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Visiting the world's smallest city

The city is really a sleepy hamlet

(swissinfo.ch)

You would expect a place with its own castle, bishop’s residence and - once upon a time - even its own law court to be somewhat larger than it actually is.

And you would certainly think there would be more than nine people living within its medieval walls.

What appears today as a sleepy little hamlet tucked away in the southeastern corner of the country was once a rather princely place.

In the 14th century, Fürstenau (Fürst = prince) officially became a city when it was granted the right to set up its own court of law and gallows and gained approval to hold a market twice a year.

It does not take more than a few minutes to stroll around the whole city and meet half its residents (see video). I meet Hans Weber when he hears that a journalist is in town. He comes out to greet me with an official guide to Fürstenau’s architectural treasures in hand.

"There aren’t many places like this," says the art restorer later in his atelier, as he dips a cotton swab in alcohol and carefully begins to clean centuries of dirt from an old painting.

Living history

"It’s very romantic living here and it’s living history as well. As a restorer, to live in such a place is like being a little closer to heaven."

Weber has been commissioned to restore tapestries recovered from the attic of Fürstenau’s castle, which has been lovingly converted into a small hotel and restaurant.

"When I describe the place, I always have to tell people that it’s a city and not a village," explains chef Andreas Caminada, sitting in the restaurant’s wood-panelled lounge.

"And that it has two castles [the hotel and bishop’s residence] but it’s very small."

Caminada and his partner have received rave reviews for the gourmet cuisine they serve up and high marks for the hotel’s four tastefully appointed guest rooms, which blend the old with the modern.

Renaissance

The hotel-restaurant is the most visible evidence that Fürstenau is undergoing a renaissance - albeit on its own rather modest scale.

The ensemble of buildings and trees enclosed within the ancient walls have long been recognised as a heritage site of national importance.

Yet the heritage status did not prevent many buildings from falling into disrepair.

"It reminded me of the story of Sleeping Beauty," reflects Weber describing the house he bought and breathed back to life.

"It hadn’t been lived in for about 100 years. The roof was leaky and all the windows were broken," he says.

"The first thing we had to do was to cut down the ivy covering the outside walls. We had to remove it by the truck full."

Weber’s house is in the middle of town, only a few metres from the bishop’s grand villa to the east and the castle to the west. Across the way live Karli and Christina Kälin.

Haunted

The castle gardeners and Fürstenau’s only farmers head across the road to herd their flock of sheep out to pasture.

"The castle used to be haunted but the ghosts left when it was renovated," says Karli Kälin. "They weren’t really ghosts but dormice," he confides. "They used to make a lot of noise at night."

The Kälins, like all of Fürstenau’s other seven residents, are not originally from the area but were drawn to the place by its charm.

"We like the peace and quiet," says Kälin. "It’s the old houses and history," adds Caminada.

"A place like this is an exception," remarks Weber.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Fürstenau

Key facts

Fürstenau is located about 40 km south of Chur, in the southeastern canton of Graubünden.
The collection of buildings within the medieval walls is a heritage site.
Fürstenau was declared a city in 1354 when it was granted the right to have a law court and hold markets twice a year.

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