t Bern’s picturesque Aare River and medieval Old Town, with the top of the Zytglogge seen on the left
Lying on a narrow, elevated spit of land set in a sharp, steep-banked bend of the River Aare, the city of Bern was founded by Berthold V, Duke of Zähringen, in 1191. According to legend, the duke decided to name the new settlement after the first animal that he killed on his next hunt: this was a bear (Bär), and the duke duly named the town Bärn. After the demise of the Zähringen dynasty, Bern became a free town. Growing in power and prosperity, it joined the Swiss Confederation in 1353.
In 1528, the Bernese declared themselves in favour of the Reformation, and supported the Protestant cause. By the 16th century, Bern, led by a prosperous nobility, was a powerful city-state that in the 17th and 18th centuries further expanded its territory through the annexation of surrounding lands. It lost some of its territories following an invasion of Napoleonic forces in 1798, but it remained important enough to be chosen as the Swiss capital in 1848. In the early 20th century Albert Einstein published his theory of relativity in Bern, and the city became home to prominent anarchists, thus securing Bern’s reputation as a place of progress.