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Rätisches Museum: Unleashing The Fascinating History Of Graubünden

Last Updated on September 20, 2023 by Darla Uhl

The Rätisches Museum in Chur, also known as the Raetian Museum, showcases the rich history and culture of one of Switzerland’s oldest alpine city settlements and its surroundings. With four floors of permanent exhibits, the museum takes visitors on a journey from Neolithic times to the present day. Located in the charming old town of Chur, the museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in learning about the fascinating history of the canton Graubünden.

Rätisches Museum
Image of Rätisches Museum by TouringSwitzerland.com

Overview of Rätisches Museum

Rätisches Museum - Image of Chur
Image of the Old Town of Chur by TouringSwitzerland.com

Located in the charming old town of Chur, the Rätisches Museum is housed in a baroque patrician house. It opened officially on June 8, 1872. The museum’s permanent exhibition covers over 800 years of history, from Neolithic times to the present day, offering visitors an insight into the culture and history of Chur and its canton Graubünden.

Built in 1675 as a private residence by Freiherr Paul von Buol zu Strassberg und Rietberg, a member of the ruling class within the Three Leagues, the building that houses the museum features wide staircases, cellar vaults, spacious rooms, and a carriage passage. It consists of four floors, each dedicated to a different aspect of the region’s history.

The Rätisches Museum owes its origin to Peter Conradin von Planta-Zuoz. He was a lawyer, historian, and politician who, in the late 19th century, initiated Graubünden Foundation for Science and Art (Bündnerische Stiftung für Wissenschaft und Kunst in German) with the purpose of establishing a museum. Von Planta-Zuoz founded the museum to counteract the continued emigration of valuable cultural assets from Graubünden.

Rätisches Museum: What to Expect

Among the topics covered in the individual rooms of the Rätisches Museum are the following:

  • Agriculture
  • Trade and Industry
  • Transport
  • Tourism
  • Emigration and Immigration

Let’s discuss each in detail.


Agriculture

Rätisches Museum - Village Model
Image of a Village Model at the Rätisches Museum by TouringSwitzerland.com

Graubünden’s population primarily relied on mountain farming for income until the late 19th century. Traditional trade utilized local resources like wood, stone, and hydropower. Transit traffic through valleys over the passes also brought economic opportunities.

In the past, local resources like wood, stone, hydropower, and ore deposits were the foundation of traditional trade, with few tradespeople outside urban centers who were not also farmers.

There were several towns in Graubünden that were important for trade in the Middle Ages. Chur was a major center of trade and commerce, and the city’s location at the intersection of important trade routes made it a hub for both goods and ideas. Other important towns included Davos, St. Moritz, and Disentis.

Tourism became the primary economic driver in Graubünden after the rise of public transportation and a growing interest in the Alps. Despite state subsidies, agricultural enterprises in Graubünden declined rapidly over time.

Today, agriculture in Graubünden is seeking a new identity through landscape conservation and organic niche production. Despite this, the economic gap remains between highly developed service centers and outlying agricultural valleys. Mountain farming is no longer as significant a part of the region’s economy as it once was.


Transport

Rätisches Museum - Splügen
Image of Splügen Village at Rätisches Museum by TouringSwitzerland.com

Since prehistoric times, people in Graubünden have benefited from transport across the Alps, despite the passage of foreign troops.

Continuous routes over the passes for carriages were built after 1820. They following routes were used by many travelers:

  • San Bernardino Pass – connects the Hinterrhein valley in Graubünden, Switzerland to the Mesolcina valley in Ticino, Switzerland.
  • Splügen Pass – connects the Hinterrhein valley in Graubünden, Switzerland to the Valchiavenna valley in Lombardy, Italy.
  • Julier Pass – connects the Engadin valley in Graubünden, Switzerland to Central Graubünden, Switzerland.
  • Maloja Pass – connects the Engadin valley in Graubünden, Switzerland to the Val Bregaglia valley in Lombardy, Italy.

The local population also benefited from the cross-Alpine and tourist transport infrastructure, with the network of main roads developed in the second half of the 19th century.

Modern roads were built for the last communities after World War I, with cantonal and federal subsidies making the construction of forest roads and roads up to various dwellings.

The opening of the Gotthard Railway in 1882 marked the end of the era of transport traffic in Graubünden. Before the railway, Graubünden had profited from its strategic location on the important north-south trade routes through the Alps. However, with the railway’s faster and more efficient transportation, the importance of Graubünden’s trade routes declined, and the region had to adapt to new economic realities.

Eventually, tourism became the main driver of the region’s economy.


Trade and Industry

Rätisches Museum - Exhibits
Image of Rätisches Museum by TouringSwitzerland.com

There were five guilds in Chur—winegrowers, shoemakers, tailors, blacksmiths, and “Pfister” (bakers and grain traders). Chur’s economic and political life was dominated by these powerful entities between 1465 and 1840.

Despite efforts to promote industrialization in the region, Graubünden region never became a major industrial hub. Industrial development was mainly limited to the Chur Rhine valley.

As of 1920, agriculture and forestry accounted for the majority of Graubünden’s labor force. By 1930, however, the service sector dominated the canton, with tourism playing an important role.


Migration

Rätisches Museum - Baggage
Image of Rätisches Museum by TouringSwitzerland.com

Graubünden has a long history of immigration, with land development in the High Middle Ages being traced back to the growth of the local population and immigrants. German-speaking Walser from the Oberwallis occupied previously unused areas in Graubünden from the end of the 12th century, and craftsmen from the north Germanized the city of Chur during its reconstruction after the great fire of 1464. The mines in Graubünden also required foreign specialists.

Returning emigrants also played a role in the development of Graubünden, investing capital gained abroad in their original home country. Italian masons have been working in Graubünden for a long time, particularly on large projects such as the Rhaetian Railway or luxury hotels. Italian workers were also employed in the construction of power plants. While some moved on after work was completed, others remained in Graubünden with their families.

Until the middle of the last century, men and women from Graubünden were mainly employed in tourism, often seasonally with intermediate returns to their native village. However, after that, there was an influx of Italians, followed by individuals from countries such as Portugal, former Yugoslavia, and Sri Lanka.


Tourism

Image of Tourist Postcards at Rätisches Museum by TouringSwitzerland.com
Image of Tourist Postcards at Rätisches Museum by TouringSwitzerland.com

Tourism began to develop in Graubünden after 1860 and viewed the Alps as a destination. The Belle Époque from 1880 to 1914 was crucial for its expansion, with new roads and railways and the construction of grand hotels for wealthy guests seeking an alternative to industrialized Europe.

The interwar period led tourism into a serious crisis, causing numerous regions that had developed a monoculture to run into difficulties. Modern mass tourism set in after 1950, with skiing becoming a sport for the masses and transport systems and wide ski runs becoming essential parts of the infrastructure.

Tourism created new job opportunities and stopped the exodus, leading to a population explosion in some farming villages. However, this also caused a variety of consequences concerning traditional values and everyday experiences.

Currently, tourism has taken hold of the entire Canton, generating approximately half of all economic activity. The tourist office of Graubünden promotes the region as the “holiday corner Switzerland,” in contrast to the previous “peasant region” designation of the 19th century.

Graubünden’s top tourist destinations include St. Moritz, Davos, Flims Laax Falera, and Arosa Lenzerheide.

Temporary Exhibits: Rätisches Museum

There is also a changing set of temporary exhibitions at the museum. The following are some of the past exhibitions:

  • Anniversary exhibition Wunderkammer – 150 Objects from 150 Years
  • Bündner Mercenaries
  • Herb Doctor
  • il fun – 50 years Archaeological Service Graubünden

How to Get to Rätisches Museum

Located in the old town of Chur, the Rätisches museum is fairly easy to reach. There are many ways to get there, including bus, train, car, or on foot.

AddressHofstrasse 1, 7000 Chur
By CarParking at Parkplatz Hof
Hof 7000
7000 Chur
By BusChur, Hof (4-minute walk)
By TrainChur Altstadt (3-minute walk) or Chur (9-minute walk)

Final Thoughts: Rätisches Museum

Rätisches Museum
Image of Rätisches Museum by TouringSwitzerland.com

Chur is not only one of the oldest cities in Switzerland, but also a vibrant city with a variety of restaurants, bars, and shops. The city is also home to the Rätisches Museum, an exhibit of treasures, artifacts, images, items, and objects from the old Rhaetian province.

Rätisches Museum is a cultural history museum with a large collection of exhibits showing how Graubünden has evolved over the years. The museum has taken special efforts to make younger visitors feel welcome, providing them with keys to open treasures and cabinets. A visit to the museum is highly recommended – there is so much to discover.

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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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