What’s your favorite number? For Solothurn, a town in the northwest of Switzerland, the answer is eleven. Like many cities and towns throughout Europe, Solothurn is full of charming and symbolic architecture – but unique to Solothurn, almost all of it has to do with this mystical number. Its prominence in the town can be seen in its 11 churches, 11 chapels, 11 fountains, 11 towers, and 11 museums.
And perhaps most bizarrely, there is an 11-hour clock mounted on the wall on the side of a building, complete with 11 cogs and 11 bells. You can see it in action in the video below:
The culmination of the town’s eleven symbolism is found in its Cathedral of St. Ursus. Commissioned in 1763, the government ordered Italian architect Gaetano Matteo Pisoni to include the number 11, and he didn’t let them down. Here are eleven ways the number eleven is worked into its design:
- The cathedral was took 11 years total to build
- The front entrance has three sets of 11 stairs each
- There are two classical fountains flanking the entrance (creating a visual 11)
- Each fountain is fitted with 11 taps
- There are 11 doors
- The structure is split into three sections of 11 meters each
- The height of the belfry is 66 meters (11×6)
- The belfry contains 11 bells
- One of the altars is made from 11 types of marble
- The pews are sectioned into rows of 11
- Standing at the 11th flagstone at the heart of the building is the only place where you can see all 11 altars at the same time.
Though it may seem a novelty, for those who worship at the cathedral today, the number eleven “symbolizes our never-ending pursuit of perfection – it is a cipher for hope.”
The number eleven also has occult and numerological meaning. Eleven is a master number and is related to spiritual illumination, divine life purpose or path of service/leadership, and inner connection or intuition. Spiritual seekers and adepts often see the repeating number sequence of 11:11 on a clock for example, indicating they are at a gateway in consciousness and affirming they are on the right path.
But how did it all begin in Solothurn? Local folk legend holds that elves came down from Weissenstein mountain to infuse magic into the lives of the townspeople who were hard workers but not prosperous. The elves were associated with the number eleven; the German word for eleven is “elf”, and for this reason the number became infused throughout the town.
More concrete historical records also show how the number eleven has factored into Solothurn’s development: In 1252, the first town council had eleven members, and in 1841, Solothurn became the 11th canton (similar to a US state) of the Old Swiss Confederacy (now known as Switzerland), and was then divided into eleven protectorates.
The number has also been embraced by townspeople today. The 11th birthday and its multiples are given special celebrations. The bakery sells a chocolate bar called 11-I and the brewery has an ale that translates to “Eleven beer”, with plans for an 11-year aged whiskey in development.
These steps suggest the town, which is picturesque, is embracing its uniqueness and potential for tourism. Unlike most cathedrals in Europe, St. Ursus is usually empty of tourists. The town seems to be overlooked by tourists, perhaps in favor of nearby capital Bern. Even the Swiss who live in Bern are unaware of the town’s history and affinity for eleven.
Yet its proximity to Bern makes Solothurn a relatively convenient day trip. Along with its unique eleven symbolism, Solothurn also showcases some of the best examples of Baroque art and architecture in Switzerland, with Italian, French and German influences. If you are an eleven, it’s one for your list.