausanne, like other major cities in Switzerland, is located in the middle zone of the country – on the slope of the Swiss plateau off the northern shore of Lake Geneva, 62 km northeast of Geneva, on the border of the wine regions of Lavaux and La Cote in the vicinity of the resort area – the Swiss Riviera. The city is situated on the shores of Lake Geneva, which was formed after the glacier receded a long time ago, and faces the French town of Évian-les-Bains, with the Jura Mountains to its north-west. This Alpine relief is, indeed, very easily traced in Lausanne. The height varies from 373 to 871 meters above the sea level (the Ouchy port – 374 m, the center – 495 m, the Blécherette airport – 600 m). The highest point is Chalet-a-Gobe, 872 meters above sea level. In fact, the city stands on several levels and so many steep winding streets owe their existence to this multilayeredness.
That’s why, you should pay attention to where you intend to go and the plane of elevation you are now. Because of the significant variation in the elevation of the city, it is quite easy to find yourself far below or above the street you want to reach.
A hidden river underground
An ancient river, the Flon, has been covered since the 19th century. Its source is located in the forested mountain Jura and within Lausanne boundaries the river flows through a storm drainage system underground. However, it can be seen flowing openly in the Sauvabelin forest and in the opened part of the underground channel in the northern part of the underground parking on Rippon Square.
For centuries the river provided drinking water for city’s dwellers. In the 18th century lots of plants and factories scattered in the valley of the Flon, letting the waste water run into the river. The following century, the river disappeared from the city landscape and in place of the former riverbed, streets and bridges were built.
Lausanne is the only city with an underground system in Switzerland
Lausanne metro system has two lines, the M1line and the M2 line. October 2008 was the year when citizens of Lausanne saw The M2 Line open. The predecessor of the line was a cable railway line which was opened in 1877. There are some distinctions that can be drawn between the two lines. For example, trains of the M1 Line use steel wheels, while M2 trains use rubber wheels. Also, the M2 line has safety doors to separate the track from the platform. Lausanne Metro has 30 stations metro system, making the city the smallest one to have a rapid transit system. Being only 5.9-kilometer long, the Lausanne Métro Line M2 crosses the whole city from Les Croisettes in the north to Ouchy in the south.
The “Capitole” is the biggest cinema in Switzerland
Currently accommodating 867 seats, it has been in use since 1929. Actually, Lausanne is very fond of cinema art.
The Palais de Beaulieu is the biggest theatre in Switzerland
One of the symbolic buildings of Lausanne is Palais de Beaulieu. It houses the Théâtre de Beaulieu concert, dance and theatre hall where in 1989 the Eurovision Song Contest was held. The number of seats (1,844) makes it the largest theatre in Switzerland.
Lausanne had been devastated by fires several times
Suffering the fate of many Swiss medieval cities, Lausanne was burnt more than a few times, with the fire of 1368 destroying a large part of the city. And in 1405, the Pon and Palu quarters were completely burned out in the strong fire. Despite, the lake and rivers being within the city’s borders, it was very difficult to successfully take out the fire due to complicated relief and close proximity of highly susceptible to burning buildings.
One-third of the city’s population died out because of plague outbreaks
Being a very developed city with a nice lay-out and strong roots of medicine and related sciences that were taught and widely practiced in the city, Lausanne had faced devastating consequences of the plague epidemics that swept through Europe. During outbreaks of the plague in 1348 and 1360, one third of the city’s population died out. One of the reasons for that was the state of city’s water source and overall state of the soil that made contact with said water.
Until the 19th century, the Flon and the Louve rivers were the city’s gutters, running right through Lausanne. In the past, that lead to constant outbreaks of various diseases and further contamination because of other two rivers and the lake washing out the remnants of the deceased. By now, after long suffering the Flon and Louve rivers have been removed to underground tunnels.
In 563 AD the early settlement of Lausanne was swept from the Earth surface by… a huge tsunami on Lake Geneva
Who could ever think that in addition to all the previously mentioned trials this city would have to face such a natural disaster as a tsunami? What’s more shocking is the fact that it was a massive wave of at least a dozen meters high that arose on the lake surface of all the places. Still, as incredible as it sounds, it is really true. A tsunami usually occurs in the ocean. But it’s no secret than big waves may form on lakes as well due to earthquakes, underwater sediments shifts and land or rockslides.
According to some recent data, the shore of Lake Geneva along with Lausanne’s predecessor had been swept over and completely destroyed by a huge tsunami in 563 AD. What is more shocking is that it wasn’t the only tsunami in this region. Katrina Kremer and other geologists from Geneva University had found a proof that, in fact, 5 tsunamis took place there at different points in history. One massive wave in the Bronze Age around 3,400 years ago, preceding the 563 AD disaster, was the reason for a very prolonged desolation on the northern shore of the lake. Unlike it might seem, tsunami in Lake Geneva can cause unthinkable devastation.
If a tsunami occurs, a 13-meter-high wave is going to reach Lausanne in 15 minutes
Moreover, there’s still a possibility of another one in preset time. A computer reconstruction of the tsunami that would have been generated by the amount of material in the tongue of the lake shows that after the collapse of the sediment, a wave of 13 meters high would have reached Lausanne within just 15 minutes! But, thankfully, Lausanne is built on steep slopes, so most of it would have been spared. The damage would have been much greater when, 55 minutes after that, an 8-metre wave reached Geneva, a lower-lying city than Lausanne, at the other end of the lake. There’s no immediate need to cancel your vacation in Lausanne or on Lake Geneva, for that matter, as it’s not likely to occur in the next 500 years according to scientist’s predictions.
But the weather and our planet’s stunts are getting more and more random and scary over the time. So, Swiss government is making sure that different kinds of measures are taken if not to prevent then, at least, to lessen the damage that could have been caused.
Lausanne is officially called the Olympic Capital
The key institutions for the management of the Olympic movement and international sports are concentrated in Lausanne, including the International Sports Arbitration Court, the World Union of Olympic Towns, the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee since 1915(which recognizes the city as the “Olympic Capital” since 1994), the European Mission of the World Anti-Doping Agency, as well as some 55 international sport associations and 20 international sports federations in including volleyball, gymnastics, rowing, table tennis, fencing, the International Skating Union; International Aviation Federation. In addition, the headquarters of the International Union of Cyclists, the International Motorcycle Federation and UEFA are located near Lausanne.
In addition to this, the title will be rightfully worth the word Olympic in 2020, with the city hosting the Olympic Games for the first time. Not the adult ones, but still, the event is getting more recognition and popularity each time it takes place. St. Moritz – the city that hosted the adult Winter Olympics 2 times – could definitely lend a hand here.
Lausanne will host the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics
Lausanne was elected host city in 2015 with 71 votes against 10 for Brașov, Romania. In 2020 Lausanne, also known as the “Olympic Capital”, will be welcoming the third edition of the Winter Youth Olympic. The event will take place on the shores of Lake Geneva, in and around Lausanne.
The participants of the Youth Olympic Games will show their mastery in 8 sports and 16 disciplines. Approximately 70 nations and 1880 athletes are going to participate – the largest number ever. The unique feature of these games will be combination of ski mountaineering and women’s Nordic. Other events such as a women’s doubles event in luge and a mixed-NOC 3-on-3 ice hockey tournament will feature in for the first time in an Olympic event.
Lausanne hosted the Eurovision Song Contest
The town welcomed European performers and music fans in 1989. Following the previous year victory of Celine Dion in Dublin, Riva, who represented Yugoslavia, won the contest with the song “Rock Me“. Riva brought Yugoslavia the only victory while it was still a unified state.
His Majesty King Bhumibol of Thailand studied in Lausanne
Bhumibol Adulyadej, King Bhumibol the Great (5 December 1927 – 13 October 2016), – the ninth monarch of Thailand, as well as the world’s longest-serving head of state, the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history and the longest-serving monarch having reigned only as an adult, serving for 70 years, 126 days – had indeed graduated from a Swiss university.
After only briefly attending Mater Dei school in Bangkok , when the WW II broke out, his family relocated to Switzerland. There the future king was admitted to the École nouvelle de la Suisse romande in Lausanne. He earned his high-school diploma, majoring in French literature, Latin, and Greek at the Gymnase Classique Cantonal of Lausanne. By the end of World War II, he had begun studying sciences at the University of Lausanne. Although his family now was able to return to Thailand, he remained in Europe to continue his studies.
The Tai King immensely loved Lausanne, as it was here that he acquired his life-long hobbies of Photography and playing jazz. The proof of that is a Thai pavilion, in the Park Le Denantou – a gift from the king, given in appreciation of the years he spent in this city. The pavilion is located in the Park Le Denantou. W. Haldimand turned the park into landscaped gardens, leaving the ruins of a tower on the bank. There is a wondrerful collection of exotic plants, camellias, rhododendrons, and beech trees. The park is incredibly beautiful and well worth visiting.