Unusual walking tour in the City centre
To get to the start of the walk
Take the metro m2 at the station towards "Epalinges-Croisettes" and alight at the "Lausanne-Flon" stop. Stepping from the metro, turn right, go out of the station, and continue to the first pedestrian crossing. Take the elevator to reach a footbridge.
The Bel-Air Tower
From the footbridge, there are stunning views of the cathedral. On the left you’ll also see a more modern building, the Bel-Air Tower. Built in 1932 by Alphonse Laverrière on the American model (with a steel frame and stone facade) and 55 metres in height, this «sky-scraper» was one of the first in Switzerland. At the time, many of the people of Lausanne opposed the project, believing it would compete in size with the lovely old cathedral.
The Church of St. François
The Church of St. François is proud of its bird houses, occupied by alpine swifts. To see where they nest, look up from the paved area and look for four recesses under the roofs near to the green towers. From the end of March, these birds, which look like swallows and only rest to nest (sleeping whilst in flight!), migrate to these latitudes. In one decade, 44 swifts were born at the top of the church’s spire.
The Rue de Bourg
At No 33, Rue de Bourg, you’ll see the original façade of an old house. It has the local grey sandstone, which was also used in the construction of the cathedral, as well as a variety of window shapes and some attractive mouldings. Although pedestrianised today, the Rue de Bourg was one of the principal roadways through old Lausanne up until the start of the 19th century and was home to the city’s gentry and their families.
The old city
The two parallel streets which cross the area of the old city are called Cité-Derrière (meaning “city behind”) and Cité-Devant (“city in front”). This toponomy is explained by their positioning vis-a-vis the city up until the 19th century. Rue Cité-Derrière was at the outermost point and looked out onto the ramparts, whilst Rue Cité-Devant opened out onto the rest of the town, built at the time on what were essentially three hillsides.
Fossils of molluscs on Rue Cité-Devant
Examine the foot of the building on Rue Cité-Devant just behind the old fountain, and you’ll be able to see fossils of molluscs dating back many millions of years. The fossilised sandstone was extracted north of the Vaud Canton and testifies to the presence far back in time of the vast seas which once covered the whole of the region.
From Rue Cité-Devant, have a look at the Cathedral and, just above a stained glass window, you’ll find some blocks of molasse arranged in the shape of an arc. This ancient arch is the site of a passageway, which around 500 years ago was used by pilgrims, the local population and carts of all shapes and sizes to pass through the cathedral! It was the only way to pass from the old city through to the rest of the town, as the cathedral was completely hemmed in by molasse cliffs.
The Escaliers du Marché
The Escaliers du Marché is a covered flight of steps which leads from the cathedral esplanade to Place de la Palud and is lined with a row of old dwellings dating back to the 16th century. The steps were built in the 13th century to connect the two town markets – the Place de la Palud market and the Place du Crêt market (beneath the cathedral).
The Hôtel de Ville
Surrounded by two water courses, the Flon and the Louve, which are canalised today, Place de la Palud was reclaimed from marshland a long time ago. Its name, etymologically similar to the term “paludism” (malaria) evokes the types of landscape here. Have a look on the town hall building, the Hôtel de Ville, at the two original gargoyles, made of copper and representing dragons, which decorate its Renaissance façade.
The Grand Pont bridge
Go under the Grand Pont bridge, built in 1844. At the time, this arched structure had two storeys, under which flowed the River Flon. Several decades later, the embankment works to the river covered up the lower row of arches, depriving this splendid edifice of its original elegance.
Text by Pierre Corajoud,
author of the guide "Flâneries lausannoises" (Strolls through Lausanne ) and the book "Lausanne en méandres" (The Twists and Turns of Lausanne).