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Prison Tower (Käfigturm)

Once used to confine felons and now a venue for exhibitions, this tall structure has served the city of Bern for nearly four centuries.

Bern’s Prison Tower (Käfigturm) is both historic and functional. Learn about its past use as a jail, as its name suggests, and visit today to see exhibitions related to city and national politics.

As early as the 13th century, a tower stood on this spot near the Aare River to protect the ancient city of Bern from western enemies. See how the tower location marks a western boundary of Bern’s Old Town on the Aare Peninsula. By 1345 the tower was no longer used for fortification as the city expanded westward. It was put to use to hold prisoners after fire spread across Bern in 1405.

That tower was deconstructed in 1641 and replaced within three years by the current Prison Tower. It served as a prison for 250 years. Gaze at the tall structure and imagine the lives of the prisoners kept here for months, years or decades.

Prison Tower rests on a 30-foot by 30-foot (10-meter by 10-meter) base and rises to 160 feet (49 meters) in height, five stories plus an attic, with a weathervane it its very top. Climb the 106 steps to an observation level for views across Old Town and the Aare River.

Located on the western edge of Old Town, Prison Tower is just a 5-minute walk or short tram ride from the main train station. It is open Monday through Saturday, with slightly shorter hours on Saturday. Access is free. Check to see whether any exhibitions are underway during your visit. These exhibitions are likely to focus on political topics. The site hosts about 400 events each year.

Walk along the Marktgasse street on one side of the tower to visit shops and restaurants and walk east to another Old Town favorite, the Clock Tower (Zytglogge). Just west of Prison Tower is Bärenplatz, a large open square with many spots for al fresco dining. Walk north or south along this wide rectangular stretch to reach the Aare River as it winds around the center of Bern. South along the plaza is the Bundeshaus, the Swiss Parliament House, topped by three green domes.


Guide to Exploring Prison Tower


Map

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