Lucerne's Towers Walking Tour, Lucerne

Lucerne's Towers Walking Tour (Self Guided), Lucerne

Lucerne boasts a wealth of spectacular medieval towers, located in the Musegg Wall area. This former symbol of power forms an impressive city crown, shaping up its skyline, and affording great panoramic views of Lucerne and the eponymous lake, the Reuss river, and the surrounding mountain scenery.

Built in the 13th-14th centuries, the 870-meter wall, complete with its nine towers, is one of the best preserved and longest fortifications in Switzerland. The majestic towers, West to East, appear as follows:

Nölliturm – built in 1513; the only round tower on the Musegg Wall.

Männliturm – a 15th-century tower, renowned for its “Little Iron Man” crowning the top.

Luegislandturm – built in 1290, the oldest and the highest (52.6 meters) part of the Musegg fortification.

Heuturm/ Wachtturm – a former hay storage from the 14th century, destroyed by gunpowder explosion in 1707; rebuilt as a watchtower, 44 meters high.

Zytturm – one of Europe's most unique clock towers, with mechanism made in 1535 – still working; famously strikes the hour one minute before all the other clocks in Lucerne.

Schirmerturm – formerly gateway from the city into the country; built in 1420.

Pulverturm – built in 1398/99, one of the Musegg Wall oldest towers.

Allenwindenturm – a half-tower, one of the best-known tourist attractions in Lucerne; built circa 1408.

Dächliturm – the easternmost and smallest tower on the Musegg line; home to the Swiss Association of Master Carpenters since 1936.

The Männli, Wacht, Zyt and Schirmer towers are open to the public from April 1 to November 1, 8 am to 7 pm. If you feel like stepping back in time and exploring these fascinating ancient monuments in more detail, take our self-guided walking tour!
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Lucerne's Towers Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Lucerne's Towers Walking Tour
Guide Location: Switzerland » Lucerne (See other walking tours in Lucerne)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 Km or 0.6 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Nölliturm (Nölli Tower)
  • Männliturm (Little Man Tower)
  • Luegislandturm (Look Toward the Land Tower)
  • Heuturm (Hay Tower) / Wachtturm (Watchtower)
  • Zytturm / Zeitturm (Time Tower)
  • Schirmerturm (Umbrella Tower)
  • Pulverturm (Gunpowder Tower)
  • Allenwindenturm (Allenwinden Tower)
  • Dächliturm (Roof Tower)
1
Nölliturm (Nölli Tower)

1) Nölliturm (Nölli Tower)

The first in line of the nine towers of the Musegg Wall of Lucerne, the Nölliturm (Nölli Tower) marks the outset of the ancient ring of fortifications which extended over the Musegghügel (Musegg Hill) to the now demolished Weggistor gate in today's Museumplatz (Museum Square).

This cylindrical stone tower was built between 1513 and 1519 upon the rock on the bank of the river Reuss to replace another gate tower that was no longer used. Originally, it was known as the "Red Tower" because of the striking conical roof, clad in red tiles. The name Nölliturm probably refers to its former guard and was documented, for the first time, in the early 18th century.

Although somewhat squat in appearance, the Nölli Tower represents a fine ashlar structure standing a proud 28 meters tall to the top, with an outer diameter of 13.45 and inner diameter of 8.85 meters.

Until 1852 it was used as a gunpowder storage, then as a storage of weapons and oil, and then as an archive. In 1901, the tower was modified to let vehicular traffic pass through its gate, following the construction of St. Karli-Quai that same year. The Saffron Guild of Lucerne has had their headquarters in and maintained the Nölliturm – the municipality property – since 1922.
2
Männliturm (Little Man Tower)

2) Männliturm (Little Man Tower)

The second tower on the ascending Musegg Wall ridge is Männliturm. This tower got its name from the small – half-length, two-meter-high – figure of an "iron man" (Männli means “little man”) clad in the knight's armor and holding a flag and a sword in his hands. This merry warrior, sitting atop one of the two oriel turrets in the battlements, is known to everyone in Switzerland.

The Männliturm was built around the 15th century (exact year is unknown) and has not changed its shape ever since, except for the roofs of the oriel turrets – renewed in 1537. Also, the original monopitch roof was replaced with a reinforced concrete slab in 1934. The most recent renovation took place in 1951, after a lightning strike.

From 1847, the “Little Man” was used by the Swiss Army – fitted with an optical telegraph for military communication – way until after the Second World War.

Inside the tower is divided into four floors. The bottom floor – half-walled – opens towards the city and has rectangular loopholes on the outer wall to fend off the enemy attack.

The building itself stands 33 meters high, from ground to pinnacle, and is the third tallest in the Musegg Wall. The 125 steps leading to the viewing platform (approximately 30 meters high), offer a spectacular view of the city, Lake Lucerne, Reuss River, and the Pilatus.

The tower has been open to the public since 1978: in summer, from 8 am to 8 pm.
3
Luegislandturm (Look Toward the Land Tower)

3) Luegislandturm (Look Toward the Land Tower)

The Luegisland Tower was built in 1290, long before the other Musegg Wall sisters. At the height of 52.6 meters, it is the tallest of them.

Also previously referred to as the Countryside Viewpoint, the Luegislandturm lived up to its name (literally: “Look toward the land”), serving to protect the town from both enemy attack and fire hazard in the old days. For that, a guard – known as "Luegisland" – lived in the tower full-time, along with his wife – "Luegislandin". Usually, they also employed a journeyman.

Their job – watching out for fires, striking hours, and other duties – was quite important and implied strict specifications. According to the ordinance of 1447, the first watchman must report to duty when the evening bell rang and “not go to sleep until his partner was fully awake and out to stand the post”. Those off duty had to rest somewhere within the tower and be ready to respond to the call of other guards' (in the city) at all times.

Despite several minor modifications throughout centuries, the current structure largely corresponds to its original design. The exceptionally well-preserved masonry is pretty much in the same condition as it was when first built. In some places, the centuries-old scaffolding timber is still visible. There is practically nowhere else in the country that you can see a “time capsule” like this in such an unadulterated form. Among other things, the tower has a weathercock, pointing left to right, atop the peaked roof.

The Luegislandturm served as a watchtower until 1768. In 1874, a well room with reservoir was built in. In 1924 the city council decided to install a pressure-reduction system for the municipal water supply here. Today, a high-pressure pipeline runs beneath the tower; hence it is no longer open to the public.
4
Heuturm (Hay Tower) / Wachtturm (Watchtower)

4) Heuturm (Hay Tower) / Wachtturm (Watchtower)

The Heuturm (Hay Tower) originally stood on the site of today's Wachtturm (Watchtower) since 1350. It was named so for being a hay storage, but – just as many other Lucerne's towers, back in the day – was also used to store gunpowder.

The latter proved fatal for the building on July 30, 1701, when a strike of lightning caused detonation of the 350 quintals of the explosive inside, completely destroying the thick walls. A rain of stones sent over the city inflicted immense damage on the adjacent wall and houses in the Old Town, and killed many locals.

Immediately after the accident, a new tower was built in the place. Designed for high watch, it only got the name in 1768, when a guardroom from the nearby Luegislandturm was moved here and the complicated roof structure added. The guardroom, fitted with a green tiled stove, remained in use until 1895 and can be visited today, along with corridors to the roof. At a later time, the police radio transmitter was installed within the tower.

The rebuilt Wachtturm is 44 meters tall, measuring 8.75 x 7.1 meters in footprint.

Some of its sections are open to the public.
5
Zytturm / Zeitturm (Time Tower)

5) Zytturm / Zeitturm (Time Tower)

The most unique of the Musegg Wall towers – the Zytturm or Zeitturm (Time Tower) – was named so for being purposely designed to accommodate the city clock.

The tower was built in 1403 (some sources place the construction year at 1442), with certain wall sections reportedly dating to 1386. Originally, the building had a crenelated wreath and an inner pent roof that was replaced, later in the 15th century, with a half-hip roof that is seen today.

The tower stands 31 meters high and has a footprint of 9.1 x 7.25 meters. The clock dial measures 3 to 4 meters “carried” by two giant figures painted on the south façade. Placed in such a way that one could read the time from afar, the digits were made large enough to be seen by fishermen on the lake. Both the dial and the painting were first documented in Diebold Schilling's 16th century Lucerne Chronicle; their most recent renovation took place in 1939.

The Zytturm clockwork is the oldest in Lucerne and all of central Switzerland; the first mechanism – complete with stone weights and pendulum – was made in 1385 and then replaced by the current one in 1535.

Since the late Middle Ages the Time Tower has had the privilege of the first strike – its clock chimes the hour one minute before any other public clock in Lucerne. Its bell, the Leonhardsglocke – adorned with reliefs of the Crucifixion and Lucerne's coat of arms – was originally cast in 1370 and first hung in St. Peter's Chapel on Kapellplatz.

Since the late Middle Ages, there has been a person tasked with winding the clock on a daily basis. The operating manual, dated 1386, is kept at the Lucerne State Archives.

As of 1951 the Zytturm has been open to the public: from April 1 to November 1. Admission is free.

Why You Should Visit:
One of Europe's most unique clock towers!
A climb to the top offers a great up-close view of the Old Town, the lake and the mountains.

Tip:
Be there on the hour to watch the inner clock workings, as the bells chime.
There are nine more historic clocks exhibited inside.
6
Schirmerturm (Umbrella Tower)

6) Schirmerturm (Umbrella Tower)

Just like the Nölliturm, the Schirmerturm (literally “Umbrella Tower”) is a gate tower, located between the Zytturm and the Pulverturm, and once offered gateway from Lucerne to the countryside. Historians say it also provided gateway to Zürichstrasse at the time of the Zurich War, circa 1442. The gate was walled up in 1658 and reopened in 1878 when the Musegg school was built. At a later period, and for a long time, the tower was used as a warehouse by the city's gardening department.

The Schirmerturm was built in 1420 and, similarly to the neighboring Luegislandturm, was originally a “half tower”, i.e. not walled on the south side facing the city. The open side was later bricked up, for structural reasons, leaving narrow, rectangular loopholes on the upper floors, traditionally used by bow- and crossbowmen in the Middle Ages. However, by the time they were built, no archers in the Lucerne army had been left, so the embrasures were purely decorative architectural elements.

The Schirmerturm stands 27.5 meters high, being the second smallest tower in the Musegg Wall, and measures 9.10 x 7.25 meters in footprint. It features finely-cut quarry stone work and nice corner blocks stones, with wonderful round arches around the top, crowned by a low, pyramid-shaped roof – replica of the original roof from 1513, destroyed by fire in 1994. The battlements upon which the roof rests rise above the arched frieze with two projecting consoles. On the north side, the arched frieze is interrupted by three consoles that once supported a bay window.

In the passage of the tower there is a statue of one of the city's patrons, Saint Mauritius.

In 1930, an electrical transformer station was installed here to illuminate all the Musegg towers.

The Schirmerturm has been open to the public during summer since 1951. The 96 steps leading to the top floor offer a wonderful panorama of the city, extending to Lake Lucerne and the Pilatus.
7
Pulverturm (Gunpowder Tower)

7) Pulverturm (Gunpowder Tower)

Traditionally the city of Lucerne kept its gunpowder stock, as the matter of precaution, in two towers: the Heuturm (Hay Tower) and the Pulverturm (Gunpowder Tower). Indeed, when a disaster struck the Heuturm – destroyed by an explosion in 1701, the load of gunpowder stored in the Pulverturm remained safe.

According to various records, the tower was built in autumn/winter 1398/99 at the earliest, or 1408 at the latest, which makes it the second oldest in the Musegg Wall. It was then further modified, on the interior, sometime around 1512-1515. Initially, the tower was known as the Holdermeyerturm (Holdermeyer Tower), in reference to the city treasurer Jost Holdermeyer who served circa 1570 and was the owner of the nearby garden.

The Pulverturm stands 27.5 meters high, measuring 9.1 x 6.8 meters at the base, and has the walls 1.6 meters thick.

A theory, not fully substantiated, suggests that a Tannberg Castle previously stood on this site; the masonry pattern found in the lower part of the tower – clearly different from that a few meters above – seemingly attests to that. However, the difference in patterns may well be attributed to the phased construction. Since lime mortar cannot set in cold season, construction work had to be stopped during winter and resumed only in spring, possibly by another team of builders, with stones from a different quarry, and freshly mixed mortar. Such a difference in masonry could well be “the order of the day” in medieval structures and, thus, should not be misinterpreted, experts say.

Nowadays, the Pulverturm serves as a guild hall for the Wey Guild, established in 1925 for the purpose of reviving the Lucerne Carnival. This guild has been a tenant in the tower since 1970, maintaining it as part of the municipal property. The tower is not open to the public.
8
Allenwindenturm (Allenwinden Tower)

8) Allenwindenturm (Allenwinden Tower)

The Allenwindenturm is a half-tower and one of the best-known tourist attractions in Lucerne. It was built presumably in 1408 – the exact year is subject to further architectural archaeological investigation. As for the roof, the time of its construction is more or less accurately determined as autumn/winter 1540/1541 at the earliest.

At some point in the 16th century, the tower went by the name of the second Holdermeyerturm (Holdermeyer Tower), in honor of the then city treasurer. Formerly the tallest structure in the city – 27.5 meters high, with 9.1 x 7 meters in footprint, and the walls 1.8 meters thick – the Allenwinden Tower has since been surpassed by many newer buildings.

In 1866 it was used by the local fire brigade for hose drying, and from 1868 served as a storage (sometimes unlicensed) for various products, e.g. petroleum. As of the late 1980s, the tower has been used as a rehearsal facility by two of the Lucerne Carnival clubs, namely: the Lucerne Tambouren Club and the Luzerner Maskenfreunde Club.

Presently, the Allenwindenturm is not open to the public.
9
Dächliturm (Roof Tower)

9) Dächliturm (Roof Tower)

The easternmost of the nine sister-towers in the historic Mussegg Wall of Lucerne is also the smallest. This slender structure is only 27.35 meters high, with 5.4 by 7.3 meters in footprint, and has the side walls of 1.4-meter thickness. Its south wall is only 0.6 meters thick.

In addition to the name Dächliturm, which literally means the “tower with a small roof”, it was also called once the third Holdermeyerturm or Chutzeturm (Signal Tower).

The exact year of its construction is unknown – tentatively 1449, which is subject to further archaeological examination.

The tower's main highlight is the pyramid-shaped roof, considered to be the oldest of all the nearby tower rooftops – built in the spring of 1449 at the earliest. Originally – just like several other towers in the Musegg Wall – it was a half-tower, with the south facade open to the city bricked up only in 1728. Subsequently, the tower interior was completed in 1731.

During the Thirty Years' War, in the first half of the 17th century, amid the terror reigning over Europe, this small tower served primarily as a fortification post against enemy attack from water – the shooting holes facing the lake. Additionally, it was also used as a storage for gunpowder, which luckily never came to be needed.

At the more peaceful times, towards the end of the 19th century, the Dächliturm was briefly rented by a glass painter, and then – from 1936 to 1961 – had its lower part occupied by the museum of commerce. Also, partially from 1936, and then wholly since 1970, it has been rented by the Swiss Association of Master Carpenters who have been looking after this magnificent building to this date.

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