Welcome to Solothurn, the beautiful Baroque town famous for its infatuation with the number 11.
Located in the northwest of Switzerland on the banks of the Aare river is the picturesque town of Solothurn. This charming destination north of Bern has beautiful mediaeval architecture and offers a range of cultural attractions. However, there’s something unusual about Solothurn that sets it apart from other Swiss towns. For nearly eight hundred years since the foundation of the town, the inhabitants have been obsessed with the number 11.
In Solothurn you’ll find 11 churches and chapels, 11 water fountains, 11 towers, and 11 museums. 3 sets of 11 steps lead you to the cathedral which has 11 doors and 11 bells. Inside is an altar, made of 11 different types of marble. Then there is the Solothurn clock with its 11 bells, which features 11 numbers on the dial instead of 12. For a country so well known for its precision when it comes to time-keeping, this is perhaps the strongest indication of the sheer commitment this town has when it comes to celebrating their favourite number.
The origin of this curious fixation is uncertain. Folklore claims that it all began thanks to a group of magical elves who came down from the nearby Weissenstein mountain to bring joy to the depressed people of Solothurn (also note that the word ‘Elf’ in German means ‘eleven’). Legend has it that before the elves came, there were no children, and the inhabitants knew nothing of joy or laughter. Apparently, their magical visit brought fertility and lightness to the old town, eventually transforming it into the vibrant community we see today.
Others claim that the obsession comes from a much holier place. This would make sense. During mediaeval times, numbers held a great significance in theology, with many numerical references seen throughout the Bible, from the 6 days of creation, to the 7 deadly sins, and the 10 commandments. There are also the 12 apostles who became known as ‘the eleven’ after Judas was disgraced. It’s believed that during this historical period, numerology was seen as a language with which to understand the messages being sent down from God.
However Solothurn’s love affair with 11 began, this eccentric tradition (the Swiss may be many things, but boring is not one of them) looks set to remain an integral part of the town’s heritage for a long time to come. Next time you’re in or around the Bern area, we urge you to check it out. And if you’re feeling thirsty, we hear there’s a local brewery called ‘11 Öufi’ that sells 11% alcohol beer and 11-year aged whiskey! It seems there’s no limit to the connotations Solothurn has to their beloved number 11.
© Solothurn Tourismus, Tino Zurbrügg