Lausanne : some history
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Vidy, on the waterfront immediately west of Ouchy, was the focus of settlement in the Lausanne area from Neolithic times onwards. The Romans founded the small town of Lousonna at Vidy in 15 BC. Lousonna flourished as a trading town, but during increasingly troubled times in the fourth century AD, the lakefront site was abandoned for a better-defended spot on the heights overlooking the lake, today the site of the Old Town. In 590 AD, Bishop Marius transferred his bishopric from Avenches to Lausanne, confirming the city’s rising influence. Succeeding bishops gathered power, even becoming imperial princes in 1125, until by the thirteenth century they were overseeing one of the largest cities in the region, with some nine thousand inhabitants. Both Pope Gregory X and Emperor Rudolf of Habsburg considered the consecration of Lausanne’s fabulous cathedral in 1275 important enough to grace the ceremony with their presence.

During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Lausanne was buffeted by a series of devastating fires and plague epidemics, as well as increasing social disorder stemming from the division of the city between the opulent lifestyle of the bishops in their lofty palace and the poverty of the people in the Ville Basse , or lower town. (Meanwhile, far below, the last remaining stragglers and fisherfolk had finally abandoned the lakeside ruins at Vidy, and decamped eastwards to the area around the Château d’Ouchy, protecting a small port.) In 1525, in an attempt to lift the yoke of the bishops from their neck, the Lausannois made a pact of mutual military assistance with Bern and Fribourg; eleven years later when the Bernese army, fired with the zeal of the Reformation , swept down towards Lake Geneva, the Lausannois were finally able to eject the bishops. Their independence was shortlived, though, since no sooner had the bishops departed (founding a new see in Catholic Fribourg) than the Bernese installed bailiffs of their own and reduced Lausanne to the status of a subject city.

Lausanne’s university was founded in 1540 as the first French-language centre of Protestant theology, but the city remained a Bernese-run backwater until, in 1803, Napoleon hived Canton Vaud away from Bern and granted Lausanne the status of Vaudois capital. Shortly after, the modernizing municipality filled in the rivers Flon and Louve, which wound between the city’s summits, and threw grand arching bridges over the ditch to link disparate neighbourhoods for the first time. Foreigners had already spotted Lausanne, and artists, romantics and adventurers soon flocked to both the city and the adjacent commune libre et indépendante of Ouchy, turning the place into a rather genteel stop on the Grand Tour of Europe. By the turn of the century, Lausanne was hosting a thriving community of expats – including forty retired British colonels – and boasted four English churches, a hundred English boarding schools, a cricket pitch, a football (soccer) field and an English library serving afternoon tea. Lausanne has had a quiet twentieth century, flourishing commercially, socially and culturally while happy to remain in the shadow of its over-illustrious, sober and considerably less desirable neighbour Geneva.

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