For more than 600 years, the Bern Rathaus has been the political center of the Canton and City of Bern. It is where the parliament and the government of the Canton of Bern meet. The parliament of the City of Bern also holds its meetings in the Rathaus.
Bern’s Political Center
The Rathaus (Town Hall) is the political center for the Canton and City of Bern. Five times a year the Cantonal Parliament holds its sessions in the parliament chamber (Grossratssaal). The Rathaus is also where the parliamentary committees convene to discuss their business and the parliamentary groups and the office of the Cantonal Parliament hold their meetings. Every week, the Cantonal Government also meets in the Rathaus to debate and decide on matters from all areas of policy. The Rathaus is also home to the City of Bern Parliament (Stadtrat) and the Canton and City’s youth parliaments.
Museum Night 2022
Museum Night took place on 18 March 2022. The exhibition in the Rathaus was held under the slogan “Beaver, Bear and Bambi: Animals on the Loose in the City”.
50 years since women earned the right to vote – a milestone in democracy
On 12 December 1971, Bernese voters gave a clear yes to the introduction of women's suffrage in the Canton of Bern. Various exhibits in the Bern Rathaus commemorate this important milestone in Swiss democracy. They recall the long road to equal rights for women and men and show the first female cantonal politicians. The anniversary has been celebrated on 15 December 2021 at the Rathaus.
Artwork dedicated to Albert Gobat
A work of art by the photographer and installation artist Esther van der Bie honours Albert Gobat, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former member of the Cantonal Government. It stands in the area above the stairs leading from the Rathaus chamber to the Cantonal Parliament chamber and was inaugurated on 24 August 2021.
For 600 years, the Bern Rathaus has been the political centre of the Canton of Bern. A wide range of events has been organised to celebrate the jubilee
In 2017 the main roof, facades and windows were renovated, the in-house facilities upgraded and the fire prevention and other safety measures improved. The conference rooms, the Parliament chamber and the Rathaus entrance hall were equipped with the latest conferencing and presentation technology.
In August 1947, Eva Péron, wife of the Argentinian president, visited Bern.
In the autumn of 1946, Winston Churchill visited the City of Bern and the outside staircase became a magnificent stage: the British prime minister spoke from there to a rapt Bern public, expressing his hopes for a «Europe united in peace».
On the ground floor, the mediaeval courtroom was restored and linked to the first floor by a flight of stairs.
The Government, Parliament and the local people were proud of their achievement. The re-opened, completely renovated Rathaus now became a popular venue for receptions, celebrations and other events.
In 1938, a newly elected member of the Cantonal Government, Robert Grimm, assumed office as Minister of Building Works and took charge of a project to renovate the Rathaus. He relocated the cantonal archives, then occupying the Entrance Hall, to new premises on Falkenplatz. The Cantonal Chancellery moved to the building on the Postgasse, thus readying the Rathaus for major renovations from 1940-1942.
The Rathaus’s external appearance changed in the 19th century: it was clad in neo-gothic facades. This did not entail any fundamental structural improvement, however.
It was decided that the spirit of the first democratic constitution of the Canton of Bern of 1831 should be reflected in the design of Bern’s parliament building. The former Citizens’ Chamber had to make way for a new chamber for the Cantonal Parliament, including a public gallery. At that time, the members of the Cantonal Parliament enjoyed a view towards the River Aare.
Around the end of the 18th century, Bern’s patricians began to think seriously about rebuilding their town hall in a contemporary style. Renowned architects from the city submitted their proposals, which ranged from subtle modifications of the existing building to a completely new structure in the baroque spirit.
A star architect from Paris, Jacques-Denis Antoine, wanted to replace the mediaeval building with a neo-classical capitol. The project, however, never got off the ground due to its cost.
A new building was built next to the Rathaus for the Cantonal Chancellery. But the Rathaus has not simply served as a meeting place for the city’s authorities over the centuries. The Rathaus has also been home to the city archives, and the city’s treasure vault, mint and printing workshop.
A splendid outside staircase was built on the main facade. It served as an outdoor stage from where political decisions could be announced to the public; every year following the Easter elections, the newly elected or confirmed city officials appeared there.
On the first floors, the two chambers for the Government and the Parliament were built, with their characteristic shallow barrel vaulting.
In 1406, the city-state of Bern began to build its new town hall or Rathaus; not because the old town hall had been damaged in a major city fire a year previously, but simply for reasons of prestige. The City of Bern had grown to become the dominant power in what is now the Swiss Plateau Region, and the old Rathaus was too small, cramped and uncomfortable as a place where the government could receive foreign guests.
The completed building was impressive. On the ground floor there was a grand hall, contemporary illustrations of which no longer exist. Yet its pillars and timber ceiling have survived, and the size of the current hall is much the same. This was where the city’s law court sat or where its citizens gathered: at the time the city had only five or six thousand inhabitants.