City (pop., 2006 est.: 347,517), northern Switzerland.
Located at the northwestern end of Lake Zürich, the site was occupied first by prehistoric lake dwellers and later by the Celtic Helvetii before the Romans conquered the area c. 58 bce. It subsequently was held by the Alemanni and the Franks. Zürich grew as a trade centre, and in 1218 it became a free imperial city. In 1351 it joined the Swiss Confederation. Under the leadership of Huldrych Zwingli, Zürich became the centre of the Swiss Reformation in the 16th century. Attracting refugees from the Counter-Reformation, it established a liberal democratic order during the 1830s. Long an industrial centre and Switzerland’s largest city, Zürich is also an important financial centre and a major tourist destination. The city’s cultural treasures include the Swiss National Museum (1898) and the Zürich Opera House (1891).
Zürich is at the core of a constantly expanding metropolitan area that encompasses parts of central, northern, and eastern Switzerland. It is the industrial, financial, and cultural centre of the country and one of the most cosmopolitan and dynamic Swiss cities. Throughout the city centre, green space extends to the shores of Lake Zürich, which are lined by attractive public parks, and up to the slopes of Zürichberg.
The city has a diverse ethnic composition; more than one-third of its population is made up of immigrants. The largest immigrant groups are from Italy, the Balkans, Portugal, and Germany. There is also a small population of non-European immigrants. The integration of immigrants, particularly those displaced by conflict in the Balkans and those from non-European countries, posed a series of problems, especially for schools, at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st. The resulting ethnic tensions eased, however, with the city’s introduction of social programs targeted at immigrants and as tighter restrictions were instituted for immigration from outside the EU.
Zürich was once a Protestant stronghold, but by the early 21st century only about one-third of Zürich’s inhabitants were Protestant. Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion, mainly due to immigration. Immigrants from the Balkans and Turkey have contributed to a growing Muslim community. There is also a small Jewish community in Zürich.
Zürich’s city centre and most of the city’s architectural features extend along both shores of the Limmat River, which runs from the north side of Lake Zürich through the city centre and out to the west. Zürich’s lively and well-preserved Altstadt (Old Town), part of the city centre, boasts an architectural legacy including the Romanesque Grossmünster, built by Charlemagne in the 700s; the 13th-century St. Peter’s Church; and elegant guild houses and patrician residences, some of which are used as restaurants or for civic functions. The Fraumünster (Minster of Our Lady) is noted for its stained glasswindows designed by Marc Chagall.
Adjacent to the historic Altstadt is the Bahnhofstrasse shopping district, whose distinguished architecture dates back to 1870. Centred on Paradeplatz, Bahnhofstrasse is home to luxury shops, including those of the country’s renowned jewelers and watchmakers. Cafés, department stores, and shops selling local handicrafts and books also line the boulevard. Just across the Limmat River from the Bahnhofstrasse lies Zürich’s youth-oriented Niederdorfstrasse, which features bistros, shops, and ethnic restaurants.
Zürich’s middle- and lower-class neighbourhoods are in the western and northern parts of the city. To the north of Zürichberg, between the airport and the city, is the Glattal, one of the most rapidly growing areas in Switzerland. In Zürich Nord, a district in the north of the city near the airport, a minor downtown area has gradually formed. A large number of firms, particularly the headquarters of international companies, have located there. Zürich West, a former industrial and red-light district, has been transformed into a popular area with ambitious contemporary architecture, theatres, shops, art galleries, residential living spaces, and lots of nightlife.
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