The Capital of Switzerland Bern is a key city of diplomats and the location of many international institutes and meetings. Bern is one of the oldest and most charming cities in Europe, which genesis goes back to the 12th Century. Thanks to its medieval architecture, which still remains today, Bern evokes the image of a large provincial town rather than a city. Due to its numerous cultural and historic monuments Bern was declared in 1983 a World Cultural Landmark by the United Nations.
Bern's history is remarkable and rich in events. The city earned its essential position through a history of power and authority that goes back as far as the 12th Century. This was the period when Berchtold V, Duke of Zähringen, established a fortress on this spot. By the 14th Century, Bern had developed into a powerful urban republic, and when the last member of Zähringens died, in 1353 the city joined the fast growing Swiss Confederation. By the end of 15th Century the city had become a significant power in Europe, expanding its territories west to Geneva and getting hold of enormous wealth. During the 17th and 18th Centuries, Bern's prosperity continued, and the Bernese moved progressively toward the democratic system. In 1848 the Swiss Confederation took its present-day, democratic form and because Bern had power and authority the city quickly replaced Zurich as the seat of the federal government.
The Swiss Capital of Bern blends harmoniously the old cobblestone streets and farmers' markets with contemporary-style homes and modern institutional constructions. The impressive Houses of Parliament with their well-preserved arcades and fountains still dominate the city. A favourite tourist point is the Altstadt (Old Town), which lies in the heart of the city and still retains a noticeably medieval appeal. Its predominantly wooden structures were destroyed by a great fire in 1405 and afterwards the city was rebuilt in sandstone, with arcades extending on for 6 km. The central shopping district is to be found between the Hauptbahnhof and the Zytglogge, on two main pedestrian streets - Spitalgasse and Marktgasse. East of the Zytglogge visitors to the city may enjoy beautiful old buildings in an area with more than 800 years of history. Tourists will also find there a range of souvenir shops and many of the Bern's posh stores.
Bern is not only a synonym of medieval glory but also a city famous for its world known scientists. One of them is Albert Einstein, a former Swiss patent-office clerk; he began developing his relativity theory in Bern. His house is now a museum open to the public.
Last but not least the city is a popular base for many excursions and trips, particularly to the lakes and peaks of the Bernese Oberland, a large recreational region only minutes from the capital.