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Bourbaki Panorama Luzern: What You Need To Know

Last Updated on September 20, 2023 by Darla Uhl

Bourbaki Panorama Lucerne (Bourbaki Panorama Luzern in German) in Switzerland is a 360-degree panoramic painting depicting the French Bourbaki army, as they crossed the Swiss border after their loss during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. There are very few examples of this kind of art left in the world where the scene was captured from every angle to immerse the spectator completely, as though they are standing in the middle of a battle. It is in this article that we discuss the history of the Bourbaki Panorama, its impact, and whether or not it is worth a visit.

Overview: Bourbaki Panorama Luzern

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Over a century has passed since the Bourbaki Panorama was created and has been carefully preserved. A team of artists was assembled in Geneva in 1881 under Edouard Castres. Visitors are able to view the scene from a central platform, which gives them a 360-degree view.

Bourbaki Panorama displays one of the world’s largest panoramic paintings, measuring over 10 meters high and 112 meters in circumference.

The Bourbaki Panorama offers visitors not only an opportunity to admire the painting but also to learn about the Franco-Prussian War, especially the time when the French army fled to Switzerland. Visitors are able to gain a deeper understanding of the conflict through artifacts and displays included in the exhibition, as well as appreciate the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

History of Bourbaki Panorama Luzern

Origins

Map showing where the French Troops arrived in Switzerland, Bourbaki Panorama Luzern by TouringSwitzerland.com

Bourbaki Panorama Luzern is a historical painting located in the Swiss city of Lucerne. It was painted by Edouard Castres in Geneva together with a group of fellow artists. They include but are not limited to, Ferdinand Hodler, Henri Silvestre, Roy Parisien, Louis Dunki, Henri Hébert, Jules Hébert, and Auguste Frédéric Dufaux.1

The scene illustrated in Bourbaki Panorama Luzern is the retreat of General Bourbaki’s army in the Swiss Alps in 1871. Over 87,000 soldiers crossed the Swiss borders in three days. Bourbaki Panorama Luzern shows the largest refugee intake that Switzerland ever managed through Les Verrières in Val-de-Travers.

At these locations along the Swiss border, French troops arrived in the following numbers:

  • Les Verrières – 33,000 soldiers
  • Vallorbe – 28,000 soldiers
  • L’Auberson / Sainte-Croix – 13,000 soldiers
  • Vallée de Joux – 11,000 soldiers

Edouard Castres himself was part of the International Committee of the Red Cross and was among those who helped the wounded soldiers. This scene also shows the first aid mission of the Red Cross, and as such was a milestone to the neutrality that the Swiss is known today.

Edouard Castres

Image of Edouard Castres in the Middle with a Red Cross Badge and a Walking Stick by TouringSwitzerland.com

Edouard Castres was a Swiss painter who was born in 1838. Studying fine arts in Geneva and Paris, Castres immersed himself in the world of creativity. He later became a Red Cross volunteer during the Franco-Prussian War, where he witnessed the poignant retreat of General Bourbaki’s army through Les Verrières in the Canton of Neuchâtel.

This experience left an indelible mark, sparking a profound inspiration within him to recreate this scene in art. It was also his way of showing the importance of peace, after witnessing so much suffering due to war.

Evolution Over Time

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The Bourbaki Panorama was first exhibited in Geneva in 1881 and was a huge success. In 1889, a permanent building was constructed in Lucerne to house the panorama. The building was designed by the Swiss Jacques-Elysée Goss und Theodor Gränicher. 2

Over the years, the panorama has undergone several renovations and restorations. In particular, it was completely renovated between 1996 to 2003. This project went to Werner Kreis, Ulrich Schaad, and Peter Schaad. 2 In 2008, the faux terrain was also restored.

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Today, the Bourbaki Panorama Luzern is a popular tourist attraction in the heart of Lucerne. Not only is the building used for the panorama, but the lower levels are also used as a cinema. It can also be used for various events.

As a European cultural monument, it is not only a testament to the bravery and sacrifice of soldiers fighting in the Franco-Prussian War, but also shows the humanitarian efforts of the Swiss who helped them without expecting anything in return. The building itself is a historically protected site.

Bourbaki Panorama Luzern as Art

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Bourbaki Panorama Luzern showcases the artistic brilliance of its creators as a masterpiece of panoramic art. This circular painting depicts the French army’s retreat during the Franco-Prussian War, measuring 112 meters long and 10 meters high. Painting in a realistic, naturalistic style, the subject captures chaos and emotion at the moment. A sense of depth and movement is also created by the use of light and shadow in the painting.

As a cyclorama, the Bourbaki Panorama Luzern represents a 360-degree panorama of a landscape and historical event in a cylindrical shape. During the mid-19th century, cycloramas became popular as entertainment and education. People visited cycloramas to view large-scale paintings of famous battles, cities, or natural landscapes.

By using this technique, the viewer feels like they are standing in the middle of a battlefield in the Swiss mountains.

Exhibitions at Bourbaki Panorama Luzern

Permanent Exhibition

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The Bourbaki Panorama Luzern exhibits the famous painting Bourbaki Panorama on a permanent basis. The painting is a circular canvas with a circumference of 112 meters and a height of 10 meters. This painting depicts the retreat of the French army from Switzerland during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. If you’re interested in military history or art, you must visit one of the world’s largest circular paintings.

Temporary Exhibitions

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In addition to the permanent exhibition, the Bourbaki Panorama Luzern also hosts temporary exhibitions throughout the year. These exhibitions showcase a variety of topics or art forms. The exhibitions are designed to complement the permanent exhibition.

During my visit, there was a temporary exhibition showcasing the theme of borders, refuge, and migration. Their focal point revolved around the concept of boundaries and the act of crossing borders, beautifully showcased through four compelling short films. Each film delved into the intimate narratives of four individuals, who courageously shared their lives and experiences within the context of this thought-provoking theme.

The museum’s website provides information about upcoming exhibitions for visitors since it changes on a regular basis.

Visitor Experience at Bourbaki Panorama Luzern

Self-guided Tour with Tablet

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Visitors to the Bourbaki Panorama Luzern can take a self-guided tour with a tablet that provides videos and explanations on an application to learn more about the historical panorama. In my case, I used the tablet since there was no official tour when I visited.

In the tablet app called My Bourbaki Panorama, you can learn more about the painting, its history, some of the individuals in the painting, and the events depicted in the panorama. With this, you can explore the panoramic painting at your own pace to learn about the events leading up to the Franco-Prussian War.

Information is available in several languages, including English, French, and German. To borrow it, you will need to leave a valid ID or driver’s license. You do not have to pay extra to use the tablet.

Guided Tour

For visitors who prefer a more interactive experience, the Bourbaki Panorama Luzern also offers guided tours on selected days. The guided tours are led by knowledgeable guides who provide in-depth information about the painting, the history behind it, and the events depicted in the panorama.

During the guided tour, visitors can ask questions and engage in discussions with the guide and other visitors. Some special guided tours are done with various experts such as a professional restorer, a historian, and an environmental consultant.3

There are also special dates for children’s tours by youth mentors. School groups are also welcome to visit the Bourbaki Panorama Luzern. Here, children and students will learn about humanity, tolerance, and human rights.

Bourbaki Panorama Luzern Review

Historical and Cultural Significance

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Bourbaki Panorama Luzern is significant historically because it is a powerful medium to convey harsh realities and human experiences during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. It is a unique and immersive experience of a historical event, not dissimilar to our modern way of using VR goggles. You will see the French army in a state of disarray retreating in freezing winter weather, many of them injured and struggling.

The Bourbaki Panorama Luzern is a fantastic example of how art was used to document and remember historical events.

With this beautiful piece of art, we have a powerful storytelling visual representation. We are transported to the battlefield and sympathized with the emotions and struggles of the soldiers depicted in the painting. It is also an artistic masterpiece with a collaborative effort by a group of Swiss artists who worked tirelessly on it.

Is Bourbaki Panorama Luzern Worth Visiting?

Visiting the Bourbaki Panorama Luzern is a subjective experience that may not appeal to everyone. The worth of this attraction largely depends on one’s appreciation for military history and art. If these subjects do not capture your interest, then the panoramic painting might seem dull or uninteresting.

However, for individuals who have a passion for both art and history, like myself, the visit proves to be truly worthwhile. The meticulous effort invested in creating this masterpiece, the lifelike depictions, and the clever use of dimensions that immerse you in the scene all contribute to its value.

As someone who appreciates art and history, I found the Bourbaki Panorama Luzern to be a captivating experience that made the visit truly worthwhile.

The level of detail and realism portrayed in the painting is exceptional. It skillfully transports you to a different time and place, where you feel as though you are standing on a hill, witnessing the depicted scene unfold before your eyes. The combination of artistic talent and historical significance adds depth to the visit, making it a memorable and enriching experience.

While Bourbaki Panorama Luzern may not appeal to everyone, for those who share a love for art and history, it is certainly worth the price of admission.

How to Get to Bourbaki Panorama Luzern

Image of Lucerne by TouringSwitzerland.com
AddressBourbaki Panorama
Löwenplatz 11
6004 Luzern
By TrainLuzern (15-minute walk)
By BusLuzern, Wesemlinrain

Final Thoughts: Bourbaki Panorama Luzern

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The Bourbaki Panorama Luzern is a renowned cultural attraction in Lucerne, Switzerland, featuring a massive panoramic painting depicting General Bourbaki’s army retreat during the Franco-Prussian War. Measuring over 110 meters in length, the artwork offers an immersive experience, transporting visitors to the historic event. Created by artist Edouard Castres, the panoramic painting has been carefully preserved and restored over the years, solidifying its significance as a remarkable artistic and historical masterpiece.

Aside from the panoramic painting, temporary exhibitions further enhance the visitor experience, offering diverse perspectives and insights into related historical and artistic themes. With self-guided tours utilizing tablets and guided tours available, visitors have the opportunity to gain a comprehensive understanding of the Bourbaki Panorama Luzern and its cultural and historical significance. It is definitely worth visiting if you appreciate art, humanitarian efforts, and military history.

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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.

Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.

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