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Parliament Square gets SFr8 million facelift

Water jets can be activated on the square in front of Switzerland's House of parliament Keystone

The square in front of Switzerland’s federal parliament building has been remodelled in a bid to make it look more stately.

This content was published on July 30, 2004 - 21:00

Previously used as a car park, it has been given an SFr8 million ($6.3 million) facelift featuring granite slabs and water jets.

Sunday’s opening ceremony in the capital, Bern, marked the end of a 30-year debate over what to do with the public space.

The authorities chose National Day, August 1, as the occasion to reopen Parliament Square, with a two-day programme including a ceremony, speeches and concerts.

The renovated square, lined by buildings from the early 20th century, has been paved with 3,600 granite slabs from Switzerland’s eastern Alps.

Discreetly hidden in the ground are 26 water jets – one for each of the country’s cantons.

A white strip, which is illuminated at night, runs through the centre of the square, guiding visitors to the front entrance of the parliament building.

“Now we can see that the parliament building and the square in front of it are an architectural unit,” said Andreas Blaser, who organised Sunday’s opening event.

He added that the remodelled square, which is now out of bounds to traffic, would improve access to the Swiss parliament. The building will open to the public for the next few days.

Parking, market

It has taken more than three decades to turn the square into a place of symbolic significance for Switzerland.

Discussions about an architectural redesign began back in 1968, with a view to banishing cars.

Over the years the public space in the heart of Bern has been mainly used for parking as well as for a twice-weekly vegetable market and as a venue for political demonstrations.

It has also staged numerous formal receptions for visiting heads of state.

Two years ago a team of architects from Basel resubmitted a project which had won a prize in a national competition back in 1993 but was never built.

Private sponsorship as well as funding from the federal authorities finally made it possible to attempt a redesign without straining tight public finances.

The capacity of a nearby underground car park is being extended to allay the concerns of city centre shopkeepers worried about losing customers.

Buried history

Construction work, which has been going on for the past 12 months, has confirmed known historical facts about the site.

It formerly marked the limits of the heavily fortified medieval city and was home to Bern’s Jewish quarter.

Archaeologists found traces of a larger building, possibly a synagogue, as well as the remains of businesses, workshops and streets.

The findings add touches to the picture of Bern’s Old Town, which has been listed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations cultural organisation (Unesco) since 1983.

For the past 100 years the parliament building has dominated the square, which is nowadays lined on three sides by banks with elegant sandstone facades.

“I don’t think the proximity of banks is damaging for the image of Switzerland,” said Blaser.

“Maybe it is a reminder to politicians to stay in touch with the business world and reality.”

swissinfo, Daniele Papacella

In brief

Parliament Square has been remodelled with 3,600 granite slabs from the Alps.

Building costs: SFr8 million ($6.3 million) shared jointly by Bern City and the federal authorities.

A private sponsor paid for the opening ceremony, which cost around SFr700,000.

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Key facts

Traffic has been banned from Parliament Square.
26 water jets – one for every canton – can be activated on the square.
The square will be used for official ceremonies, demonstrations and for the city’s vegetable market.

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