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The Chapel Bridge in Lucerne, Switzerland

Last Updated on September 21, 2023 by Darla Uhl

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Chapel Bridge in Lucerne, or Kapellbrücke in German, is a covered wooden pedestrian bridge that spans diagonally across the Reuss River. It derives its name from nearby St. Peter’s Chapel, which dates back to 1333.

This pedestrian bridge connects the old town to the new town of Lucerne. The Chapel Bridge in Lucerne is one of the most famous bridges in Switzerland. It can be seen in a lot of guidebooks, social media images, and memorabilia. 

Chapel Bridge, Lucerne
Image of Chapel Bridge, Lucerne by TouringSwitzerland.com

Saint Peter’s Chapel is a chapel that dates from the 18th century, built over its predecessor in the 12th century. Its predecessor gave its name to the charming, wooden bridge close to it, the Chapel Bridge.

History: Chapel Bridge in Lucerne

Image of the Chapel Bridge from 1597
Image of the Chapel Bridge, 1 January 1597 courtesy of wikimedia


In the 14th century, the chapel bridge and water tower were built. Originally 285 meters long, the Chapel Bridge was shortened several times during the 19th century. As part of the town’s defense, the bridge was used as a rampart. 

It is interesting to note that the water tower in the middle is actually older than the bridge itself. The 34.5-meter-high octagonal water tower has served as a prison, a vault, and an archive.

Paintings on display while walking in the Chapel Bridge
Image of Chapel Bridge Paintings by TouringSwitzerland.com

The Chapel Bridge was adorned with paintings in the 17th century. Renward Cysat, the town secretary and a university scholar, designed these triangular panels. 

Hans Heinrich Wägmann painted them in the Renaissance style. The vast majority of the images adorning the Chapel Bridge in Lucerne were skillfully painted between the years 1614 and 1625.1 The images depict the legend of Saints Leodegar and Mauritius.

For nearly four centuries, the Chapel Bridge in Lucerne proudly displayed a collection of picturesque images. However, this display of historical artwork was tragically interrupted when a devastating fire caused damage to 81 of these images.

The Chapel Bridge Catches Fire in August 1993

Paintings on Display in Chapel Bridge
Image of the Chapel Bridge Painting in 2022 by TouringSwitzerland.com

Sadly, this wooden pedestrian bridge caught fire on the night of August 17, 1993.

A team of 150 firefighters diligently battled to contain the blaze. Regrettably, within a mere 10 minutes, the iconic Chapel Bridge succumbed to the inferno, leaving only the bridgeheads and the water tower unscathed. The event brought profound distress and sorrow to the community, constituting a significant catastrophe.2

Of the 111 paintings, 81 were destroyed. As a result of the fire, there is a gap in the middle of the bridge. The originals can still be seen on the bridgeheads.

Reopening the Chapel Bridge in April 1994

Chapel Bridge, Lucerne
Image of the Chapel Bridge in Lucerne, 2023 by TouringSwitzerland.com

Although the chapel bridge was heavily damaged by fire, it was extensively restored. By April 1994, the bridge had been completely rebuilt using as much original material as possible. It looks like the original, though the fire-damaged wooden piers between the towers were replaced with concrete ones. According to the report published, the costs amounted to just over CHF 3.4 million.3

On April 14, 1994, the Chapel Bridge was reinstated for public use. Despite the fire’s destruction, a mere 24 artworks endured. Remarkably, the Chapel Bridge continues to stand as one of the nation’s most renowned landmarks.

Before you cross the Chapel Bridge, an information board explains its history in German, French, and English.


Why is the Chapel Bridge Famous?

Chapel Bridge, Lucerne
Image of Lucerne’s Chapel Bridge by TouringSwitzerland.com

The Chapel Bridge in Lucerne has gained fame for its historical significance, picturesque aesthetics, and captivating views.

As one of Switzerland’s most iconic landmarks, it holds a prominent place in the country’s architectural heritage. Constructed in the 14th century, it stands as one of Europe’s oldest wooden covered bridges.

Views of the Old Town, River, and Château Gütsch from the Chapel Bridge
Image of Lucerne’s Old Town from the Chapel Bridge by TouringSwitzerland.com

The bridge’s visual appeal adds to its fame. Adorned with a water tower at its center, triangular gables, and historic paintings, it exudes charm and evokes a romantic ambiance. Walking along the bridge offers a delightful experience, with scenic vistas of Lucerne’s vibrant old town promenade, the Jesuit Church, the historic Château Gütsch on the Gütsch hill, and the flowing river.

You can see another wooden bridge from Chapel Bridge – Spreuer Bridge (or Spreuerbrücke in German). Spreuer Bridge was used to connect the mill placed on the right bank of the river with the mills in the middle. Later, it was the only bridge in Lucerne where you could throw leaves and chaff into the river. That’s how it got its name since Spreu means chaff. In this bridge, you can also see 45 of the original 67 painted wood panels.

In essence, the Chapel Bridge’s fame can be attributed to its combination of historical significance as a centuries-old structure, its status as an iconic landmark, and its location within the breathtaking setting of Lucerne, one of Switzerland’s most scenic cities.


How to Get to Chapel Bridge in Lucerne

Chapel Bridge, Lucerne
Image of Chapel Bridge by TouringSwitzerland.com

Go to Lucerne by train or bus. From the train station, head out and walk in the direction of the lake. Turn left and you will see it immediately. It is only a 2 to 3-minute walk from the train station.

Walking tours around the Old Town including the Chapel Bridge can be booked on GetYourGuide here – Lucerne: 2-Hour Walking Tour to Chapel Bridge and Old Town.


Final Thoughts: Chapel Bridge in Lucerne

Lucerne, Switzerland
Image near Chapel Bridge by TouringSwitzerland.com

The Chapel Bridge in Lucerne is one of the best places to visit in Lucerne. And while it may seem like a tourist cliché, the bridge holds great significance in the city’s history. This iconic landmark has stood the test of time, with its origins dating back to the medieval era. There are few surviving wooden truss bridges in Europe older than the Chapel Bridge.  

Even today, the Chapel Bridge is one of the most photographed places in Switzerland. Tourists in Lucerne usually include it on their bucket lists, along with the Lion Monument.

Lion Monument in Lucerne
Image of the Lion Monument near the Chapel Bridge by TouringSwitzerland.com

Reaching the Chapel Bridge is relatively straightforward, as it is centrally located in Lucerne. Visitors can easily access it by walking through the picturesque streets of the old town or using public transportation. Once there, they are greeted with an enchanting sight: a covered wooden walkway adorned with intricate paintings, a water tower at its center, and breathtaking views of Lucerne’s charming surroundings, including the vibrant old town promenade and the flowing river.

In summary, while visiting the Chapel Bridge may seem like a typical tourist activity, I do highly recommend visiting it. From its medieval origins to the restoration efforts following the 1993 fire, the Chapel Bridge stands as a symbol of resilience and cultural significance.

Moreover, due to its central location and captivating beauty, it is an unmissable landmark for anyone exploring the enchanting city of Lucerne.

Resources

  • Chapel Bridge Information, Lucerne.
  • 1 Fragment als Chance – Zur Diskussion um die Bilder der Kapellbrücke in Luzern. Karton: Architektur im Alltag der Zentralschweiz, September 2014.
  • 2 Was geschah am 18. August 1993? Feuerinferno. Coopzeitung, 14. August 2023.
  • 3 Kappelbrücke. Helvetia: magazine of the Swiss Society of New Zealand, September 1996.

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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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