Schipfe is Zurich’s medieval quarter
Zurich, Switzerland lies in the heart of Europe where its medieval old quarter, Schipfe, has long served as the city's main artery. Located on the left bank of the Limmat River, Schipfe is a living reminder of Zurich's ancient past.
Words: Chantal Panozzo | Photography: Brian Opyd
History. In Schipfe, there's no escaping it. Once upon a time, in the Middle Ages, Schipfe was a key location for the merchandise trade. In its colourful history, Schipfe has undergone several transformations. It has served as the headquarters, for the 16th Century silk industry, as a bathhouse and boatbuilding mecca, and as Zurich's main harbour. Today, Schipfe is an enjoyable pedestrian area with endless nooks and crannies - a living museum - just waiting to pull you in. But no matter how the area has evolved, one thing remains the same: it has a lot of stories to tell.
Chapter one could describe the quarter's river-lined "street of artisans". Here you'll find everyone from leather craftsmen to antique furniture restorers, who demonstrate and sell their crafts in the quaint boutiques that line the river. Their workshops draw every character imaginable: from smartly dressed locals to camera-toting tourists, all of whom are looking to discover unique gifts and breathe in artistic traditions that span centuries. It's not hard to inhale a little history. In the Schipfe area, it's literally at your feet. On the Thermengasse, or "Bath Street", excavations of two Roman bathhouses are visible through a transparent sidewalk. The earliest bathhouse here dates from around 70 AD.
Just a few blocks away, you can enter another era. Glockengasse 7 is home to one of the oldest buildings in Zurich. Built in 1260, Goethe spent the night here, in 1779. What was once Goethe's bedroom is now one of Restaurant Kaiser's Relaube's cozy dining areas, where you can enjoy dishes like chard pie, pumpkin-filled fagottini, and the traditional Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (veal strips in a mushroom cream sauce).
Continue your gastronomic tour with the traditional roasted chestnuts, or "Marroni", from one of the area's street vendors along with some seasonal Glüwein (mulled wine). Then enjoy the true Swiss cliché: a little Swiss chocolate from Teuscher, which is known for its Dom Perignon champagne truffles as well as its lavishly decorated shops.
Another Schipfe sweet spot? The view of Zurich from the quarter's biggest park, the tree-covered hill known as the Lindenhof. From Roman through Carolingian times, this area was home to forts and strategic buildings from which the city was ruled. In the 13th Century, however, the locals destroyed the buildings here, to symbolise that no one would rule the city but the people. Since then, Zurich has been a free city and the park has served as a location for other historic protests.
The tiny Schipfe quarter is home to about 500 residents. You'll be sure to encounter a few of them, if you stop by one of the old stone fountains that dot the area. Unlike the Romans,the Swiss do not throw coins into their fountains; instead, they drink from them. At the Weinplatz, once the square for a centuries old wine market, you'll find a fountain with a grape-picker on it. The locals claim that the water from this fountain (and many of Zurich's other fountains) is as pure as bottled mineral water. Tapped since the 15th Century, some of Zurich's water supply still originates from springs in the hills and forests surrounding the city.
strolling through the Schipfe quarter is somehow like walking through both a history book and a fairy tale.
Next to the Weinplatz is the 650-year-old Hotel zum Storchen - the only four-star hotel in the old town directly on the Limmat River. Either spend the night like Richard Wagner once did, or just enjoy a beverage from their riverside bar and restaurant. If you're there on December 22, you'll have front row seats for the magical Lichterschwimmen, when schoolchildren send hundreds of candles floating down the river.
Floating candles or not, when the streetlamps turn on at dusk and the church bells from one of Zurich's many steeples toll, strolling through the Schipfe quarter is somehow like walking through both a history book and a fairy tale.