14: In the medieval city of Fribourg

In the medieval city of Fribourg

 

DIDIER HEUMANN, ANDREAS PAPASAVVAS

 

Fribourg is well worth a day’s visit, if you want to take a short break and enjoy the beauty of the remains of a city that dates back to the Middle Ages. In its complex and extensive character, it is one of the most beautiful cities with beautiful medieval remains in Europe. Obviously, the centuries have passed, many transformations have been made, but the spirit has remained. Here is an example of a route that illustrates the most significant points of the sites, in a walk that explores the old town and the meanders of the Sarine River.

You already know part of it, having arrived the day before via the Tour Rose (Pink Tower) and the Porte de Berne (Bern Gate) towards the Lower Town. We will therefore not describe this part that you already know. The best is to start from the cathedral, the center of the old town and walk from the cathedral to the Pont de Berne (Bern Bridge).

 

You slope down Rue des Chanoines which adjoins the cathedral, then Rue des Bouchers until you reach the Zähringen pedestrian bridge, which overlooks the Sarine River.

Over the bridge, the new Pont de la Poya (Poya Bridge) can be seen to the north, which was built to replace the once congested Zähringen bridge.

On the other side, the gaze plunges over the Auge district in the Lower Town, the Gottéron Bridge, the Tour du Chat (Cat Tower) and the Tour Rose (Pink Tower) on the right bank of the river, the Dürrenbühl Tower above the cliffs, and below on the church of the Augustins.

At the beginning of the bridge, go down the stairs of the Zähringen Bridge.

You will reach the Chemin des Archives, the rue de Lenda at the Augustinian convent.

The Augustins/St Maurice church, an important witness to the architecture of the mendicant orders in the XIIIth century, has been a state building since 1916, but the Saint-Maurice church has been a parish church since 1872. Stained glass windows and furniture liturgical are remarkable, provided the church door is open.

In the neighborhood, the once dark medieval houses have been restored with charm and great care.
Rue des Augustins adjoins the convent, passes near the Cantonal Court located in the building, descends towards Rue d’Or in the Auge district.
At the bottom of the Rue d’Or, you can walk to the right towards the Place du Petit St Jean, where you went the day before on Via Jacobi and continue straight to the Pont du Milieu (Middle Bridge). The bridge allows you to reach another district of the Lower Town, that of Neuveville.
But today, you will follow another route. Return to Rue d’Or and cross the Bern Bridge. You will find yourself in the rue de Palme, in front of the fountain of Fidelity, at the bottom of the Rue des Forgerons, where you passed the day before.
In front of you opens the Gottéron Gate, which was part of the first fortification of the XIIIth century. Its current state dates back to the XVth century. The devastating floods of the Sarine and Gottéron rivers pushed the bourgeois of the city to regulate the flow of their waters and to dig dykes and canals. Thanks to this system, more than 30 mills worked here from the XIIIth to the XIXth century. It is in this district of mills, ironworks and rolling mills that the pre-industrial heart of the city beat. Above the gate stands the small chapel of St Beatus.
If you cross the gate, you will walk up the Gottéron River under the bridge of the same name.

 

But, your track today does not take this direction. At the level of the Fountain of Fidelity, the small pathway to Dürrenbühl engages on the top of the Rue de la Palme, under the cliff and the chapel St Béat, direction Bourguillon.

 

In ancient times, it was said that at the bottom of these deep gorges lived a fearsome dragon. On the way stands the charming little chapel of St-Béat, once a place of pilgrimage for the inhabitants of the Lower Town to seek protection from animals and disease. It fits into the rampart, leaning against the cliff. In the Middle Ages there was another chapel near the Gottéron Gate, which has now disappeared. The new one dates from the XVII-XVIII century. Béat is a Bernese hermit saint, who would have scared away a monster haunting Lake Thun. The cult of Saint Beatus was widespread in Switzerland. The Camino de Santiago passes near his home, the Beatenberg opposite Spiez. You have been there.
The magnificent Dürrenbühl trail is not just a cakewalk, however. Initially, stairs were cut into the molasse of the cliff.
Further ahead, the pathway climbs in the forest to find the Route de Bourguillon which comes out of the Gottéron Bridge.
Here you are at the height of the Dürrenbühl Tower. It dates from the middle of the XIIIth century and was raised after 1400. The adjacent rampart was demolished in 1840 to allow the construction of the Gottéron Bridge.
After visiting the tower, keep going up the road. At one point, you will find a junction on your right, that of the Beau Chemin which leads more quickly to the Bourguillon Gate. This pathway flattens in an area of small villas above the cliff. If you are not in a hurry, you can also continue on the road to Bourguillon.
At the exit of Bourguillon village, continue to the right on the Route de Bourguillon to a car park.
There begins a pretty walk on the ridge, sometimes in the undergrowth, along the Promenade Madeleine Eggendorffer.
The route soon turns at a right angle, and descends in the direction of Planche Supérieure (Upper Plank) along the Chemin du Breitfeld, until reaching the end of the Beau Chemin shortcut.
There, you are at the top of the Chemin de Lorette, above Bourguillon Gate.
The Bourguillon Gate was erected in the middle of the XIVth century, then raised in the XVIth century. There is still a ditch and shreds of ramparts, as well as a house leaning against the gate.
Beyond the gate, a paved, steeply sloping road descends the Chemin de Lorette towards the Lower Town. Opposite, you can see the funicular that goes up from the Lower Town.
Going down the road, stands on your right the small and curious Lorette Chapel, dating from the XVIIth century.
Opposite stretches the Monastery of Montorge, founded in 1621, inhabited by Franciscans who devote themselves to work and contemplation. You can do retreats there.
The Chemin de Lorette slopes down again…
…until you reach the large paved square of Planche Supérieure (Upper Plank).
On the Place du Petit St Jean stands, among others, the St Jean Fountsin and one of the famous brasseries of the Lower Town. These breweries, once so typical, have been, we will say with a certain bias, not very well restored inside.

 

A bit of history now. The order of Saint John of Jerusalem dates back to the end of the XIth century, created by merchants from Jerusalem, who first created hospitals, hence their name of Hospitallers. They will soon own establishments, priories and commanderies throughout Catholic Europe. Like the Templars, they quickly assumed a military function to defend the pilgrims and fight the Saracens. This order will be very important until its dissolution in the XIXth century. A commandery was therefore both a religious and a military establishment. Placed under the responsibility of commanders, they were the place of life and formation of communities of brothers and knights.

The Order has been present in Fribourg since the beginning of the XIIIth century at the Place du Petit St Jean, at Planche Supérieure and will grow over the years to occupy a large part of the space of the square and its surroundings. The commandery took on its final appearance at the end of the XVIIth century. It was also at this time that a large grain store was built here near the Saint-Jean church, a granary which in 1821 became a barracks.

Various political events ensued. The buildings of the disappeared Order successively became a house of correction, a boarding school for students, a barracks, a mess for officers. In 2011-2012, the entire complex was restored and today it houses the Canton’s Department of Cultural Assets. The ensemble is completed by the nearby church of St Jean.
Going down from Planche Supérieure towards the river, you’ll cross St Jean Bridge, near which is the café de la Clef, still a high place of nightlife in the Lower Town of yesteryear.

 

When you cross St Jean Bridge, you can still explore a last stretch of the medieval town besides Sarine River.

 

At the exit of the bridge, follow the Chemin de Motta on your left along the river, towards the Abbaye de la Maigrauge.
The road flattens to Motta Bridge, where the river has drawn a large loop by digging the molasse.
A little further on, the route arrives at the Abbaye de la Maigrauge. The abbey, founded in 1255, is the first female monastery in Fribourg. For more than seven and a half centuries, it has been home to nuns of the Cistercian order.
Nearby, a dam on the Sarine River and a small electrical plant.
The Chemin de l’Abbaye slopes up close to the convent wall. It is a very steep, but very short track. It allows you to discover the last medieval gate on this side of the city. This is Maigrauge Gate, built around 1350.
Beyond the gate, the return takes the Chemin de Sonnenberg and slopes down to Planche supérieure.

 

In the Lower Town, the Neuveville district is on the other side of the river, beyond St Jean Bridge.

 

Immediately beyond the bridge, you find Rue de la Neuveville. The latter is not steep, and heads towards the funicular.
It is one of the curiosities of the city. The line was opened in 1899 and connects Downtown to Lower Town. Classified as a historical monument, it is unique in Europe because it works thanks to the city’s wastewater, which it uses thanks to a system of counterweights.
If you decide to walk, slope up Rue de la Grande Fontaine. This street, obviously steep, gives you access to the Upper town. On the way, you will see a troglodyte house hanging in the marls.

The street ends near the cathedral, at the level of the Town Hall which plunges into the cliff.

 

To make a more or less complete tour of the medieval city, it remains to explore the ramparts to the north of the city.

 

After about ten minutes on the sidewalk, you reach Morat Gate by following the street of the same name. The Morat gate was built in the 1400s. In later centuries, the wall was pierced to allow wider access from the road. Today it is a fairly important entrance for traffic coming from the north.

Here, on both sides of the gate, the ramparts are substantial and well preserved. They go down to the river where you can see the Poya Bridge opposite.
On the other side of the gate, the ramparts climb up the hill towards the Tower of Razors.
The ramparts are interrupted at the top of the hill, at the level of the vocational school. But remnants of walls remain on the other side of the school, where even a house is incorporated into the rampart.

Did you enjoy the ride?

Feel free to add comments. This is often how you move up the Google hierarchy, and how more pilgrims will have access to the site.

 

Next stage: Stage 15: From Fribourg to Romont

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