Lucerne - a short history of The Lion Monument, And its old wooden Bridge

To book for activities in Lucerne click here

Lucerne: Chapel Bridge, Water Tower and Mount Pilate

Detail of the Lion Monument in Lucerne

The Lion Monument in Lucerne, the most sentimental of Swiss Monuments, commerates the Swiss mercenaries who, serving the French King Louis XVI, lost their lives during the French Revolution at the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Many were killed during the invasion of the Tuileries on the 10th August 1792 while others were guillotined on the 2nd and 3rd September 1792. The inscription above the Lion reads "Helvetiorum fedei ac Virtuti" which translates as "To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss." A fitting tribute.

Carved into the cliff face, the monument measures a staggering 10 meters in length and and six meters in height. Captain Carl Pfyffer von Altishofen commissioned the Lion Monument which, in turn, was designed by the Danish classicist sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsenwhilst in Rome in 1819. Lucas Ahorn, a stone-mason from Constance in modern day Germany, carved the sculpture out of the limestone cliff face in 1820 and 1821.

At the time of the French Revolution, Swiss Mercenaries, along with agriculture and town-crafts, were an important and gainful trade during the Ancien Regime as a whole with as many as 40,000 serving under foreign banners when the French Revolution started in 1789.

The Monument was inaugurated on the 10th August 1821 and was purchased by the town of Lucerne in 1882.

Mark Twain on the Lion monument


"The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff − for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. How head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies."

"Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion − and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is. " − Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880


Chapel Bridge and Water Tower mark the upper end of the medieval bridgehead city of Lucerne where the waters of Lake Lucerne flow into River Reuss. Originally Chapel Bridge and Water Tower were parts of the oldest medieval city ramparts of Lucerne. The northern bridgehead of Chapel Bridge once lead directly into St. Peter's Chapel. Today, a riverside promenade separates the two.

Lucerne's Water Tower also served as a dungeon, an archive and a treasury vault until the 19th century. Today a traditional association uses it as a club room. Therefore the tower is not open to the public and cannot be seen from the inside.

Lucerne: painting under roof of Chapel Bridge