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Bern’s Fantastic Fountains

The monthly ArtSmart Roundtable brings together some of the best art-focused travel blogs to post on a common theme.  This month we are discussing Water!  Take a look at all the great stories at the bottom of the page.

Bern old town and fountain

The Zytglogge clock tower and a sculptural fountain in the historic center of Bern, Switzerland

So you already know that Bern is a beautiful city.  The well-preserved, historic center definitely earns this capital its UNESCO World Heritage designation.  But what I didn’t describe in detail last time were the incredible fountains.  These 16th century works of art add to the charm and atmosphere of the old town and are an integral part of the experience.

Server and fountain

Fountains have always been a part of village life.

Medieval urban centers have always centered around fountains.  This public plumbing was essential for daily life and was visited by residents very frequently.  As a central gathering point, these fountains were places for news, gossip, business, and, very importantly, water.  Embellishing the fountains was a matter of civic pride and beautified the city.

Soldier Fountain by Town Hall

The Knight Fountain just beside City Hall.

The eleven great fountain statues of Bern date to approximately 1542 – 1546.  This was a period of urban renewal and growth for the city.  Town leaders commissioned these statues which include allegorical figures, beloved warriors, and Biblical characters.  The figures were originally brightly painted and have been maintained in this state for centuries.  Located at the intersection of major streets or in squares, it is hard to miss these gorgeous fountains.

Warrior Bear fountain, Bern

The Warrior Bear fountain is a tribute to the founding family of Bern (the House of Zähringen).

Mercenary Fountain, Bern, Switzerland

Mercenary, or Marksman Fountain comes with a hunting bear at the man’s feet.

Samson Fountain, Bern, Switzerland

The Samson Fountain recounts a scene from the Book of Judges in which Samson kills a lion.

Justice Fountain, Bern, Switzerland

The Justice Fountain – Note the portrait heads of a Pope, Sultan, Emperor, and Mayor at her feet.

Anna Seiler Brunnen Fountain, Bern

The Anna Seiler Fountain was constructed to honor a 14th century noblewoman who provide for the construction of the first hospital in Bern in her Will.

Ogre (or Child-Eater) Fountain, Bern, Switzerland

The Ogre (or Child-Eater) Fountain is a strange sight just beside the tram station.  While there are several theories about the identity of this character, the net effect is to warn children to behave!

Messenger Fountain

Messenger Fountain (Photo)

Moses Fountain

Moses Fountain (Photo)

Piper Fountain

Piper Fountain (Photo)

Of course not all the fountains have statues, but many of them are decorated.

Obelisk fountain on Kramgrasse, Bern

Obelisk fountain on Kramgrasse

Capped by these impressive statues, the water spouts are simple by comparison but have their own entertaining flourishes.

Ogre fountain spout detail

Spout detail from the Ogre Fountain

Even the pedestals and lower sections of the statues are entertaining.  Details vary from the whimsical to the comical.

Bear with grapes detail from the Warrior Bear Fountain

Bear with grapes detail from the Warrior Bear Fountain

Marching bear detail from the Ogre Fountain

Marching bears detail from the Ogre Fountain

The decorated fountains of old Bern were so unique.  I was captivated by their elegant Northern Renaissance design, playful subjects, and magnificent presence.  These statues must have been so important to the citizens of Bern and a great source of pride.  It’s one thing to draw your daily water from a city fountain; it’s something quite different and far more special to get this water from a fantastic work of art.

Warrior Bear fountain and Bern

The decorative fountains really make Bern special.

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Marvelous way to look at the city! We have never been to Bern, but this post provides an excellent way to make the town accessible to kids. Nice post.

    Like

    August 3, 2015
    • Thanks! Bern is such a great city to explore. Kids would probably love spotting the “hidden” bears in these fountains. I hope you and your family are able to make it there soon!

      Liked by 1 person

      August 3, 2015
  2. Great take on the topic of this month’s ArtSmart roundtable, Christina! Whereas many smaller fountains often seem to be overlooked, I can imagine your eyes were drawn to these, they are beautiful!

    Like

    August 5, 2015
    • Thanks! Given how many there are, it would be hard to miss these fountains in Bern. 🙂 But it would be easy to lose them in the overall aesthetic of this beautifully preserved old city. I think they are fantastic and needed some attention on their own!

      Like

      August 16, 2015
  3. JennaFrancisco #

    Wow, I’ve never seen fountains like these before. What a fun and pleasant decoration to have around a city.

    Like

    August 7, 2015
    • Thanks Jenna! They really are a great piece of the old town and really add a lot of historical and artistic value.

      Like

      August 16, 2015
  4. How cool. Shockingly I am not too familiar with Bern. These statues are too cool and well preserved! The animals are certainly my favourite aspect as well as the vibrant colours.

    Like

    August 10, 2015
    • Thanks Murissa! I love seeing classical, medieval and Renaissance art in its original and very colorful state. 🙂

      Like

      August 16, 2015
  5. Great photos. The fountains were definitely one of my favorite things about Bern. And the Ogre Fountain is is irresistible!

    Like

    August 29, 2015

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