Solothurn, French Soleure, canton, northwestern Switzerland. It is bounded by the cantons of Bern to the west and south, Jura to the west, Aargau to the east, and Basel-Landschaft (demicanton) to the north. It is drained by the Aare River and its tributaries. Consisting of territories acquired by Solothurn (q.v.), its capital city, from which it took its name, it has an irregular shape, including two completely detached districts bordering on France in the north. It also includes the foothills of the Jura Mountains and a plain along the Aare River valley, part of which extends into Bern canton.
Part of the Helvetic Republic after 1798, it became in 1803 one of the 19 cantons of the Swiss Confederation as reconstituted by Napoleon’s Act of Mediation. Although distinctly Roman Catholic, it did not join the Sonderbund (separatist league of Catholic cantons) in 1845, and it approved the federal constitutions of 1848 and 1874. The present cantonal constitution dates from 1887 but was substantially revised in 1895.
Until the 19th century, the canton’s economic activities were mainly agricultural and pastoral. Although these are still important, the population is largely engaged in the manufacture of a variety of goods, including watches, jewelry, shoes, cotton textiles, paper, cellulose, cement, auto parts, iron and steel products, and electrical-communications equipment. A nuclear-power station began operation at Gösgen in 1979. The canton has excellent road and rail connections. Olten is a railway junction for direct lines from Geneva, Zürich, and Basel and the St. Gotthard Pass via Lucerne. The population is almost entirely German-speaking, with three-fifths Roman Catholics and two-fifths Protestants. Area 305 square miles (791 square km).
Solothurn is regarded as the finest Baroque town in Switzerland, where Italian grandeur is combined with French charm and German practicality. The so-called “ambassador’s town” is at the southern end of the Jura by the River Aare, about 30 km west of Biel/Bienne.
From the 16th to the 18th centuries, the Catholic town of Solothurn was the residence of the French king’s ambassador. Fine Baroque and Renaissance buildings, such as the noble Palais Besenval, and magnificent religious buildings meet the visitor at every end and turn – the Old Town has eleven churches and chapels and the same number of fountains and towers. Truly magnificent is the St.Urs Cathedral, with a façade donated by Louis XIV, and an Italian-style staircase in front. Inside are wonderful Baroque stuccos. The town walls, which are still intact in some places, were built according to the principles of the French military engineer Vauban.
Between the beautiful historic monuments, the patrician buildings and the sturdy fortifications, the traffic-free Old Town is a pleasant place to wander, with lots of small shops and inns. On warm summer evenings, it is very pleasant to sit in the garden restaurants and bars by the Aare.
The town has a range of cultural attractions going far beyond the regional, including the Solothurn Film and Literature Days. The museums range from the History Museum to the internationally acclaimed Natural History Museum, the cathedral treasury, a Museum of Stones, the PC Museum and Schloss Waldegg, not to mention a collection of sentimental light fiction. Finally, in the “Old Arsenal” is one of the largest weapons collections in Europe.
Children are made particularly welcome in Solothurn: the Toy and Puppet Museum is just one of the amenities specially for children. If you follow the tips in the Guide for Children and Families, the tour of the town becomes an adventure in search of castle ghosts and dinosaur tracks, with a climb up to the St. Urs Tower.
A little outside the town is the romantic Verena gorge with its chapel and hermitage, a popular destination for walkers. Hikers and cyclists will find an extensive network of footpaths and 600 km of cycle tracks in the surrounding area and along the Aare. Solothurn is on two national cycle routes: the Mittelland Route and the Aare Route.
- Old Town – one of the finest and most compact Old Towns in Switzerland, with many Baroque highlights and a marked French influence.
- St. Urs Cathedral, made of pale Solothurn marble, is the most important Early Classical building in Switzerland, and has 11 altars.
- Museum of Fine Art – important collection of Swiss Art from 1850 onwards, with works by Cuno Amiet, Ferdinand Hodler, Bernhard Luginbühl, Meret Oppenheim, Jean Tinguely.
- Boat ride on the Aare (in summer) – to the Stork Colony in Altreu and via Büren, whose Old Town features in the National Inventory of Heritage Sites, to bilingual Biel/Bienne.
- Weissenstein – Solothurn’s local mountain (1291 m) with nostalgia chairlift and the Hotel Kurhaus Weissenstein in the Jugendstil. Fine views of Central Switzerland and the Alps. Popular area for walking, cycling, cross-country skiing and sledging.
- Magic Park theme park in Riedholz near Solothurn – no need to go on a world tour – discover various corners of the world in this family-friendly park.
- Langenthal – waist-high pavements recall the times when floodwater regularly rushed through the streets. Cultural institutions of national importance (art gallery, Chrämerhuus, theatre).
- Solothurner Film Days – important platform for Swiss films; independent film producers are well represented here; awarding of the Swiss Film Prize (January).
- Solothurn Carnival – “Chesslete”, torch-lit procession through the Old Town, the participants wear white nightshirts and make a deafening noise. Masked balls, burning of the Böögg (February/March).
- Solothurn Literature Days – a forum for contemporary writing in Switzerland (on Ascension weekend, May).
- Classic Openair Solothurn – open-air opera performances (July).
- Uhuru Festival – strange noises at the World Music Week on Solothurn’s Weissenstein mountain (July/August).
- Jazz on the Märetplatz – musicians from the traditional jazz scene appear with their Dixieland and Swing music. (August).
- Swiss Walking Event – a walking mecca for beginners (6km) and experts (42km) (September).
- Swiss Health Days – platform for sharing experience between conventional and alternative medical practitioners (October).
- Art Supermarket – the works of both young and more famous artists are presented and sold here (November).
How to get there
- from Zürich HB, SBB (approx. 60 min.)
- from Bern HB, RBS (approx. 35 min.)
- from Geneva Airport, SBB (approx. 2 hours 10 min.)
- from Basel SBB, change trains in Olten (approx. 60 min.)
- from Zürich and Bern: Autobahn A1, branching off to A5, exit Solothurn Ost
- from Basel: Autobahn A2, Egerkingen A1 towards Bern, exit Solothurn Ost
- from Biel: Autobahn A5, exit Solothurn West
- from Geneva: Autobahn A1 (Lausanne-Bern-Zürich), branching off to A5, exit Solothurn Ost