Welcome to our personal - and entirely unofficial - introduction to the beautiful canton of Neuchâtel! To start with, here are a few facts and figures, and some more or less well-known facts about the region.
The canton and its principal town are both called Neuchâtel. (German-speakers in Switzerland call them Neuenburg.) The name means “new castle".
Area: 796 km².
Population at the end of 2000: 166,476 (Neuchâtel: 31,753, La Chaux-de-Fonds: 37,219, Le Locle: 10,408) (Figures provided by Office cantonal de la statistique.)
Lowest point: Lake Neuchâtel (429m above sea level); highest point: Mt. Chasseral (1552m)
Lake Neuchâtel is the largest entirely Swiss lake, covering 217 km², and measuring 38 km by 8 km at its longest and widest points. Canals connect it to the lakes of Bienne (Bielersee) and Morat (Murtensee).
Daniel Jeanrichard, popularly regarded as the father of the watchmaking industry in Neuchâtel, was born in La Sagne in about 1665. According to tradition, he was a 14 year-old with a rudimentary knowledge of mechanics, working on the family farm when a local merchant asked him to repair a watch bought in England. Jeanrichard not only repaired it, but copied it, making all the parts himself. When the watchmakers of Geneva (who held the monopoly of the industry in Switzerland) refused to sell him certain tools, he constructed his own, and decided to share his knowledge by training his own apprentices. The accuracy of the story is doubtful, but Jeanrichard was certainly the first watchmaker in the canton to train others – starting with his own sons – and to share the skills he had acquired.
Special events: Neuchâtel holds a wine festival (“fête des vendanges”) in September, while La Chaux-de-Fonds has its carnival in early spring, and a giant street market (‘”braderie”) in alternate years.
There are 6 administrative districts: Neuchâtel, Boudry, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Le Locle, Val-de-Ruz and Val-de-Travers.
French is the official language of the canton, and the mother-tongue of most of its inhabitants.
Neuchâtel only became part of the Swiss Confederation in 1815. Prior to this, it was a principality, ruled successively by the Houses of Neuchâtel (1125-1395), Fribourg- en-Brisgau (1395-1458), Bade-Hochberg (1458-1504), Orléans-Longueville (1504-1707), and the Prussian Empire (1707-1805). Between 1805 and 1814, the canton was under the control of Napoléon. After his defeat, Prussia reasserted her claim, and following negotiations, Neuchâtel was recognised as having double status: Swiss canton and Prussian principality. This ambiguous state of affairs came to an end in 1848, when Neuchâtel rebelled against the Prussian monarchy and established a republican constitution.
For such a small canton, Neuchâtel has produced a surprising number of outstanding personalities, including architect Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris), clockmakers Abraham-Louis Breguet, Ferdinand Berthoud and Jacques-Frédéric Houriet, poet Blaise Cendrars (Frédéric-Louis Sauser), artist Léopold Robert, writer and European activist Denis de Rougement, artist and sculptor Charles l’Eplattenier, child psychologist Jean Piaget, physicist Charles-Edouard Guillaume, authors Louis Favre, Auguste Bachelin, Oscar Huguenin and Jean-Paul Zimmerman, inventors Pierre and Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz, Bible translator Jean -Frédéric Osterwald, merchants Jacques-Louis de Pourtalès and David de Pury, French Revolutionary activist Jean-Paul Marat, and many more.
Lake Neuchâtel with the Alps in the background
Snow sculpture contest in La Chaux-de-Fonds
Jaquet-Droz automaton "The Writer"
Even the humblest of our ancestors were affected by the times in which they lived. They lived through war and peace, changes of government, plague and famine, whether they wished it or not. They experienced the Reformation, social change, the gradual emergence of democracy and industrialisation. In the following pages, we present a brief history of Neuchâtel to put our ancestors' lives in context.
The timeline gives key events in Switzerland and Neuchâtel from 998 AD to the present day.
The upper and lower parts of the canton obviously share much of their history, but there were some major differences between the lakeshore and the mountains.