Of all the historical landmarks Zurich has to offer, the Grossmünster, or Great Church, is the most recognizable. The Protestant church is Romanesque in appearance. Its two identical towers stand like twin rockets, while a blood-red spire juts up from the rear of the roof. Inside the Grossmünster are exceptional decorative windows and a Romanesque crypt.
Construction of the Grossmünster began around 1100 and was completed 110 years later. It’s said the church is built on the site where Charlemagne (Charles the Great) discovered the graves of Zurich’s martyrs: Felix, Regula and Exuperantius. The towers were once topped with wooden steeples, but these were destroyed by fire in 1781. They were replaced with the neo-Gothic tips, which have now become symbolic of the Zurich skyline.
The Grossmünster played a vital role in the history of the country. In the first half of the 16th century, pastor Huldrych Zwingli successfully fought to have the church separated from the papacy. Ultimately, this prompted the Swiss-German Reformation. To learn more about this period in history, visit the church’s Reformation museum, which is open Monday to Friday.
Much of the Grossmünster’s interior has an austere style, reflecting the Reformation movement away from ornamentation. However, there are some standout flourishes to look for. Otto Münch’s ornate bronze doors in the north and south portals depict biblical and Reformation scenes. Sigmar Polke’s incandescent agate windows light up the nave with incredible colors. The crypt is the oldest part of the Grossmünster and houses a gold-crowned statue of Charlemagne.
One of the Grossmünster’s towers, the Karlsturm, is open to the public. From here you’ll get exceptional views of the city and Lake Zurich.
The Grossmünster is located on Grossmünsterplatz and is open daily. Visitors are welcome to join services. There are also occasional music performances. If you’re impressed by the Grossmünster, be sure to visit the city’s other two major churches, Fraumünster and St. Peterskirche.