One of Zurich's most historic guilds has been gutted by a fire on Wednesday night that killed one rescue worker and injured others.This content was published on November 15, 2007 - 17:56
The 650-year-old building was extensively damaged and many of its historical artefacts destroyed. It is the latest in a line of important Swiss monuments to be hit by fire.
The building's destruction has been compared with the burning of the Chapel Bridge in Lucerne (1993), Kreuzlingen Abbey (1963), the castle and church in Grüningen (1970) and the Bergkirche in Rheinau (2004).
Zurich historian Markus Brühlmeier, an expert on guilds, told swissinfo that the Zimmerleuten (or carpenters') guild house was one of Zurich's most important historical landmarks.
The cause of the fire remains unknown. It took hold in the second floor, destroying a coat of arms decorated with woodcarvings, an ornate entrance door and several ceiling beams dating back to 1156.
"These things can of course be reproduced, but the original works are now lost forever," he said. "It was one of the oldest guild houses in Zurich and one of the most important."
Brühlmeier explained how the guilds played an integral part in the political and social history of Zurich when everyone with a profession had to be a member of one of the houses. "It is a great loss to Zurich's heritage," he said.
"In recent times it housed a famous restaurant and was a well-used meeting place for city societies."
Emergency services were called to the building just before midnight on Wednesday, but the upper floor was well alight when they arrived. Several firefighters were hit by falling debris as they entered the building and a 44-year-old man died at the scene as a result of his injuries. Seven others were injured.
Zurich police spokesman Marco Cortesi praised the efforts of the firefighters who contained the blaze and prevented it spreading to neighbouring buildings in the old part of the city near the Grossmünster cathedral. "Because of that a catastrophe was averted," Cortesi said.
Damage to the building was estimated at SFr1 million ($890,000).
The carpenters' guild has owned the building, which was also known unofficially as the House of the Red Eagle, since 1459.
Guild members expressed their sadness at the destruction of their headquarters. Spokesman Philippe Blangley said many members had known the building from an early age and formed an emotional attachment to it.
"It is a black day for me," said Zurich parliamentarian and head of police Esther Maurer.
swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich with agencies
The Zimmerleuten guild house building was first mentioned in the 14th century as the home of Zurich Mayor Rudolf Schöno.
In 1428 it was sold to the society of Coopers. In 1459 it was taken over by the carpenters' and bricklayers' guild to which it belongs to this day.
Switzerland has been struck by other fires in recent years. In 2006 seven houses and the same number of cattle sheds were destroyed in Flims, canton Graubünden.
A blaze two years earlier destroyed the historic centre of Brunnen in canton Schwyz. And in 2002 the historical wall of the Vaud cantonal parliament in the city of Lausanne was burned down.
Zurich has 26 guilds representing a variety of trades and local communities.
One of the original 13 guilds, the Society of Constables, was formed by local knights and nobility but was forced to welcome undesirable trades such as executioners and beggars in the 15th century.
A law in 1490 required every tradesperson to enter a guild in order to conduct their business.
As Zurich was growing in size it welcomed new citizens, but by the 16th century the city was so large it stopped the right to buy citizenship.
The invasion of Napoleon's armies in 1798 saw the beginning of the end for the guilds' old powers with the Swiss constitution of 1848 driving in the final nail.
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