The lost, the glamorous and the one with two parts
Lucerne in the 12th and 13th centuries: The region was under the control of the monasteries of Murbach and Lucerne as well as the lords of Rothenburg. Lucerne increasingly took on the character of an urban settlement. Following the construction of a stone bridge over the Reuss, which was first mentioned in 1168, the city expanded along the left bank of the Reuss. Its growth was helped by the increase in traffic over the Gotthard Pass around 1200. It was the heyday of urban, bridge and road construction.
Bridges protect the city
It was also a time when power was changing hands. In 1291, the Habsburg king Rudolf I acquired the rights to the city. In 1332, Lucerne joined the Swiss Federation and finally freed itself from Austrian rule at the Battle of Sempach in 1386. Walls and moats were built around the city for protection. And the three wooden bridges also played an important role in the city’s fortifications.
Lucerne’s oldest wooden bridge
It is not known exactly when the Court Bridge was built. It was definitely constructed after 1252 – circumstantial evidence points to 1265. The first concrete references are from 1310. It is actually mentioned for the first time in 1321 – and is referred to as Kirchweg (Church Way). This makes it Lucerne’s oldest complete wooden bridge. From the middle of the 16th century, a biblical cycle of paintings in the form of unusual triangular paintings was created and mounted in the gables of the bridge. Of the original total of 239 paintings, 226 remain today. They are stored in the City Archives and are not accessible to the public.
Successful protests against demolition
Originally, the Chapel Bridge was 279 meters long, but over time it became shorter. Initially, this was because of the construction of an embankment on the left bank of the Reuss. From 1833 onwards, it was shortened several times. The current angled bridgehead dates from 1838. When the Rathausquai (Town Hall Quay) was built on the right bank of the Reuss in 1898, the Chapel Bridge lost another 15 meters. Rumors that the Chapel Bridge could be pulled down following the construction of the Rathaussteg (a footbridge over the Reuss between the Town Hall and the Lucerne Theatre) caused uproar, especially in England. In those days, many English tourists travelled to Lucerne to see the Chapel Bridge and stroll along it. Pulling down this landmark would have deeply upset the English. Both tourists and locals successfully protested against the proposed demolition plans – the Chapel Bridge was saved. Today, it has a length of 205 meters.
Named after a by-product
The mills are responsible for the name “Chaff Bridge”. Chaff is a by-product of milling. The Chaff Bridge is so named because workers would often dispose of the chaff by dumping it from bridge into the Reuss. While the northern half of the Chaff Bridge continually evolved as the mills were rebuilt or altered, the southern half, which was built later, remained practically unchanged. Originally 112 meters long, only 81 meters remain today. It can still be clearly seen today that the Chaff Bridge comprises two distinct parts.
Briefly called the “Bridge of Death”
The Chaff Bridge’s cycle of paintings symbolizes the Dance of Death and was created between 1616 and 1637. The original cycle probably comprised 71 triangular paintings They depict encounters between the living and the dead. A number of paintings had to be removed when the Chaff Bridge was straightened and shortened on the Mühlenplatz side in 1780 and 1785. Today, there are 45 gable paintings to see on the bridge. In the 19th century, the bridge was also called the “Bridge of Death” after the paintings in which Death is omnipresent. But the name never gained currency.